Bernstein: Romo Sets New NFL Standard

By Dan Bernstein

He didn’t take any questions because there were none to ask. His 733-word statement took about five minutes to read in its entirety, and it cemented Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo as someone who will matter for a long time in football, if not across professional team sports.

A star-crossed career will likely fall short of greatness, and it was that fact, in part, that resonated as Romo presented his emotional and selfless abdication of his job as starter to the rookie who caught so many by surprise. This is Dak Prescott’s team to run now, and the way in which Romo confirmed and supported that will stand as an exemplar of grace. He hit all the right notes, in the right ways.

He was honest and real, not hiding the difficulty he faced in crafting the words and then reading them in front of reporters, his first such formal appearance in many weeks. As good as he may have been in those DirecTV commercials, he’s not a good enough actor to have been playing it up for effect. He put himself out there for this.

It was a painstakingly self-aware accounting of his reconciliation with age and inevitability, a requiem of sorts for what he once was and what he now is not. He employed the literary device of separating his battle against both a competitor and himself, describing “the man across from you” and “the man inside you,” and concluding “once you control the one inside you, the one across from you really doesn’t matter.”

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Romo did this fully in the context of team commitment as well, pledging his active support for Prescott in continuing the success of the 8-1 Cowboys. Far from mere wallowing in elegiac self-pity, he channeled that back to the unity that is “what we’ve preached our entire lives.”

“There are special moments that come from a shared commitment to play a role, while doing it together,” he said. “That’s what you will remember. Not your stats or prestige, but the relationships and the achievement that you created through a group.”

Notice that Romo alternated between first-person and second-person throughout, making this more impactful than just a player baring his soul. It was about him, of course, but his use of “you” imbued it with the quality of a sermon — someone sharing his ordeal with specific applicability to others who may come after and face the same immutable truths themselves. He was talking to somebody he was picturing in his mind’s eye as he wrote and spoke, perhaps his younger self.

Owner/GM Jerry Jones deserves credit for managing something this significant as delicately and diplomatically as he did, and it speaks to his leadership that such memorable words were the result of many frank discussions over weeks.

But make no mistake that regardless of the fortunes of this Cowboys team, this may eventually be looked at as Tony Romo’s finest hour, as he created a new and clear standard by which similar public transitions of power and status by players will be judged.

Dan Bernstein is senior columnist on CBS Chicago and co-host of “Boers & Bernstein” on Chicago’s 670 The Score.

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