Friday, October 23, 2009

Star Mag: Tony Romo - The Numbers Don't Lie

Despite his detractors, Tony Romo's statistics match up with the greatest quarterbacks in the history of the game.

by Jeff Sullivan

His career record as a starting quarterback was 62-63-4. He threw 173 touchdown passes and 220 interceptions, and played 12 seasons in the media capital of the world during an era of a dozen daily newspapers, both morning and afternoon editions. And his plethora of television commercials would've made Michael Jordan blush.

Heck, "Broadway Joe" even wore pantyhose in one memorable take.

Yet Joe Namath was an icon, a media darling, the pride of New York City in the post-Mickey Mantle Era.

There's this other slinger, just starting out really, has won 30 of his 44 regular-season starts. He has also registered the third-highest career quarterback rating in the history of the sport at 93.8, trailing only Steve Young and Peyton Manning.

His name is Antonio Ramiro Romo, goes by Tony.

After a brief honeymoon, though, when he first replaced Drew Bledsoe in 2006, Romo has taken more heat from the fan base and media than Namath could ever imagine.

The scrutiny has intensified this season, actually from the first day of training camp in San Antonio when noticeable boos could be heard at the Alamodome as Romo took the field. Just last week at the U2 concert at Cowboys Stadium, when Bono informed the 75,000 on hand that Romo and Jason Witten were in attendance, the boo birds made another appearance, not overbearing, but conspicuous nonetheless. They weren't for Witten, either.

This isn't about the booing, though. Nor does this involve the tabloid filth, the message-board nonsense, the talk radio gibberish or overall negativity that seems to monopolize our sports culture. Those who win are no longer praised as much as those who lose are vilified. The victorious have not won as much as those defeated have lost. Blame is assessed first and foremost, credit awarded only in the rarest of instances.

Here's the crux of this enigma: Romo has won more football games at this stage of his career than all but 11 signal callers since World War II. Yes, he hasn't won a postseason game, but this is also his third full season as the starter. Before Romo inherited the reins, the Cowboys were 43-59 since a playoff loss at Minnesota on Jan. 9, 2000.

Honestly, have Cowboys fans forgotten seasons like 2001? The final numbers included a 59.9 quarterback rating, 14 touchdown passes and 20 interceptions. Barely half of the pass attempts were completed for less than six yards per try. The Cowboys finished 5-11, with Quincy Carter, Ryan Leaf, Anthony Wright and Clint Stoerner each starting at least two games. Dallas scored more than 21 points twice, and never more than 27. Romo has led the Cowboys to at least 30 points in 16 of his 44 starts.

Again, through the Week 5 victory at Kansas City, Romo is 30-14 as a regular-season starter. Let's compare those numbers with some of the legends of the gridiron.

There are 23 modern-era (since 1945) quarterbacks in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Here is each of their records as a starter through 44 regular-season games:

Otto Graham: 39-3-2

Dan Marino: 34-10

Roger Staubach: 33-11

Norm Van Brocklin: 31-11-2

John Elway: 31-13

Johnny Unitas: 29-15

Terry Bradshaw: 27-17

Bob Waterfield: 26-16-2

George Blanda: 26-17-1
(NOTE: Blanda was also a kicker)

Len Dawson: 24-19-1

Joe Montana: 24-20

Joe Namath: 22-18-4

Jim Kelly: 22-22

Bart Starr: 21-22-1

Y.A. Tittle: 20-24

Bob Griese: 19-23-2

Troy Aikman: 19-25

Steve Young: 19-25
(after a 12-23 start, Young finished his career 82-26)

Bobby Layne: 17-25-2

Sonny Jurgensen: 17-25-2

Dan Fouts: 13-30-1

Fran Tarkenton: 12-30-2

Warren Moon: 11-33

Five of the 23 started their careers with better records than Romo. Other retired quarterbacks with higher winning percentages through 44 games include Daryle Lamonica (39-4-1), although that came strictly in the AFL before the merger, Ken Stabler (34-9-1) and Danny White, who while also criticized by the Dallas press and fan base matched Staubach's mark of 33-11.

For the record, Don Meredith's record through 44 games was 18-23-3.

As for active starting quarterbacks, only Kurt Warner, Tom Brady and Ben Roethlisberger won more games through their first 44 starts than Romo. Here are the records for the 15 active quarterbacks with at least that many starts.

Kurt Warner: 35-9

Tom Brady: 32-12

Ben Roethlisberger: 32-12

Philip Rivers: 30-14

Michael Vick: 29-14-1

Marc Bulger: 28-16
(after a 19-4 start, Bulger is 21-47 since)

Donovan McNabb: 28-16

Jake Delhomme: 26-18

Brett Favre: 25-19

Carson Palmer: 25-19

Peyton Manning: 23-21

Matt Hasselbeck: 23-21

Kerry Collins: 23-21

Eli Manning: 22-22

Drew Brees: 21-23

So the final tally has 11 quarterbacks in 64-plus seasons that have started their careers with a higher winning percentage through 44 games than Romo. And among them, only Marino tallied a higher quarterback rating through that same stretch. Football historians often cite Marino's first four seasons (1983-86) as the mountaintop of prolific passing, and while no one is arguing that point, Romo's combination of victories and statistics have no equal at this point in his career outside of that near mythic stretch.

However, these accomplishments aren't being celebrated, not in the least. Rather, Romo has become the center point of a frustrated fan base ready to claim another Super Bowl, or at the least, the first postseason win since Dec. 28, 1996. And while there's certainly nothing wrong with "America's Team" being held to higher expectations, is there any doubt that Romo offers the franchise's best chance at immediate and long-term success?

Even this season, as of Week 5, only Peyton Manning had won more games and thrown for more yards than Romo. Again, that's just this season, and yet Romo has been ripped at every turn, not only by the media and fans, but by ex-Dallas players like Tony Dorsett and Emmitt Smith. Others have come to Romo's defense, teammates especially, as well as former Cowboys Aikman, Staubach and Michael Irvin, who said this summer, "To be talking about getting rid of Tony is absolutely ridiculous. Can we get Drew Bledsoe out there for just a week so you guys can really fall back in love with Tony?"

The numbers speak louder than words or opinions.

A sampling:

Romo's 93.8 career passer rating (minimum 1,400 attempts) is third on the all-time list, above such icons as Brady, Montana, Marino and double-digits higher than Staubach or Aikman. Now, no one is claiming the QB rating is the end-all of statistics, and obviously it's skewed to the current passing scope, as Staubach ranked second behind just Graham at 83.4 when he retired following the 1979 campaign. "Captain Comeback" now ranks 28th.

Romo leads all active NFL quarterbacks in yards per completion (12.8), passing touchdown percentage (5.9) and net yards per pass attempt (7.40).

He has 18 career 300-yard games in 44 starts, or four fewer than White (10), Meredith (7) and Staubach (5) combined. And the Cowboys are 15-3 in those starts. Romo has also registered a passer rating higher than 100.0 an incredible 24 times.

And these accomplishments have come at the start of his career, when most quarterbacks are developing. Through Bradshaw's first 44 starts, despite 27 wins, he threw 41 touchdown passes against 73 interceptions while completing less than 50 percent of his passes. Even Aikman didn't really emerge as a top-tier starter until his fourth season.

In the end, though, perhaps the numbers don't matter, and those who have decided to boo Romo will continue to regardless. Maybe the quarterback of the Dallas Cowboys is only measured by the Super Bowl rings he possesses, White serving as the previous prime example of that. Just seems like after 44 games, not even three full seasons' time, that winning 68 percent of one's starts and putting up some of the most impressive numbers the position has ever witnessed would be enough.

Perplexing really, although in this day and age, reality is often fogged by perception, especially in professional sports, not to mention when one plays arguably the highest profile position in football. Romo should really be one of the all-time feel-good stories, the undrafted free agent who didn't even play Division I college football becomes the starting quarterback of "America's Team," and through three-plus seasons produces historic passing numbers, all the while running around avoiding the pass rush like a kid in the schoolyard.

Instead, to many, Tony Romo has the next 11 weeks to prove himself worthy of carrying the torch passed down by Staubach and Aikman.

The numbers would suggest he already has.

Dallas Cowboys Star Magazine, October 24, 2009