IRVING, Texas – It wasn't just a song that began playing in pre-game at the old Texas Stadium back in the mid-2000s.
"Don't stop believin'…"
It was an attitude. Tony Romo has always been about the journey as much as the destination.
If you've listened closely over the years, you've heard Romo say as much. The message is essentially this: nothing comes easily in the National Football League, but the peaks aren't as meaningful without the valleys that make you better, tougher, over time.
Romo should know. He's one of the most improbable stories in league history, from a $10,000 rookie free agent signing bonus to a $100 million contract in a 10-year span. You don't get where he is without belief, resolve.
For those who have questioned this team's leadership or chemistry the last several weeks – those nebulous traits that only seem stable when they're accompanied by wins – Romo's attitude made a clear difference in the first quarter Sunday, on an opening drive that was a microcosm of this rollercoaster season.
Think about this for a second. The Cowboys had lost seven straight games without their franchise quarterback. His first play in nine weeks, at Sun Life Stadium, was in a foggy downpour backed up against his own end zone. Against Ndamukong Suh and the Dolphins.
Romo thought the circumstances were sort of, well, funny.
"Oh yeah, there is humor (in it)," he said. "I walked out to warmups and said, 'Well, let's see: It's raining, we've got gusting winds, we've got rain, you've got a good defensive line, maybe as good as we're going to go up against, and they come out with some great coverage stuff we hadn't seen.
"The funny thing was, you go through it all, and that's the way it's supposed to be. That's why it's the NFL. That's why it's football. You almost take it as a challenge and it almost makes it more enjoyable, if that makes sense."
More enjoyable? Huh. OK.
That's Romo, though. The guy is that competitive. He believes in himself and the team just that much. When they can overcome longer odds, the reward is just that much sweeter.
Sometimes quarterbacks must deliver a Zen-like approach. Joe Montana did so in that same stadium 26 years ago, in the Super Bowl, down three with three minutes left, when he pointed out John Candy to his teammates just before they broke the huddle for the 49ers' game-winning drive.
Romo hasn't won the biggest of games, but he has gotten better each year since 2006, and with experience brings a certain calm to situations. Add his mastery of the Cowboys' offense, and you just had a feeling this team was in good hands Sunday.
"Him being back just gives everybody that much more juice," Dez Bryant said. "We're not trying to put any pressure on Tony – we're just showing how much he really means."
The most encouraging part was that Romo didn't win the game by himself. It was a team effort. Miami got shut out in the fourth quarter, stopped twice by the defense and kept off the field for five minutes by Darren McFadden and the offensive line.
Now, this is where you say, "Yeah, but, in two days…"
Yeah, I know. They've got to start all over again. At 3-7, the Cowboys have zero margin for error against the only unbeaten team left in the NFC. The Carolina Panthers and their exceptional quarterback Cam Newton are 10-0. They've outscored their last two opponents by a combined 44 points.
If the Cowboys don't get it done on a short week, we'll hear again about what this team hasn't accomplished this season. And depending on what else happens within the NFC East this weekend, the division race would move even further down the road.
But Romo set the right tone last week with that "Major League" tweet implying they're not done yet. Privately, he told his teammates he admired their effort in that losing stretch. And amazingly, despite the franchise's longest slide in 26 years, they stand only two games behind the first-place Giants.
Thanksgiving the toughest challenge of the season, from the quality of the opponent to the turnaround time. No matter what the final score is Thursday, Romo is the perfect guy to lead them. His entire career has been a successful long shot.
"It'll be fun. They're a great team," he said. "I think we're excited about the challenge ahead of us against these guys."
What are peaks without valleys?
It's part of the journey. We've still got a few weeks to find out where it ends this year.