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.