Sunday, October 5, 2008

Sorry 'pokes, Tony Romo is Only Very Good

OK, let's try this again. This time, I'll separate opinion from fact so the unreasonable Cowboy fans (NOTE: this is not all of you, probably not even the majority) know where it is vulnerable. That way, I can save you the effort of fabricating weaknesses.

Opinion #1 - regular season success is nice, but the most important thing to real fans is winning championships.

One of the double-edges of rooting for historically competitive teams is that you learn a bitter lesson very well: the closer you get to a championship, the more painful failure is. Ask an '86 Red Sox fan. Or a post-2000 Yankee fan. Or you can take it from this fan of the '02 San Francisco Giants. The lesson would not be true if regular season success defined us as fans since such success is a prerequisite for the ultimate agonizing defeat, not a cure.

Opinion #2 - the best players in any sport are the ones who do the most to help their teams win championships.

In no sport is this truer than in football. At no position is this truer than quarterback. Dan Marino owned every record in the book for a while. But he is not usually in the "Best QB Ever" discussion or he's dismissed quickly. Joe Montana has mediocre statistics by comparison. But Montana is in almost every such discussion, often the consensus winner. Montana has multiple rings while Marino retired ringless. NOBODY argues Marino is better than Montana. This is not a coincidence. As Shannon Sharpe said, you only date records, you marry championships.

Opinion #3 - when we're talking about NFL QBs, the most significant difference between good and great players is NOT physical ability.

These guys are the top .0000005% of the world at what they do. It's just illogical to argue that the talent level within that small of a group differs drastically from player-to-player when talent is the primary qualification for entry into it. Sure, there are guys like Brett Favre, John Elway, and Michael Vick who had some exceptional gift that set them apart based on raw ability. Or guys like Jeff Garcia and Doug Flutie who were physically average yet still enjoyed success. But they are the exceptions.

Opinion #4 - when we're talking about NFL QBs, the most significant difference between good and great players is the confidence and poise to bring raw ability to bear under the suffocating pressure of unreasonable expectations or high stakes.

We could revisit the Marino-Montana comparison, but I like Marino. Comparing him over and over to Montana isn't fair; after all, Darlin' Dan is the strongest argument for greatness despite missing a ring. Instead, take a look at the list of supremely talented QBs who flopped: Ryan Leaf, Michael Vick, Daunte Culpepper, Todd Marinovich, Jeff George, etc. These guys had just as much talent (often more) than guys who went on to great success.

Another example was on display during the Miami-San Diego game. Chad Pennington has fallen into an abyss the last couple years; he was almost pushed out of the league. But coming off a confidence-boosting win, he showed much more poise leading the offense and looked great doing it. Has his talent-level changed drastically in the last couple of weeks? Obviously not, but his performance has.

Opinion #5 - if you constantly mention a group of individuals together, you imply that they are equal unless you explicitly say otherwise.

I don't really have much to support this; HERE is the weakest part of the argument. I can be persuaded one way or the other. I just think it's natural to conclude that, by constantly making a collective unit of separate individuals without differentiating between them, you imply that there is no significant difference i.e. they are the same.

If you agree with these opinions, the only objective conclusion is that Tony Romo is overrated based on the following facts:

Fact #1 - Romo is constantly mentioned in the same breath with the best QBs in the league - Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, Brett Favre, Eli Manning, etc. WITHOUT qualification.

The talking heads do not restrict the comparison to statistics or regular season success. They do not say that Romo is on his way to being amongst the elite or has the potential to be there. They simply speak as if he already has arrived. Often they explicitly call him one of the best.

Fact #2 - there are other QBs in the league who have put up similar stats and/or have won some big games with no more talent around them (often less).

Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, Eli Manning, Ben Roethlisberger, Brett Favre, Drew Brees, Donovan McNabb, Carson Palmer, Phillip Rivers, Jake Delhomme, and David Garrard all come to mind. As for Garrard, I'm honestly shocked people are so down on him. I understand that the D and running game largely won that playoff game in Pittsburgh. I also understand he threw 2 picks. But am I the only one who remembers the big plays he came up with down the stretch - both of that game and the regular season? This was a ROAD PLAYOFF game, in Pittsburgh no less (not the easiest place to play in the dead of winter). And his team was still standing when the dust settled.

The following need no further discussion:

Fact #3 - Romo has not led the Cowboys to a playoff win or any other win that is directly and immediately significant to a Super Bowl ring i.e. a regular season game that decides your postseason fate.

Fact #4 - despite having superior players, his teams have lost 2 such games (one at home) and Romo showed considerable lack of poise in both losses (interceptions, bad decisions, fumbled snap, etc.).

Fact #5 - Romo is only in his 3rd season as the starter.

Fact #6 - Romo plays behind one of the best offensive lines in the league.

Fact #7 - Romo leads one of the deepest arsenals of offensive skill players in the league.

Fact #8 - Romo throws a lot of interceptions and fumbles too frequently.

From here, the conclusion is simple. Since Romo's confidence and poise at the most important moments still need work, he cannot be on par with the Mannings, Brady, and Favre. As long as people continue to mention them all together, that's exactly where he is. And this is overrating him.

Not only that, but putting him above some of the other QBs in league may be too high considering his ranking is largely a product of statistics and regular season wins, which in turn could be more the product of his environment than Romo. Who knows what the superior talent of guys like JeMarcus Russell, Jay Cutler, Matt Ryan, Jason Campbell, Aaron Rodgers, or Roethlisberger could do in that offense?

Furthermore, who knows what Romo would look like if you took him out of Dallas? That offense gives him a big advantage when it comes to confidence and poise, and those are still his biggest weaknesses to date.

I'm not saying I'd take those guys over him. I'm just saying that his offense is probably making him look better than he is and some of those guys are still pretty close.

Lastly, I want to point out something. That he is overrated (i.e. not yet one of the best) is NOT A CRITICISM. The man is young and relatively inexperienced - he SHOULD NOT YET be one of the best. That he has already ascended to his current heights and handled himself so well under the glare of Dallas is nothing short of incredible. I respect Tony Romo. I would certainly root for him if he played for a different team.

If this is an attack, it's an attack on the "experts" doing the rating.

Since Romo is not in this group, I'm really struggling to see how I've offended him or his fans.

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