There once was a quarterback who played for the Dallas Cowboys. He was a charismatic, fun-loving leader who often did not get the respect or credit he deserved. This guy was tough, took a beating and played through injuries. He took a losing franchise and made them relevant, yet when he performed on the biggest stage the final act was more symbolic of a Greek tragedy as opposed to happily ever after. He hung it up while he still had something left in tank. He took a job in broadcasting and finally earned the kudos he should of had during his playing days. In retrospect the fans and organization appreciated the colorful playing career he had and he found his way into the Cowboys Ring of Honor. While he didn’t earn a bust in Canton, he was honored with the Pro Football Hall of Fame Pete Rozelle Radio-Television Award at the Enshrinee’s Dinner.
It sounds like the past, present and potential future for Tony Romo? Right? Take another guess. That is a brief synopsis of the late Don Meredith’s legacy in professional football on the field and in the booth.
Long before Romo and any other recognizable Cowboys quarterback, there was “Dandy” Don Meredith. Meredith, who played his high school and collegiate ball (SMU) in the North Texas area, joined the hometown expansion Cowboys in 1960. He never made it to the Super Bowl, but Meredith has to be given credit as the man who established playing quarterback in Dallas as a glamour position in professional sports.
Meredith did more for his legacy as one of the original broadcasters on Monday Night Football. It made viewers recall what a very good quarterback he was and how his playing career was just inches from being legendary.
The epic of Dandy Don is one of my favorite football stories. He was a character like no other. So why aren’t there any movies or books about him? Well there kind of is. His former teammate and good friend Peter Gent wrote a novel titled North Dallas Forty in which fictional quarterback Seth Maxwell is based on Meredith. The controversial and captivating read was later made into a movie.
Tony Romo’s ballad could be the inspiration for a paperback or a Hollywood script one day, however now that he heads to partner up with Jim Nantz he will have the opportunity to add to his legacy in a new fashion. Many feel that Romo is receiving a shot at CBS that he doesn’t deserve considering he has no broadcast experience. That may be true and it likely won’t be an easy transition, but I’m betting on Romo. The curiosity of Romo’s commentary will give the ratings a slight boost and younger fans will appreciate a familiar player that they grew up watching calling the action. I predict he will surprise a lot of people with unique insight. Meredith retired after the 1968 season before joining Monday Night Football in its debut in 1970. That didn’t turn out too bad, did it?
But let’s go back to Tony Romo the player. How should he be remembered? Is he being shown too much love on his way out the door? What did he accomplish to receive this praise? In sports there is room for a lot of different characters, novelties and myths. Not everyone gets to be the knight who slayed the dragon and rode off on a white steed with a beautiful princess’s arms clutching his waist. We might envy the ultimate hero, but we don’t always identify with him.
The role of Romo as the tragic hero is something that we are more able to relate to. Many of us in life have had to work hard to conquer the odds and in doing so we were able to exceed expectations, but for whatever reason the big break never came and the grand milestone achievement eluded us.
Even though it didn’t have a fairy tale ending, it doesn’t take away the incredible plays Romo made on the field. There are certain things he did at the quarterback position that only a sorcerer could duplicate. He made football in Dallas fun again. Whether you loved him or hated him you wanted to see him play because he seemed to add high drama to the game. He teased you into thinking he might pull it off only to blow it in the final minutes or he fooled you that he would fold again while stealing another win.
Romo doesn’t belong in the Hall of Fame, but he was just a couple plays away from greatness. Take away a non-catch here, a bobbled snap there, a drive-killing penalty here or a fluke injury there and the narrative on Romo has changed significantly.
Unlike Meredith, Romo is receiving the accolades he deserves as he rides off into the sunset. Just because he didn’t deliver hardware it doesn’t mean fans can’t appreciate the fact that he set team records, made some of the most memorable plays in franchise history and did it all while sacrificing his personal health.
What’s next for the undrafted kid out of Eastern Illinois? Will he be as revered of a broadcaster as Dandy was? Let’s not look that far ahead. Joining Meredith in the Dallas Cowboys Ring of Honor would make the most sense for the near future.