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Spagnola: In The End, No Matter What, Romo Still Is A Pretty Lucky Guy

FRISCO, Texas – So after watching all 14 seasons of Tony Romo's career with the Dallas Cowboys, every one of his of his 156 games played, all 2,829 of his completions, those 248 touchdown passes, along with 117 interceptions, a club-record 66 games with a passer rating of at least 100, a club career-record passer rating of 97.1, authoring 78 victories in 127 starts and that 2-6 playoff record, every bit of this leaves me scratching my head.

What a strange dichotomy of a career.

On one shoulder resides this little Lucky Charms leprechaun, sprinkling his head with good fortune dust.

But on the other shoulder, darn it, sits this black cat, cursing him with damning misfortune.

Yes, his has been this constant collision of events that would make you swear he's been the luckiest guy on this God's green earth at times while the darn unluckiest dude on the planet at other times.

We only need look how this second longest career in franchise history came to a close earlier this week. Injury, able to play in only five games over the course of the past two seasons, and just one this past season, coupled with the inspiring play of rookie quarterback Dak Prescott, posted a career roadblock. Just pure bad luck.

But because of that roadblock, because it became very evident over the first three weeks of NFL free agency no NFL team was willing to trade for the soon-to-be 37-year-old Romo or promise him enough guaranteed salary to lure him away from his Dallas-area nest that his best option of what Jerry Jones called a "menu of options" was taking a multi-million dollar job as the No. 1 game analyst for CBS television without a lick of broadcast experience, following in the footsteps of only Pat Summerall, Tom Brookshire, John Madden and Phil Simms.

The Texas Lottery better watch out.

 But should we be surprised? Since 2003 when Antonio Ramiro Romo first descended into our consciousness, his life has resembled those standup blocking dummies, sort of a real-life Weeble, you know the roly-poly figures, alternating between getting knocked down to one side and bouncing right back up, and then knocked down to the other side and always bouncing right back up, righting themselves always in the end.

This has been his career right from the beginning. The Division 1-AA Player of the Year at Eastern Illinois in 2002, was not even invited to the NFL Combine in 2003, his presence there at the annual scouting jubilee only to serve as someone to throw for the invited wide receivers. Why Romo didn't even get drafted, signing a free-agent deal with the Cowboys, and choosing them instead of Denver only because of ties to Eastern Illinois alum Sean Payton, the Cowboys OC, and in the end a most fortuitous decision.

Despite such a modest beginning, Cowboys head coach Bill Parcells saw fit to keep the somewhat impressionable Romo on the 53-man roster.

But the Cowboys thought so little of him, they traded in the offseason for former Michigan quarterback Drew Henson, paid the former minor league baseball player of three seasons guaranteed money and also brought in veteran QB Vinny Testaverde as backup to starter Quincy Carter. Four's not company on the team's 53-man roster. Romo was heading toward being released after training camp if you had followed the money.

Yet Carter, the starter having led the Cowboys into the 2003 playoffs with a 10-6 record, screwed up, no nicer way to say it. A combination of off-the-field and in-the-meeting-room behavior cemented what was at the time his surprising release. Testaverde became the No. 1 QB. Henson No. 2. Romo came in under the wire third.

But Henson wasn't all that. And when the Cowboys turned to veteran Drew Bledsoe as the starter in 2005, Romo won the No. 2 job in camp without even having stepped into an NFL regular-season game. And by 2006, after an uneventful season in NFL Europe, the Cowboys released Henson. Romo was No. 2. And when Bledsoe struggled through the first six games, Parcells made the move to Romo as the starter by Game 7, having thrown no more than 27 NFL passes – 25 of them in the second half of Game 6.

You kidding me? Talk about Walter Mitty coming to life.

But with upside, there's always a downside with Romo it seems. In the playoff game after leading the Cowboys to a 9-7 record and a wild-card playoff berth over his 10 starts (6-4), everyone remembers Romo dropping the ice-slick snap for what could have been the winning field goal in the eventual 21-20 loss to the Seahawks. What they don't remember is Romo leading the Cowboys to a first-and-goal at the Seattle one with a third-down pass to Jason Witten in the final minute before Seattle challenged the spot.

Head referee Walt Anderson, after a long deliberation, re-spotted the ball at the 2, about a foot or so short with 1:19 left. Fourth down, and Parcells elected to kick the field goal. See what I mean about his misfortune? Cowboys should have been first-and-goal at the one, with at least three shots to score a touchdown since no replay shown on TV had a look parallel to where the ball was moved.

While Romo took the league by storm in 2007, leading the Cowboys to a franchise record-tying 13-3, the good, the Cowboys lost their first playoff game to the Giants, a team they had beaten twice in the regular-season and the one eventually winning the Super Bowl, the bad rising its ugly head.

Many like to point to Romo's game-ending interception in the end zone on a desperation pass in the 21-17 loss, but most forget wide receiver Patrick Crayton dropping a wide open pass he might still be running with 10 years later for what have become the decisive score. They also forget lead wide receiver Terrell Owens had suffered a high-ankle sprain and probably shouldn't have even played in the game. Romo was left short-handed at receiver, the Cowboys scoring their second fewest points of the season.

Then there was the 2008 season. The Cowboys began the season 4-1 before running into the Cardinals on the road. The Cowboys struggled protecting Romo. The Cowboys lost 30-24 in overtime. On the first possession of OT, Romo was hit hard, losing the ball and fracturing his finger. He steadfastly remained in the game and then his third-down pass fell woefully short. The Cowboys were forced to put, and inauspiciously became the first team to lose in overtime having a blocked punt recovered in the end zone for the overtime-winning TD.

Unable to play the next three weeks, the Cowboys went 1-2 with backup Brad Johnson proving his NFL days were numbered. The Cowboys scored no more than 14 points in each of those three games, in fact losing to the winless Rams the next game, 34-14. The Cowboys ended up 9-7, losing the final game to Philadelphia for the division title and a playoff berth. If not for the broken finger, who knows how far the Cowboys might have gone.

Romo suffered fractured ribs in that final game of the season. Yet he soldiered on. Almost passing out in the shower afterward, he bravely but gingerly stepped onto the podium we eventually helped him off. Answered roughly 10 minutes of questions. Yet near the end he was asked how hard would it be for him to return in 2009 knowing he dropped the snap in 2006, lost to the Giants in the 2007 playoff game and then this.

Romo then infamously said, "If this is the worst thing to happen to me I'll have lived a pretty good life."

Kaboom. Few knew the question. Few knew of the injury circumstance. Few heard the entire interview with him grimacing. That pitchfork of bad luck struck again.

Same in 2009. Led the team to the NFC East title with an 11-5 record. Won the first playoff game, extending the Cowboys' winning streak to four straight. But of all places the Cowboys had to play the Vikings in the Hollerdome, er, Metrodome. The Cowboys offensive line, showing its age, couldn't protect Romo to save his life. Got beat 34-3. Of course, it was his fault.

This up and down would continue after suffering the season-ending fractured collarbone in Game 6 of the 2010 season.

In 2011, the season should have never come down to the final game for the NFC East title, a season the Cowboys finished 8-8. Nine wins would have got them into the playoffs. But do you remember yet another overtime loss to Arizona, this one 19-13 that never should have reached overtime. Dan Bailey was kicking a last second 49-yard, game-winning field goal when the Cowboys assistants frantically were calling for head coach Jason Garrett to call time out, fearing they were about to suffer a delay of game. Garrett got the timeout just before Bailey hit what should have been the game-winning field goal to complete Romo's last-minute drive for the win. Then Bailey missed.

See what I mean.

In 2012, another 8-8 season. But in Game 15 against New Orleans, down 31-17 with only 4:45 left to play, Romo completed two touchdown passes, the second with 15 seconds remaining to send the game into overtime, 31-all. But on the Saints' first overtime possession, even after Morris Claiborne forced a Saints fumble at the Cowboys 25, Saints tight end Jimmy Graham swerved through Cowboys defenders to recover the bouncing ball rolling toward the end zone at the Cowboys 2. Seriously. A 34-31 overtime loss. Yes, the Cowboys lost the season's final game again for the NFC East title, coming up a victory short of the title.

In 2013, more heartache. Somehow, in Game 15, Romo recovered from having ruptured a disk in his back to lead the Cowboys to a fourth-quarter 24-23 victory at Washington, leading the Cowboys down 23-14 with 6:15 left to 10 points, including his 10-yard touchdown pass to DeMarco Murray with a 1:08 left while limping around.

Great, but Romo had surgery that week to repair his ruptured disk, and in the final game of the season, again for the NFC East title, Kyle Orton was intercepted on the final drive, the Cowboys losing 24-22, and a playoff berth once again in the third consecutive 8-8 season.

And I need not remind of 2014, Romo returning as good as new following his back surgery, the Cowboys going 12-4 and winning the NFC East again. But what happens? After beating Detroit in the first round of the playoffs, who will ever forget Dez Bryant's fourth-down catch at the Green Bay three with 4:06 remaining in the fourth quarter of what turned out to be a 26-21 loss, the catch I say to this day that was overturned by video review.

Once again, all that good ending in unfortunate sorrow.

So for those who choose to forget, they will maintain Romo could never "win the big one." But for those of us who intimately lived through every one of his 4,335 pass attempts, we will remember how fortunate Romo has been while misfortune continuously rained on his 14-year parade.

Guess you can't be lucky all the time.

But if you are Romo today, turning 37 April 21, no matter how unfortunate the circumstances of 2016 unfolded, suffering the compression fractures to his vertebrae the first series he played in preseason, giving way to Prescott for good. No matter if his feelings were understandably bruised when the Cowboys did not turn back to him in the midst of that 11-game winning streak on the way to a 13-3 season, Romo should consider this:

He's walking away from playing the game for 14 seasons saying he's as healthy now as he's ever felt over the past three or four years, a career littered with three fractured collarbones, a punctured lung, fractured finger, ruptured back disk and who knows what else he took shots for so he could get on the field.

He has a wonderful lady for a wife, Candice, a local girl surrounded by family.

He has two sons, and another child on the way, expected in the fall.

He should have earned all the money he'll ever need after starting off with the modest $10,000 signing bonus and a $225,000 base salary as the undrafted rookie who basically walked on at Eastern Illinois.

And who in their right minds, other than I guess CBS, hires a football player right off the field and yet to have even broadcast like some high school football game like Romo to take the reigns as Jim Nantz's analyst for their 2017 season NFL game broadcasts? Sorry, that just don't happen.

Except for Romo.

Yeah, life is not perfect. Not for any of us and certainly not for Tony Romo. We all have our bouts with the black cat crossing our paths, spreading a good measure of bad luck.

But in the end Tony has been pretty damn lucky.

To me, the leprechaun now stands tall, smiling all alone on his shoulders.

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