Romo shouldn’t inherit the LeBron haters

LeBron James has been one of the easiest targets we’ve seen in professional sports. He’s the most polarizing NBA player of the past 30 years, but he went a long way in answering his critics by leading the Miami Heat to an NBA title last night and picking up the Finals MVP.

It makes no sense to try to poke holes in his career today, so it’s time to put another professional athlete in our crosshairs. It has to be someone with immense talent and skill who has captured the attention of the American public while failing to deliver on the grandest stage.

Knowing that King James was likely about to be crowned last night, ESPN Radio’s “Mike and Mike” surmised that Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo is the most logical heir to James in terms of being the biggest lightning rod in professional sports.

It makes for an interesting argument, although my first thought was that James has now been to the NBA Finals three times, winning it once. Romo has put up monstrous numbers since replacing Drew Bledsoe six games into the 2006 season, but he’s only delivered one playoff win.

Should we focus our LeBron-level scrutiny on a player who hasn’t sniffed a Super Bowl? After all, James was held to such a ridiculously high standard because so many of us feel like he’s the best in the world at his profession. Romo’s an excellent quarterback, but it’s not like he’s in the conversation with Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Aaron Rogers and the Manning boys.

Actually, some (delusional) Cowboys fans believe Romo’s still a better quarterback than Eli, but that’s insulting to a quarterback who owns two Super Bowl rings. Romo’s one of the league’s biggest lightning rods for a couple of reasons. First off, his early success was so startling in the aftermath of the Quincy Carter/Vinny Testaverde/Bledsoe era that he was immediately held to a ridiculously high standard. But he didn’t do himself any favors by allowing himself to become tabloid fodder while dating a series of blonde starlets. Just being the quarterback for the Cowboys brings enough scrutiny. But Romo sort of went the “Broadway Joe” route — minus the Super Bowl win.

There’s also the fact that Romo’s failures seem to occur in epic fashion. His 2006 season ended with a botched snap that will live in infamy. He came back strong in ’07 to lead the Cowboys to a 13-3 season, but he was the face of failure (perhaps unfairly) in a stunning divisional playoff loss to the New York Giants.

He probably had his best overall season in 2011, but he hand-delivered wins to the New York Jets and Detroit Lions with back-breaking interceptions. And those types of mistakes have unfortunately overshadowed his otherwise strong play.

Romo hasn’t accomplished enough to inherit all the LeBron doubters. And even if they turn their attention to him, I’m not sure how much he’ll notice. He’s been the public face (along with Jerry Jones) of the Cowboys’ December failures for the past six seasons. It’s hard to imagine a few more haters causing him to crater.

And just because a superstar athlete wins a ring doesn’t mean he or she is insulated from criticism. Albert Pujols found that out in April and May with the Los Angeles Angels.
And based on the talent that was acquired in Philadelphia last offseason, why isn’t Michael Vick more of a lightning rod? He certainly had his feet held to the fire over being a convicted felon, but Vick doesn’t seem to face as much scrutiny as Romo on the football field.

Just think if Atlanta’s Matt Ryan was playing quarterback for the Cowboys. He’d also be getting crushed for his lack of success in the postseason. And with where he went in the draft and how much the Falcons paid him initially, why shouldn’t he be held to a higher standard than Romo? But he’s not even that big of a lightning rod in his own community. Romo has global haters based on the Cowboys’ world-wide exposure.

Noted baseball writer Buster Olney said that our own Texas Rangers might also be in the mix for LeBron status if they once again reach the postseason. And if they make it to the World Series for a third consecutive season, the scrutiny will reach unprecedented levels.
The Rangers haven’t appeared haunted by the Game 6 World Series loss to the Cardinals, but they know it will come up repeatedly should they return to the game’s biggest stage. In the Rangers’ case, it’s completely understandable why they would face such immense scrutiny.

Like it or not, Romo hasn’t earned the right to inherit LeBron’s doubters.