A Dallas Quarterback Should Expect Turmoil

In 29 years as head coach of the Dallas Cowboys, Tom Landry went through a total of six primary starters at quarterback. The icon some called Plastic Man had a singular focus on winning, but as one of the great teachers among NFL coaching legends, he placed winning in its proper context.

Generally, achieving goals…which in many cases means winning…is really the ultimate in this life we live in. Being the best at whatever talent you have, that’s what stimulates life. I don’t mean cheating or doing things that are bad. That’s the negative side. But here’s the thing: what are the alternatives? If you don’t believe in winning, you don’t believe in free enterprise, capitalism, our way of life. If you eliminate our way of life, the American way of life, what is the effect…what are the alternatives?

Achievement builds character. People striving, being knocked down and coming back…this is what builds character in a man. The Bible talks about it at length in Paul, in Romans. Paul says that adversity brings on endurance, endurance brings on character, and character brings on hope.

Current Dallas quarterback Tony Romo does not appear to have a great mentor to guide him, and he is now taking heat for comments made after the team’s final loss at Philadelphia. The quote, “If I’m never going to win the Super Bowl, I’ll be content in life,” has many diehard fans questioning his leadership (or simply giving up on him altogether), and the pressure he will face in 2009 may very well be greater than any previous season.

In one of the leading stories this week, Troy Aikman was openly critical of Romo on Michael Irvin’s radio show. In an article today, Romo countered that he has vowed to become a better leader. Todd Archer’s story noted:

Romo acknowledges he gets “philosophical,” about things because it “might ease the pain of the moment,” and that’s what he said he did in Philadelphia.

“I might have tried to find a silver lining to talk myself into feeling OK,” Romo said. “But I’m still not OK with it.”

Romo is feeling the heat and experiencing the turmoil that every Dallas quarterback has felt. Criticism of Romo sounds very much like the criticism heard by Don Meredith, whom Landry struggled to develop into a winning quarterback. In the great book Landry’s Boys, Peter Golenbock noted that Landry spent years “preaching seriousness and commitment to his quarterback, and in return he was treated to country-western songs in the huddle and raucous behavior that seemed to him to belie a lack of maturity.”

Romo has been criticized for his high-profile relationships, and new allegations suggest that he has not prepared as he should. In his day, Meredith was simply a happy-go-lucky guy would sing country-western songs in the huddle. In 1965, Meredith injured his shoulder in training camp when he slipped and fell on a wet floor during a water gun fight. Meredith completed less than half of his passes that season, and though he went 7-4 as a starter, the team finished with a disappointing 7-7 record overall.

Like Romo, Meredith lost more big games than he won. Meredith won only one playoff game in Dallas, but that win over Cleveland in 1967 has been almost completely overshadowed by the loss in the Ice Bowl a week later. In Meredith’s final official game (not counting the Runner Up Bowl), he was benched in the second half in a playoff loss at Cleveland. The pressure from fans and media alike led to an early retirement at the age of 31.

Romo now has three big, potentially career-defining, losses on his resume, including playoff losses in 2006 and 2007 and season finale at Philadelphia in 2008. It does not help him that winning is what defined Roger Staubach’s legacy in Dallas, much as it defined Aikman’s. Losing quarterbacks in Dallas end up in a different class. And whereas Meredith was later forgiven of his failures, the others have not.

Craig Morton was the first of these other quarterbacks. Morton replaced Meredith as a full-time starter in 1969 and led Dallas to an impressive 11-2-1 record. However, Landry called Morton’s toughness into question because the quarterback failed to heal from a shoulder injury quickly enough to start the season. Moreover, the Cowboys further solidified their place as Next Year’s Champions when Morton’s Cowboys fell to Cleveland in the 1969 playoffs.

Morton was, of course, the first Dallas quarterback to lead the team to a Super Bowl, but it was hardly the quarterback play that got the Cowboys there. In two playoff wins, Morton went a combined 11 of 40 for 139 yards with one touchdown and one interception. He was no better in Super Bowl V, when he managed only 127 yards passing and threw two crucial interceptions that helped Baltimore win the game.

Morton’s last playoff start was in 1972 against the San Francisco 49ers. Dallas won the game, but only because Staubach came off the bench to pull out the win in miraculous fashion. Morton left Dallas two years later and is hardly remembered at all by many Dallas fans; a number of those who do remember him are more likely to associate him with Denver than with Dallas.

More fans have a better memory of Danny White, and a number of people have compared Romo with White due to their failures. White spent four seasons as a backup (along with handling punting duties) before he stepped into the starter’s role in 1980. White had several great wins, including the famous 1980 divisional playoff game against Atlanta, but he fought an uphill battle from the moment he took over as starter. His first flaw was that he wasn’t Roger Staubach, and to many fans, he proved he wasn’t Roger Staubach when he lost three consecutive NFC Championship Games. White retired with a career record of 62-30 as a starter– a 67.4% winning percentage– but he is remembered by many as a loser because of those key playoff losses.

That’s what a Dallas quarterback can expect. And that’s why Tony Romo should not be surprised by the heat he’s receiving now, and until he wins– right or wrong–it will only get worse.

  • Tim

    The comparison of Romo to Meredith is quite apt in that they both have an engaging and easy going demeanor. And there are some excellent points made regarding leadership and the successes of different QB’s plus fans perceptions. My comments focus on Meredith. He was revered by the players because of his toughness, takig command under adverse circumstances, and his acceptance of all of his teammates as people first, players second. While Landry could be critical of Meredith’s shenanigans during practice, he also was highly complimentary of Meredith’s toughness and leadership, even calling him another coach on the field. Insofar Meredith’s playff record, the # of games is really limited. He played well in the first championship game against GB. He beat Cleveland the following year in a rout. They lose the Ice Bowl, a game in which neither Meredith or Bart Starr excelled (though Starr did start well and did finish well). In the following year Cleveland loss, Meredith should not have played–he was sick with the flu and had badly injured ribs. I believe that if Morton had started and played, it would have been a better game and perhaps a Dallas victory.

    Lots of QB’s have had the big game loser tag placed on them–some have overcome that–Peyton Manning, Steve Young, and others have not–Donovan Mcnabb (check the comments of Philly fans), Dan Marino.

    I like Romo’s frankness and perspective. Staubach could be easily just as honest but his personality was more naturally geared to the winning is everything” ethic. As a psychologist, I know that some personality features are fairly set. If Romp presents himself as more serious, then it would probably be a false front. Some people may see through that and he may lose respect. Someone can be competitive but not always consumed by this drive. We are fortunate to have Romo as our QB. We could be doing a lot worse and the odds of doing better are not great.

  • Thanks, Tim. I think Romo will have plenty of opportunities to erase all of the doubts by winning some of those big games, but there obviously isn’t anything he can do about it now. Personally, I don’t think statements made in the off-season have much to do with anything– except that Cowboys’ fans right now are especially sensitive about his leadership abilities, and those quotes did not help matters in that regard.

  • jermaine roach

    Romoe is a great QB if you stick with this young kid he’s going to do great things for the dallas cowboys