As humans, we almost subconsciously romanticize and deify the dead.
This is the reason musicians who suffer untimely deaths usually experience career-high record and merchandise sales postmortem. Tupac Shakur was undoubtedly an enormously popular and influential recording artist, but he was one of many, not a clear cut superior standing alone above the rest. At some point after his murder, our selective memories elevated him to “undisputed greatest emcee of all time” status, and anyone who dares say otherwise may be found tarred and feathered in the town square.
This is why late Washington Redskins safety Sean Taylor is remembered as “the best safety to ever play the game” rather than an All-Pro safety who was an amazing thumper and ballhawk but had not yet achieved mastery level in coverage.
If you have ever spent time around a widow, you may find in most cases that her memories of her late husband have been customized. A widow will often filter out all of the negatives, and not only retain the positive recollections but amplify them, often to an unrealistic standard. She doesn’t remember the time he got drunk and smacked her at the dinner table in front of the company, or the time he gambled off the rent money. She doesn’t remember when she found out the real reason he stayed late at work with his secretary so many nights. She subconsciously only remembers the good.
If she ever allows anyone near enough to marry again, the new husband is made to compete with the fabricated image of the infallible, saintly man who preceded him. It’s an unwinnable war.
In football you don’t die, you retire. When Tony Romo stood at the podium on November 15th, 2016 and conceded the reigns of the franchise to the incumbent Dak Prescott, it signaled the acceptance stage of death. On April 4th, 2017, Tony Romo retired and made his football “death” official. Shortly after, a large sector of the Cowboys fanbase began to succumb to The Widow Complex.
Maybe it’s simply the adjustment to seeing someone else take the wheel after seeing the same great QB lead the troops for the better part of a decade. Maybe some of it is derived from a guilty conscience, from fans who undervalued and over-scrutinized Romo while he was the Cowboys’ trigger man. Regardless of the motive, the angst began to roll downhill, and right onto Dak Prescott.
Perspective is needed here. Dak Prescott was a fourth-round compensatory selection. Round four. If you are not familiar with the NFL draft, I urge you to take a stack of $1 bills to the nearest carnival and play ring toss until you win the big prize, or go to your local gymnasium and start chucking three-quarter court shots until one finds the bottom of the net. You are more likely to succeed at either of those tasks than you are at finding a franchise quarterback in the 4th round in the NFL draft.
Dak Prescott was also never intended to play early. Everyone knew he had mechanical issues to iron out, and he hadn’t been asked to work within an NFL-type scheme under coach Dan Mullen at Mississippi State. This was supposed to take time if it ever worked out. Prescott was supposed to play regular-season games for the Cowboys in 2018 or 2019 at the earliest if ever.
Prescott was not afforded any of that development time. During the 2016 preseason, injuries to Romo and then backup QB Kellen Moore thrust Prescott into the starting role. The hope for most Cowboys fans was for Dak to keep the team somewhere near .500 until Romo could return and save the day. Prescott exceeded expectations, played splendidly, and guided the team to an 11-1 start. When it became clear that Romo was not getting his job back, there was a palpable shift amongst a large part of the fanbase.
The over-scrutiny of Dak Prescott would ensue. Football neophytes became quarterback gurus overnight, critiquing Prescott’s footwork and throwing motion. The term “ball placement” was frequently misused to tally demerits on completed passes. Eight-yard completions on 3rd and 7 were combed over as fans pointed out open receivers slightly further downfield. The term “throw a receiver open” used to mean leading a tightly covered receiver into a more advantageous spot by placing the ball in a more open area. For those over-analyzing Dak, that term seemed to mean willing a blanketed receiver to teleport into a wide-open void by telekinesis and black magic.
On particular plays, or in games where Prescott would satisfy these ridiculous criteria, the counterpunch for Dak’s doubters became a redistribution of credit.
The receiver gets open, Prescott finds a said receiver with an accurate pass: “Well he was wide open. Any NFL quarterback can make that throw.”
Prescott has a nice game: “Well of course he did. The defense was keying on Ezekiel Elliott.” And so on, into infinity.
As football fans, we once believed that…
- Quarterbacks took time to develop
- It’s the receiver’s job to get open
- If a pass hits a receiver in the hands, he ought to catch it
- Giving a quarterback nice protection and adequate weapons is ideal
None of that was/is true to the people who live to discredit Dak Prescott. The standard for Dak is to locate and hit the deepest receiver, perfectly in stride, on every pass attempt, ever. Anything less than the absolute maximum outcome on every single offensive play is a reason to discredit. Fans have never held a quarterback to such impossible standards. Ever.
Here in year 4 of the Dak Prescott era, we are still dealing with the unachievable standards, and also the constant hypothesizing of what Romo would have done in each season, each game, on each throw.
Tony Romo should absolutely be remembered warmly by Cowboys fans. To say he was an excellent quarterback feels like a bit of an understatement. He provided Cowboys fans with some indelible memories and lifted some otherwise unwatchable units to make for some entertaining Sundays. Tony Romo was a warrior and an all-time great Cowboy. Tony Romo was not however infallible, or perfect as he has suddenly been made out to be in the Prescott era. He like every quarterback, had guys spring open that he didn’t see. He overthrew or underthrew guys at times. He threw interceptions, sometimes of the back-breaking, playoff contention eliminating variety. He had bad games. He even strung together enough bad games to call it a slump.
Does anyone remember these…
- 11-21, 106 yards, 0 TD, 3 INT
- 18-29, 199 yards, 0 TD, 2 INT
- 28-47, 317 yards, 1 TD, 2 INT, 1 FUM
- 10-24, 128 yards, 1 TD,
- 18-30, 170 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT
- 23-40, 251 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT, 1 FUM
- 25-39, 283 yards, 0 TD, 1 INT, 2 FUM
- 20-37, 218 yards, 2 TD, 3 INT (Elimination game)
- 18-35, 203 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT
- 25-42, 255 yards, 0 TD, 1 INT, 2 FUM
- 15-27, 158 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT
- 22-35, 198 yards, 0 TD, 1 INT, 3 FUM (Playoff game)
- 19-36, 210 yards, 1 TD, 3 INT, 2 FUM
- 21-39, 183 yards, 0 TD, 1 INT, 2 FUM (Elimination game)
- 18-36, 201 yards, 1 INT, 1 TD (Playoff game)
The above stat lines are some of Tony Romo’s more forgettable outings. The intent here is not to suggest that Romo was by any stretch a bad quarterback. It’s actually a pretty fair assessment to say he was a top 5 QB of his era. The intent here is to illustrate that like all QBs, Tony Romo turned in some clunkers, sometimes in big spots. He was human. He had his failures, and that is totally fine because it’s unavoidable. All quarterbacks fail, but the Dallas fanbase needs to be reminded that these types of games did occur from time to time.
The standard for Dak Prescott cannot be perfection. The standard we hold Dak Prescott to now, as the 4th year, project quarterback, should also not be Romo’s finest season (2014), which came in his 12th year in the league.
A lot of Cowboys fans are so busy being angry, they are missing the parade go by. The Dallas Cowboys have a 26-year-old franchise quarterback who is visibly ascending week by week. There are 8-12 teams in the league who would auction off their firstborn children to be in that position. Although the playoffs have been the same story as the last quarter-century, the team is 35-18 under Dak Prescott, the league’s 2nd best mark over that span.
Prescott’s biggest negative trait early in his career was his unwillingness to push the ball down the field. The organization finally went out and got him a bonafide weapon in WR Amari Cooper, and Dak has absolutely exploded ever since. Fans asked for more accuracy, more anticipatory throws, more explosive plays. Prescott, the diligent worker that he is, is checking off the boxes right in front of us. The Cowboys have a young, talented quarterback who leads his locker room, and never fails speak maturely into those many microphones pointed in his face in Dallas no matter how the team is performing. Why isn’t everyone excited?
Tony Romo was a fantastic quarterback and Cowboy, but he is gone. Even if you feel the organization treated him poorly by moving on from him, no amount of grumbling, nitpicking, or wishing failure on the new guy is going to make him fly down from that CBS booth and suit up for the Cowboys again. If you think about it, even a healthy Romo is almost certainly retired by now.
We are into year four of the Prescott era. It is really time to let this thing go. It’s okay to like both guys. It’s okay to only like one, but there is no need to slander either one to lift up the other. Cowboys fans ought to just be happy they didn’t have to wade through another 5-year post-Aikman quarterback wasteland before finding the next guy. Seamless transitions between eras at the most important position in football are extremely rare, and as a fanbase, you almost have to feel as if you stole something when that occurs.
Regardless of how anyone feels, Dak Prescott is going to be the quarterback of the Dallas Cowboys for a very long time. Cowboys fans can continue to shut in and block out the sun, like an old widow mourning the football death of Tony Romo, or get back out there and live. It’s a good time to be a Cowboys fan if you allow it to be.