Tony Romo’s Best Moment as a Cowboy: My View from the NFL Sideline
As Tony Romo hangs up his cleats and begins his career in network television broadcasting, his best and worst career moments are listed and reviewed. There are so many highs that are mixed, unfortunately, with a few lows. I’ve been on the sideline for all 14 of Romo’s seasons in Dallas, and my lasting memory of the quarterback – the one I’ll point to as most emblematic of his career – is the road game at San Francisco on September 18, 2011. That’s the game in which he suffered a punctured lung and fractured rib, yet returned to the game to engineer an overtime victory.
I had a hard time choosing this particular game because Romo’s comeback win on Monday Night Football in Buffalo when he threw 5 interceptions – but rallied the Cowboys to a win on a last-second field goal – is a personal favorite.
The playoff win over the Lions in January, 2015 – the one he which he “planked” following the game-winning touchdown pass to Terrance Williams – was thrilling and the stadium went absolutely berserk.
For an individual play rather than an entire game, my favorite will always be the game at Texas Stadium against the St Louis Rams in 2007 when the ball was snapped over his head on a shotgun snap, and Romo ran backwards to pick up the ball, then ran around Rams defenders and eventually ran forward to make a big gain. It was electrifying and exemplified the youthful energy and promise of the QB who splashed on the scene as Drew Bledsoe’s replacement the previous year.
But since I can only choose one “moment”, I’m sticking with his return to the field at San Francisco. Here’s what happened in that game.
Romo was the starter and Jon Kitna was his backup. Romo took a hard hit from 49ers linebacker Navarro Bowman on the third play of the game. He finished the first half, but was in obvious pain. The offense scored only once and the Cowboys trailed 14-7 at halftime. Romo was in the locker room as Kitna took the snaps to start the 3rd quarter.
At this point, I clearly remember doing reports for Cowboys Radio from the sideline saying that Romo had gotten X-Rays and was not expected to return to the game.
Kitna threw an interception in his first series of the second half, but rebounded with a touchdown pass to Miles Austin to tie the game 14-14 midway through the 3rd quarter. On the next offensive series, Kitna threw another interception. On the very next play, 49ers QB Alex Smith throws a 29 yard touchdown pass to the tight end and the 49ers are back in the lead, 21-14. There are only 37 seconds left in the 3rd quarter.
Meanwhile, surprising everyone, Romo returns from the Cowboys’ locker room and he’s in full pads and wearing his helmet, ready to re-enter the game. He goes onto the field. Then the coaches motion for him to come over to the sideline. Romo insists he can and will play. He wasn’t in street clothes after the beating he took in the first half, he was fully suited and ready for action.
But surely he wouldn’t stay into the game, right? They wouldn’t let him play, right?
At the time, nobody knew he had a punctured lung. We thought it was a rib/shoulder injury.
What a CT scan revealed after the team’s return to Dallas was a pneumothrorax which occurs when air collects in the space around your lungs; it can happen after some kind of “trauma” like a fractured rib.
So what happened in the game after he returned? Romo re-entered with second left in the 3rd quarter, but his first series resulted in a punt. The 49ers then scored a field goal to take a 10 point lead.
On the next series, Romo hit Miles Austin for a 25-yard touchdown pass. The game was within 3 points. The 49ers in their next series punted the ball to the Cowboys.
The Cowboys had a last chance on a final drive and Romo got them in range for an easy Dan Bailey field goal to tie the game and send it to overtime. What is forgotten about the end of the game is that OT Doug Free recovered a Miles Austin fumble to keep the ball for Dallas and let Bailey kick the tying 48 yard field goal as time expired in regulation.
In overtime, the Cowboys defense forced the 49ers to punt. Romo and the offense got the ball at their own 22 yard line. Then the greatest moment in the career of WR Jesse Holley occurred when Romo connected with Holley who ran the ball 77 yards to set up the easy 19 yard field goal by Dan Bailey to win the game, 27-24.
It was an amazing win and exemplary effort by the entire team, especially Romo. I remember how difficult it was for him leaving the locker room after the game, trying to get on our team bus to head to the airport. He was moving so slowly and gingerly; he was in great pain.
I have only been truly surprised twice on the sideline twice in my 18 years as Cowboys sideline reporter. Romo’s return that day in San Francisco was the first. There’s no way he should have been back in that game, but there he was. He proved he was a warrior.
The second surprise was the following year when tight end Jason Witten, less than a month after suffering a lacerated spleen in a preseason game, returned to the field for the 2012 regular season opener at Met Life Stadium. He had not practiced or played since the injury, and received medical clearance that very morning.
The NFL is full of tough men. You cannot make it to that level without physical and mental toughness. You will be injured if you play this game at this level, it’s just a matter of how badly, and when will it happen?
What I remember about Tony Romo is his resilience and his discipline. Not just the physical discipline over the past 3 years to rehab from back and collarbone injuries, but the mental discipline to stay the course, to never give up.
Romo’s return that day in San Francisco in September 2011 is what I will think about many years from now when I’m sitting in a rocking chair and recalling his Cowboys’ career.
As for the present, he’s going to be an awesome broadcaster. I can’t wait for viewers around the country to know what the rest of us inside The Star in Frisco have known all along…he’s a natural…at everything!