on just three words. An old quarterback was cast aside, and a young quarterback
was offered his place. A fabled franchise was reinvigorated and its
silver-haired future Hall of Fame coach was transformed from listless and sad
to vibrant and feisty. Talk of rebuilding morphed suddenly into talk of winning
the Super Bowl. Three words. " Romo, you're in!" shouted Dallas Cowboys
quarterbacks coach Chris Palmer on the night of Monday, Oct. 23, in the team's
Texas Stadium locker room at half-time of the Cowboys' game against the New
romantic, I guess," says Tony Romo of Palmer's order, delivered on behalf
of coach Bill Parcells only when the Cowboys had reached the brink of
desperation, and worse, absurdity. They trailed the Giants 12--7. A loss would
drop them to 3--3, and soon thereafter the Cowboys' 2006 season would be
remembered as the year in which Terrell Owens did or did not try to kill
himself and Parcells ended his coaching career with a whimper, a beaten bit
player in an embarrassing dark comedy.
Romo, 26, had not
taken a meaningful snap since the Cowboys signed him as an undrafted free agent
from Division I-AA Eastern Illinois in 2003 and buried him on the depth chart,
behind the likes of Quincy Carter, Chad Hutchinson and Clint Stoerner. And he
did not lead the Cowboys to a comeback win over the Giants that night. He threw
three second-half interceptions that played prominently in a 36--22 loss.
defeat, however, the Cowboys have won five of six games, and with Sunday's
23--20 victory over the Giants in New Jersey they are 8--4 and hold a two-game
lead in the NFC East. Romo's production has been stunning: He has completed
67.8% of his passes and leads the NFL with a 102.4 passer rating--just ahead of
Peyton Manning. The Giants hammered Romo with blitzes and tested him with
deftly disguised Cover Twos, yet at the end of an often frustrating afternoon
(20 for 34, 257 yards, no touchdowns, two interceptions and a fumble), Romo
figured prominently in the game's two biggest plays.
First, after the
Giants had tied the game at 20 with 1:12 to play, Romo completed a 42-yard pass
on a first-down seam route by tight end Jason Witten, instantly putting the
Giants in peril. It was a veteran's completion. The play called for Romo to
look first for either wideout Patrick Crayton on an underneath cross from the
left or Owens on a skinny post from the right. "There are about five
options on the play," said Romo after the game, "and Witten is probably
Number 4, or even 5." On the snap, Romo felt pressure from his right and
reverse-pivoted to his left, away from it. As he came out of the roll, he saw
that Witten had beaten linebacker Antonio Pierce upfield, quickly squared his
shoulders--no easy task--and hit Witten with a long, crisp spiral before
defensive back Will Demps could close on Witten from the outside. "I
couldn't lead Jason, because the corner would have gotten there," Romo
said. "The ball had to have something on it." It was the perfect
marriage of thought and execution.
Four plays later
Dallas lined up for a potential game-winning 46-yard field goal by their new
kicker, Martin Gramatica. The Giants called timeout to unnerve the emotional
Gramatica, who was signed only five days earlier. When the play clock was
started, Romo, the holder, walked up behind his offensive linemen and shouted
at them to keep their heads. "I told them not to move if the Giants start
calling fake timeouts," Romo said. "Because you can't call two in a
row, but they might try to get us to false start, and we didn't need to lose
five more yards."
the kick. Romo's legend grew. "This kid is for real," says Cowboys
veteran guard Marco Rivera. "He can take charge in the huddle. He can lead
the team. He can play."
It is romantic,
after all. Follow the making of a legend, in six acts.
ACT I: The
The third child,
and first son, born to Ramiro and Joan (n�e Jakubowski) Romo came into the
world in 1980, while Ramiro was stationed at a U.S. naval base in San Diego.
"My family is from Mexico," says Ramiro. "Tony's mom's family is
part Polish, part German. Tony is Heinz 57."