Nick Eatman is the author of the recently published If These Walls Could Talk: Dallas Cowboys, a collection of stories from the Cowboys' locker room, sideline and press box, with a foreword written by Darren Woodson.
ARLINGTON, Texas – When it comes to Tony Romo, I can honestly say, I've been there.
I was there when the Cowboys signed this bright-eyed rookie from Eastern Illinois who looked more like a scrawny kicker than someone who would be the face of the franchise.
I was there in Shreveport when the buzz first came out that Bill Parcells might actually replace Drew Bledsoe with him one day.
I was there when he made his first start in Carolina and the "Romo-mentum" that occurred that season.
Of course, I was there when he fumbled the snap in Seattle. His five-interception game in Buffalo that he managed to win. The season-crushing loss in Philly in 2008 when he collapsed in the shower with a punctured lung and made his "if this is the worst thing to happen to me …" comment.
I've been there for all of them, and for the most part, I've defended him. And I've defended him because I honestly, deep down, thought Tony Romo was good enough to get the job done. All he needed was a little more help, but I've always thought he was good enough.
Whether it was on email from fans, or on Twitter, or to callers on our radio podcast, or to colleagues on the sideline or even to family and friends that just have to get their digs in about Romo, I've always stood up for him.
So yeah, forgive me for a second. But Sunday's 24-20 comeback win is a little personal to me.
In this business, all you've got is your reputation. And for years, I've put mine out there because I thought Romo was good enough. There have been times when even I scratched my head and wondered if he was ever going to get over the hump.
But in my mind, he's done that.
In others, he might have to win multiple playoff games, or go to the NFC Championship, or heck, maybe he's got to win the Super Bowl to really satisfy some of his harshest critics. But to me, what I've seen this year and what I saw Sunday afternoon, I don't really need to see much more to convince me Romo is currently the third-best quarterback in franchise history and probably will have his name up here in the Ring of Honor one day.
That's what the kid from Wisconsin has developed into. And guess what, now he gets to take his back to Wisconsin next week in a game he said, "You live to play for."
But Romo will be taking his team up to face the Packers because he simply refused to let his team lose.
Cue the music to Chumbawamba's late-1990's hit "Tubthumping." You might not know the band or the title of the song, but you've definitely heard the chorus, "I get knocked down, but I get up again. You are never gonna keep me down."
That's really been the story of Romo's career, not just this one game. But against the Lions, he was sacked a season-high six times. He was getting knocked around plenty. But he kept getting up.
This wasn't Romo's best game by far. The Lions and their front seven had something to say about that. Those big boys up front did a splendid job of getting pressure. Whether it was just the front four or on the outside blitzes, they had Romo confused a little bit in the early going.
But like a baseball slugger in a slump, you have to keep swinging. Like a 3-point shooter who can't hit his shots, you've got to keep firing. And like a gun-slinging quarterback who just can't get in rhythm, you just have keep getting up after being knocked
down time and time again. Eventually, the plays are going to go your way, and just in time, they started working for this offense.
Sometimes you have to trust your instincts, even if it's not going your way. Case in point, Romo got sacked a few times by simply holding onto the ball too long. He had some plays early in the fourth quarter when he didn't throw it away and took sacks on consecutive plays.
But in the end, Romo held the ball longer than any other play, and it paid off when he fired a strike to Terrance Williams for the go-ahead touchdown. Even on that play, Romo got whacked in the back of his knees like something you might see from the Soprano's.
But like he did all year, he got up again. This time to go celebrate with his teammates who had just grabbed their first lead of the day – a lead that would hold up thanks to a clutch trifecta sack, fumble and recovery by DeMarcus Lawrence.
The rookie pass-rusher had one of the biggest redemption plays I've ever seen. But he wasn't the only one. Dan Bailey missed a 41-yard field goal to prove he's human, but responds with a 51-yard kick later in the fourth. And Williams had penalties on two plays, and came back to score a touchdown on the very next play both times.
But no one knows that feeling more than Romo. That has been his entire career. He bounced back from the 2006 fumble in Seattle to record the greatest statistical season in franchise history in 2007, only to come up short in the playoffs.
That's happened time and time again, including this year with his second back surgery in two years. People thought he might be done and washed up. Instead, he went on to have a season that will be worthy of MVP consideration, although I don't think he'll win. To me, he should win Comeback Player of the Year although there's a tight end in New England that will likely claim that honor.
But those trophies take the backseat to the one that will undoubtedly change Romo's perception more than any other.
And I realize we're not there yet. I realize Romo has to go to Green Bay and probably Seattle again to even get the chance to play in the Super Bowl. If that happens, he'll have to probably beat Peyton Manning or Tom Brady.
And for those critics who are just waiting (maybe hoping) that Romo falters so they can pull that "choke-card" out, he'll probably never do enough to shut those people up.
You'll never shut everyone up. But on Sunday, Romo definitely silenced a few more.