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Silver Star
Tim Layden
December 11, 2006
In two months, Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo has gone from a buried backup to the NFL's best-rated passer and its brightest new light
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December 11, 2006

Silver Star

In two months, Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo has gone from a buried backup to the NFL's best-rated passer and its brightest new light

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Everything turned on just three words. An old quarterback was cast aside, and a young quarterback was offered his place. A fabled franchise was reinvigorated and its silver-haired future Hall of Fame coach was transformed from listless and sad to vibrant and feisty. Talk of rebuilding morphed suddenly into talk of winning the Super Bowl. Three words. " Romo, you're in!" shouted Dallas Cowboys quarterbacks coach Chris Palmer on the night of Monday, Oct. 23, in the team's Texas Stadium locker room at half-time of the Cowboys' game against the New York Giants.

"Not very romantic, I guess," says Tony Romo of Palmer's order, delivered on behalf of coach Bill Parcells only when the Cowboys had reached the brink of desperation, and worse, absurdity. They trailed the Giants 12--7. A loss would drop them to 3--3, and soon thereafter the Cowboys' 2006 season would be remembered as the year in which Terrell Owens did or did not try to kill himself and Parcells ended his coaching career with a whimper, a beaten bit player in an embarrassing dark comedy.

Romo, 26, had not taken a meaningful snap since the Cowboys signed him as an undrafted free agent from Division I-AA Eastern Illinois in 2003 and buried him on the depth chart, behind the likes of Quincy Carter, Chad Hutchinson and Clint Stoerner. And he did not lead the Cowboys to a comeback win over the Giants that night. He threw three second-half interceptions that played prominently in a 36--22 loss.

Since that defeat, however, the Cowboys have won five of six games, and with Sunday's 23--20 victory over the Giants in New Jersey they are 8--4 and hold a two-game lead in the NFC East. Romo's production has been stunning: He has completed 67.8% of his passes and leads the NFL with a 102.4 passer rating--just ahead of Peyton Manning. The Giants hammered Romo with blitzes and tested him with deftly disguised Cover Twos, yet at the end of an often frustrating afternoon (20 for 34, 257 yards, no touchdowns, two interceptions and a fumble), Romo figured prominently in the game's two biggest plays.

First, after the Giants had tied the game at 20 with 1:12 to play, Romo completed a 42-yard pass on a first-down seam route by tight end Jason Witten, instantly putting the Giants in peril. It was a veteran's completion. The play called for Romo to look first for either wideout Patrick Crayton on an underneath cross from the left or Owens on a skinny post from the right. "There are about five options on the play," said Romo after the game, "and Witten is probably Number 4, or even 5." On the snap, Romo felt pressure from his right and reverse-pivoted to his left, away from it. As he came out of the roll, he saw that Witten had beaten linebacker Antonio Pierce upfield, quickly squared his shoulders--no easy task--and hit Witten with a long, crisp spiral before defensive back Will Demps could close on Witten from the outside. "I couldn't lead Jason, because the corner would have gotten there," Romo said. "The ball had to have something on it." It was the perfect marriage of thought and execution.

Four plays later Dallas lined up for a potential game-winning 46-yard field goal by their new kicker, Martin Gramatica. The Giants called timeout to unnerve the emotional Gramatica, who was signed only five days earlier. When the play clock was started, Romo, the holder, walked up behind his offensive linemen and shouted at them to keep their heads. "I told them not to move if the Giants start calling fake timeouts," Romo said. "Because you can't call two in a row, but they might try to get us to false start, and we didn't need to lose five more yards."

Gramatica nailed the kick. Romo's legend grew. "This kid is for real," says Cowboys veteran guard Marco Rivera. "He can take charge in the huddle. He can lead the team. He can play."

It is romantic, after all. Follow the making of a legend, in six acts.

ACT I: The Kid

The third child, and first son, born to Ramiro and Joan (n�e Jakubowski) Romo came into the world in 1980, while Ramiro was stationed at a U.S. naval base in San Diego. "My family is from Mexico," says Ramiro. "Tony's mom's family is part Polish, part German. Tony is Heinz 57."

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