I really, really don't want to write this column. This sucks. This is falling in love for the first time and realizing she's dating half the football team. This is finding out Santa Claus isn't chilling in the North Pole and flying reindeer once a year. This is watching that beloved dog, who has devoted his life to you, limp one last time for the sole purpose of offering you a paw. This hurts.
Our world is about spin. And right now, the spin is that Tony Romo will be back behind center before we know it, maybe by late-October. And who knows, maybe he's going to lead this team to the Promised Land. If the world was a fair and just place, that would be true.
Romo has sacrificed his physical being for that dream to become a reality, many times over and then some. The fans, even many of his teammates, don't fully comprehend the abuse his body has taken the last decade. There have been multiple occasions when the doctors and the training staff have shaken their heads in disbelief as he willed himself on the field. Heck, he wanted to go back out there for a preseason game with a broken back.
For those who talk about the money and the fame, they don't appreciate those who are playing for the love and competition. We all tick differently upstairs. We all have different thresholds of pain. That's why so few are still playing such a violent sport at 36 years of age, whether their bank accounts have $87 or $87 million.
The end is almost never storybook, or it wouldn't be the end. In our happiest moments, we are never looking toward what's next or the transition. We are thinking the here and now will last forever. That's what makes the internal optimism in all of us among our greatest gifts.
The last four times Romo has started, behind by all accounts the best offensive line in the NFL, he has left because of an injury in three of those games. And we're not talking about a paper cut. We're talking about broken collarbones and broken bones in his back. And we're talking about a guy who has played through numerous injuries, those of which have been reported and those that haven't.
I'm not a doctor, and maybe Romo is the outlier who somehow, someway comes back this season, throws some picturesque spirals toward the end zone and the Cowboys have a magical run through the postseason. That would be rewarding, that would be fitting, that would make us all happy.
And that would be miraculous. Alas, I don't envision that happening.
The reality of the situation is that Romo's body is making the decisions for him. And those decisions certainly seem to be that his best days are yesteryear. Perhaps all his days are yesteryear. At some point, it's time, it's time to bid adieu, it's time to say that walking upright the next 40 years takes precedent over trying to play another season, another game, another snap.
[embeddedad0]The ridiculousness of an undrafted kid from Eastern Illinois becoming the quarterback of America's Team has never really received the appreciation the fairytale story warrants. His meteoric rise to fame, the fact that he likely would have been released if Quincy Carter didn't fail a drug test, and who knows, maybe he's a golf pro back home in Wisconsin. Here's guessing almost none of us would remember him being on the roster during his rookie season, such an afterthought that he was taking snaps for the flag football team composed of various team employees. He just wanted to play, for the joy, for the love of the game.
He's already solidified his place in the Ring of Honor, having owned virtually every season and game passing record in franchise history. He likely falls short of the Pro Football Hall of Fame, although it's worth noting that among those who have made 100 career starts, only Aaron Rodgers has a higher career passer rating than Romo. Immediately behind him are Steve Young, Peyton Manning, Tom Brady and Drew Brees, who are enshrined or headed to Canton. A few spots further down the list is Joe Montana. Strictly speaking in terms of numbers, Romo ranks with the all-time greats, that's not up for debate.
And yes, as I envision some idiot racing to the keyboard to add a comment about his playoff wins, yeah, I know. Tony does, too. For those of us who lived on Planet Reality, it's worth noting that Romo's 61.4 career winning percentage as a starter is higher than Dan Marino, Donovan McNabb, Brees and oh, yeah, Troy Aikman.
Romo himself told me once, this is a few years back, "I know the deal. I know it's the most high-profile position in sports. I know that it's about Super Bowls. I know that if I don't win one, I'm a disappointment, that my career will be judged differently. When you're the quarterback of the Dallas Cowboys, it's about winning championships."
Doesn't help that these last 11 seasons, the defense has finished higher than 13th in points allowed once. They have also finished 20th twice, 24th, 26th and 31st.
As for Romo's future, every indication is that no matter the team's record, 7-0, 0-7 or somewhere in between, when he's ready to go, likely after the bye week, the starting gig will again be his. At least until the next injury, or he just decides that it's time.
The end arrives so very quickly for NFL players, the twilight is never guaranteed. Some 20 months ago he finished second in the NFL MVP voting. Just last month he was playing with his kids at training camp, throwing seemingly every ball in practice to his receiver's hands, as if they possessed cowhide magnets. And now, well, now we have this.
Don Meredith retired when he was 30 years, mostly because of injuries. Make no mistake, no Cowboys quarterback has ever taken the physical beating that "Dandy Don" endured. Roger Staubach was forced to hang up his Captain America gear because of concussions and Troy Aikman was just 34 when his back told his brain, "No Mas."
It's not my place to say that Romo should say no more himself and move on. If he wants to return and put himself at further risk, so be it. I just don't want to watch him be carried off the field. I don't want to see any more broken bones. I don't want to witness him face down in unimaginable pain.
That's the mindset of professional athletes, always has been. There's always one more game … until there isn't.
Yeah, it's football. It's not chess or tiddlywinks. Still, three broken body parts in four games is more than a TKO. For most, it's would be game, set and match.
I always thought this would have a happy ending; that Romo would win that Super Bowl he so much deserves. Alas, the world isn't puppies and champagne.
Romo deserved better, but life is unfair and the world doesn't pause for sentiment. This we know. Let it be said, though, that the legacy of Tony Romo the football player should be that he left it on the field, both his brilliant instinctive talent and his reckless, stubborn toughness.
Also, I think Romo was wrong, when he told me that being quarterback of the Dallas Cowboys is about winning championships. The real fans are smarter than that. They know that it's about class, loyalty, commitment, toughness, dedication and sacrifice. And Romo has been all of those and then some.
It's time, though. The end is either here or it's knocking on the front doorstep.
Check out Jeff Sullivan's column each week in Dallas Cowboys Star Magazine. Find out more at DallasCowboys.com/star. You can also follow Jeff on Twitter, @SullyBaldHead, or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.