One of the worst moments of Tony Romo’s football career, if not the worst, had nothing to do with him playing quarterback. On Jan. 6, 2007, it appeared that Romo would lead the Dallas Cowboys to a wild-card playoff win in Seattle.
He’d moved his team to Seattle’s 2-yard line with 1:19 left in the game after tight end Jason Witten was stopped just short of a first down. Martin Gramatica jogged onto the field for the chip-shot field goal that would’ve given the Cowboys a 23-21 lead.
Romo was serving as the holder, in part because head coach Bill Parcells wasn’t going to ask backup quarterback Drew Bledsoe to perform such a menial task. The coach had already benched Bledsoe in favor of Romo in Week 6 against the New York Giants, so he didn’t want to cause him further embarrassment. It was a task that Romo had handled flawlessly that season, so there was no sign of what would follow.
In retrospect, special teams coach Bruce DeHaven would say he had a bad feeling in the moments leading up to the snap. Romo had just engineered an important drive and DeHaven could tell by his body language that he was very excited. Sure enough, Romo bobbled what appeared to be a perfect snap and then had no choice but to pick it up and race toward the end zone. In all the chaos, it actually looked like he might make it. But Seahawks cornerback Jordan Babineaux tackled him from behind to seal the win.
Romo’s gone on to become one of the better quarterbacks in the NFL, but that awful moment lingers. We didn’t know at the time that a bobbled snap would lay the foundation for a career that has been undermined by back-breaking mistakes at the worst times. It’s simply not true to say that Romo hasn’t won big games since becoming a starter, but his career has been largely defined by his failure to capitalize fully on his prodigious talent. And even that doesn’t seem fair when you consider the fact that he was an undrafted free agent out of Eastern Illinois. He rescued the Cowboys from years in the quarterback wilderness, but the fact that he’s only won a single playoff game is what stands out the most.
Now, he prepares to return to Seattle for the first time since the bobbled snap. And needless to say, he won’t be handling the holding duties. In the days after the infamous bobble, Romo could barely bring himself to leave his apartment. Witten finally convinced him to go out to dinner, but they looked up and saw a replay of the play on a television above the bar. This week, on Wednesday, Witten told reporters at Valley Ranch that it’s not something the two ever discuss.
But Romo didn’t seem to have a problem when the topic came up with the Seattle media during a conference call this week.
“I think that’s just one of those situations where you took it as it was. It was a disappointing loss, and that was very tough at the time,” said Romo. “What you do is you get better. You go back to work, you put your head down and you get better.
“I think there’s been different times and situations in your career as an athlete that you can look to those spots and say you can use certain things as motivation and it’s helped you along the way.”
If the Cowboys had won that game, there’s a chance that Parcells might have returned for at least one more season. And it’s safe to say that Romo’s trip to Cabo during the playoff bye weekend would’ve never occurred on Parcells’ watch. But then, perhaps the Cowboys don’t go 13-3 in 2007 with Parcells as head coach. At the time, it seemed like the softer, gentler approach of Wade Phillips was exactly what the Cowboys needed in the aftermath of Parcells. Offensive line coach Tony Sparano, who called the plays in ’06, remained on the staff in ’07 and was a huge resource for new offensive coordinator Jason Garrett as well as Romo. Garrett was the quarterbacks coach in Miami during that ’06 season, so he saw the bobbled snap on TV like everyone else. He barely looks back at what the Cowboys did in practice yesterday, so he certainly doesn’t think the play will have any bearing on Sunday’s game.
“Boy, that seems like a long time ago,” Garrett said. “One of the themes that we have with our team is you got to move on to the next one; the next play, the next drive, the next game. And certainly games that happened six years ago. So, we’re way on to the next one.”
If the Cowboys need a late field goal – or even an extra point – to win the game Sunday, you know exactly what fans will be thinking. But take a deep breath and remind yourself that Romo’s no longer the holder.