Offseason | 2021

Spagnola: Looking Back At A Really Good Friday


FRISCO, Texas – On a quiet Friday out here inside The Star, sort of reminded me of working on another Good Friday eight years ago.

March 29, 2013.

Not here, of course, but out at The Ranch.

The very day the Cowboys had plotted their future for the rest of the decade, the signing of quarterback Tony Romo, about to turn only 33, to a six-year, $108 million contract extension, with $55 million of that guaranteed, catching most off guard.

Became a darn good Friday to be working, and certainly a great Friday for Romo and his family, as well as the Cowboys, who needed the benefits of a long-term deal, including the $25 million signing bonus that would help create $5 million more in cap room than they initially had with their quarterback eating up what at the time seemed an enormous $16.8 million for the 2013 season.

Kind of a day like today out here, not much activity going on out at The Ranch that Good Friday, so was able to run into Tony and his family after they emerged from the signing in the office of Cowboys owner Jerry Jones late that afternoon.

Really a Good Friday, right Tony?

Romo parried any religious significance to his good fortune, saying, "Good Friday is not about me, I can promise you that," with his still boyish grin. "It's definitely a blessing from the Lord, and we're excited about that."

Sure he was, knowing the six-year extension tacked on to the final year of his previous contract meant he would be locked up by the Cowboys until turning 40 in 2020, the age he said he'd like to play to that most thought preposterous for a quarterback back then.

The Cowboys were excited about it, too.

In a statement later that day, Jones had this to say:

"This is a significant day in terms of securing stability for our team for the future. We are very confident in this investment and commitment. Tony is uniquely qualified to lead this team … for the next several years."

Romo was thinking the very same thing, sensing the Cowboys were close to turning a corner for their first winning season since going 11-5 in 2009 before falling off the football cliff, going 6-10 the next season year then consecutive 8-8 seasons after Jason Garrett took over as head coach.

Man, he was pumped.

"I just think it's exciting, to know you're going to be here for the rest of your career, and to where our football team is going," Romo told me that day. "For me, knowing the talent we've got at some places, obviously we were banged up in places and didn't have the team we thought we might have as the (2012) season progressed. But knowing that, I'm excited about the team in the years going forward. …

"I've been here long enough to know when you've got a team, and I think our team is going to get there."

Who knew at the time, right?

Sometimes life throws you a curveball.

But in this case, this was a dastardly knuckleball, and it didn't take long.

Plowing through an injury-riddled 2013 season, the Cowboys were sitting at 8-7 heading into the final game of the year at AT&T Stadium against Philadelphia. They had been so close that season, having lost three of four one-point decisions – one of those to now head coach Mike McCarthy's Packers, 37-36 – and that three-point shootout, 51-48, to Peyton Manning and the Broncos. Win, and they claim the NFC East. Lose and the honor goes to Eagles, a team the Cowboys had beaten on the road, 17-3, earlier in the season.

But the Cowboys paid a heavy price getting to 8-7 the previous Sunday, getting that lone one-point victory over Washington, 24-23, Romo leading a gallant comeback after being down 23-14 entering the fourth quarter.

During the course of the game, Romo had suffered a back injury. Probably shouldn't have been able to continue playing. But play he did, throwing a touchdown pass to Marion Barber with 1:08 remaining to take the lead. Afterward, he said he merely "twisted" his back.

"Twisted," my foot.

After getting off the postgame podium stand, and while we were walking to the bus at FedEx Field, Romo admitted he didn't think he would be able to play Sunday. The back was bad. That bad.

Sure enough, that bad, Romo undergoing surgery the Friday before the season's final game to repair a herniated disk. And with no Romo, no Sean Lee (neck) and a highly-limited DeMarcus Ware (hyper-extended elbow), the Cowboys were beaten, 24-22, by the Eagles, backup starter Kyle Orton's last pass as a Cowboy picked off on the team's final possession.

Yes, Romo would return in 2014 to lead the Cowboys to that 12-4 record, and first-round playoff victory over Detroit. But then came the Packers and McCarthy next, you know, the "No Catch" game that indeed was "a catch" by Dez Bryant in the final minutes of a 26-21 loss.

Then 2015. Romo twice suffers a fractured collarbone, starting just four games and finishing only two. The Cowboys ended that 4-12 season having started four different quarterbacks, three of those wins being Romo starts.

Like some Greek Tragedy, right?

That turned Shakespearean in 2016 when Romo suffered the compression fracture in his back during the third preseason game. And after fourth-round draft choice, some rookie named Dak Prescott, figuring to be no more than the team's third-string quarterback, took the Cowboys on an eight-game winning streak that stretched to 11 and a 13-3 record. When healthy Romo conceded to becoming no more than the backup, and would make just one more game appearance in his 14-year career, that in a meaningless season finale, coming in briefly for Dak to complete three of four passes, including a 3-yard touchdown pass to Terrance Williams in what turned out to be the final throw of his NFL career.

By opening week of the 2017 season, Romo had retired and was in the CBS broadcast booth on gameday alongside Jim Nance.

A far cry from that 2013 Good Friday when all seemed so swell, when if plans had gone accordingly, Romo would have been the Cowboys' starting quarterback for seven more seasons.

Instead, he'll be turning 41 this April 21, heading toward his fifth season in the CBS booth, and that "some guy" back about this time in 2016, is now known universally as just _Dak_, currently grinding away to return from a season-ending injury of his own five games into the 2020 season with a newly-minted four-year, $160 million contract in hand.

Romo a cruel reminder of how delicate these playing careers really are, and as we've all found out over this past year, how delicate all of our lives can be.

So count your blessings this Easter weekend because this Good Friday is really, really good, for more reasons than just religious.

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