By JAN HUBBARD
At first, there was intrigue. That developed into fascination. Excitement followed. Then frenzy. Rational analysis was lost. The gushing became torrential. Outlandishness ensued. The media became crazed, fueled by Dallas Cowboys fans who have seen the future, which, amazingly, they hope does not include Tony Romo.
Dakmania rules not only in Dallas, but it also has become a passionate debate nationwide with commentators left and right weighing in on the newest NFL quarterback controversy – Romo vs. Dak Prescott.
Prescott, the rookie from Mississippi State, is responsible for what Cowboys management considers a pleasant mess. When Romo missed 12 games last season with injuries, the Cowboys were 1-11.
This year, Romo has missed five games with a back injury and – thanks to Prescott, a productive running game and a defense playing far better than anyone expected – the Cowboys are 4-1. If not for a bonehead play by receiver Terrance Williams in the opening game against the Giants, the Cowboys could be 5-0.
So what is the logical reaction in Dallas?
Turn the team over to Dak! He’s better than Romo! There is absolutely no doubt about it! He’s conclusively proven his greatness! It’s indisputable! He’ll soon make fans forget Roger Staubach and Troy Aikman! Has the Hall of Fame called yet?
That’s after five games.
And it could get crazier. On Sunday, the Cowboys play the Packers in Green Bay, where they’ve had problems in recent years. In their last four trips to Lambeau Field, they have lost by an average of 18.5 points a game.
These are obviously two different teams. But the recent record adds to the drama because if the Cowboys win, it will be further proof – at least to fans and some of the more hysterical media yakkers – that Prescott is not only the future, but also the present.
And they are likely right – at least about the present. Perhaps Prescott will have a productive 15-year career, but suggesting that after five games does seem premature.
It is difficult, however, to imagine replacing Prescott when he has a 5-1 record, although you never can tell with Cowboys owner Jerry Jones. As everyone knows, the Cowboys operate differently than all other franchises. As the owner Jones has given full power to the general manager, who is also Jones. Head coach Jason Garrett will be told who to start.
Then again, it’s important to remember that Jones may be closer to Romo than he has been to any player since he bought the team in 1989. Jones has said he expects the 36-year-old Romo to play for another five years. And lest we forget, in 2013, he signed Romo to a $108 million contract.
As he should be, Jones is non-committal.
“It’s a wonderful problem to have,” Jones said of Prescott’s impressive start. “It’s a miracle problem to have in my mind. I’m so proud because every time Dak takes a snap. I see our future getting stronger. Then, I look over there, and in my mind, [there is] someone that is very capable of winning it all – Tony Romo with all that experience. So how do you ask for any more?”
When the Cowboys selected Prescott in the fourth round of the 2016 draft – No. 135 overall and the eighth quarterback taken – no one expected him to challenge Romo for a starting job. He wasn’t even second team. That job belonged to veteran Kellen Moore, who is out up to four months after his right fibula was broken in a preseason practice.
But Prescott has been equally steady and spectacular. Thirty-six quarterbacks have thrown an interception this season, but Prescott is not one of them. He has attempted 155 passes and if he is able to avoid a pick in his first eight passes Sunday in Green Bay, he will break Tom Brady’s mark of 162 passes without an interception to start a career. (As an aside, Brady’s record of 335 passes without being intercepted seems safe, at least for now.)
Prescott has handled the situation adroitly. He has said he is simply filling in for Romo and that he expected to be on the bench when Romo returns.
“This is Tony’s team,” Prescott said this week. “I knew that going into the situation. I think everybody knew that. I’m just trying to do wht best I can do give my team and chance to win.”
It has become popular in Dallas to point out that other veteran quarterbacks have lost their jobs when injured. The most cited example is Tom Brady, who in 2001 took over for an injured Drew Bledsoe and played so well that Patriots coach Bill Belichick stuck with Brady after Bledsoe recovered.
There is one large difference, however. Brady was in his second season, not a rookie like Prescott.
And perhaps the bigger issue is that it is silly to think the Cowboys would not be 4-1 with Romo. They may, in fact, have been undefeated because he might have been able to put more than 19 points on the board against the Giants. With the success of the running game, which is currently No. 1 in the NFL, Kellen Moore might be 4-1.
The criticism of Romo is that despite having the fourth highest quarterback rating in NFL history, he has only a 2-4 playoff record and has never led Dallas to a conference championship game.
He also has had injury problems, missing 31 games since becoming a starter in 2006. Most of that has been in recent years. In the last two seasons, he has played only four of 21 games because of two broken collar bones and a back injury.
There has obviously been concern that if Romo continues getting hurt, that could affect his quality of life after he retires. But to suggest that he should retire right now because of Prescott’s performance in five games is lunacy.
It’s not hard to envision a situation that is similar to what happened in Miami in 1972. The Dolphins lost starting quarterback Bob Griese to an injury early in the season. Backup Earl Morrall, who was a 17-year veteran, led Miami to 12 consecutive victories, but when he struggled in the conference championship game against Pittsburgh, Dolphins coach Don Shula sent Griese back into the game. Miami went on to defeat the Steelers, win the Super Bowl and finish the season with a perfect record.
If Prescott doesn’t play well and the Cowboys, who have a bye week next week, lose in Green Bay, then it wouldn’t be surprising to see Romo in the lineup on Oct. 30 when Dallas plays a home game against the Eagles.
If the Cowboys defeat the Packers, Prescott may keep the starting job. Unless he is perfect, however, it won’t be permanent. If the Cowboys are going to contend for a championship, at some point this season, Tony Romo will be the starting quarterback.
(Jan Hubbard has been one of those great Texas sports writers for more than 40 years. Jan began writing sports for the Fort Worth Press in 1975 and has since worked at newspapers in the Dallas area and New York, including the Dallas Morning News and Newsday. As a beat writer, he spent most of his career covering the NBA but has covered the Dallas Cowboys, Texas Rangers and college football. He also spent eight years working for the NBA league office in New York. He has written three books on the NBA and was the editor of the last Official NBA Encyclopedia that was published by the league. He currently is a free lance writer based in Dallas and will contribute regularly on woodypaige.com, writing about the Big 12 Conference, the Dallas Cowboys and any other subject he sees fit to opine about.)