By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
Why wait? Evidenced by his scintillating five-touchdown performance in last Sunday night's 45-35 season-opening win over the New York Giants, the Dallas Cowboys are blessed with one of the best—perhaps the best—young quarterbacks in the National Football League. Affable enough to get himself into GQ and accurate enough to get his team into the Super Bowl, Romo is the franchise's single biggest jolt of hope since Troy Aikman.
And his price is only going up.
Marc Bulger is earning $10 million to quarterback the St. Louis Rams this season. The Houston Texans are paying Matt Schaub $8 million. Romo, whose two-year contract expires at the end of the season, makes $1.5 million. Paltry. Pathetic. And, considering the swiftly dwindling list of quarterbacks the Cowboys would trade Romo for, downright precarious.
Romo could, in theory, play out his current deal and become a free agent after the season. Better late than never, Jones should make him an offer he can't refuse.
Because, like a lot of us, the owner was in Texas Stadium last weekend. He saw Romo throw for a career-high 345 yards, toss four touchdowns and scramble for another. He witnessed Romo improvising, maneuvering and willing Dallas to a 1-0 start. Bottom line be damned, Jones must realize his quarterback's unique talents are, in fact, priceless.
"I don't want to get crazy here," Jones said in the wake of Romo's debut, "but it shows you can make up for a lot of sins if you've got you some good quarterbacking."
Even Miss South Carolina and her legion of U.S. Americans can discern that the Cowboys are full of flaws.
On offense, speed receiver Terry Glenn may be lost for the season with a bum knee, Terrell Owens was on the verge of his old sulking self after a catchless first half and it's becoming more glaring that Marion Barber needs to replace Julius Jones as the starting running back. Defensively, who knew coach Wade Phillips' "3-4" defense was a roundabout indicator of points allowed?
Phillips, who openly boasts about himself as a "great defensive coach," took a swig of Diet Dr Pepper in the post-game interview room before bellowing ironically, "How 'bout my offense, huh?!"
Softened without injured starters Jason Ferguson, Greg Ellis and Terence Newman, the Cowboys produced only one sack and surrendered 438 yards. But it's not an aberration, more a troubling trend. In its last two home games Dallas has been gashed for 74 points, eight touchdown passes and 800 total yards.
Against the Giants there were brain-fart penalties, burned timeouts, premature snaps and fumbled kickoffs. Flozell Adams, as usual, committed penalties. Roy Williams, as usual, couldn't cover. Ridiculous mascot Rowdy, as usual, inexplicably waved off perfectly good extra points. Even the stadium's music—America's Got Talent's runner-up at halftime and The Beatles' "Twist and Shout" at the two-minute warning—didn't feel right.
Romo, thankfully, dumped his giant vat of Wite-Out on all the typos, hiccups and warts.
Unshackled by Phillips and offensive coordinator Jason Garrett, Romo coated the franchise in optimism. Despite the team's shortcomings, the Cowboys Universe is more upbeat than any time since 1999. The 45-point catheter rammed into the Giants is Dallas' highest-scoring opener since 1971 and the most exciting, and promising, lid-lifter since the 21-point comeback to beat the Redskins in Washington eight years ago.
In that game Aikman threw for 362 yards and three touchdowns, including a 76-yarder to Rocket Ismail in overtime. The Cowboys, who visit the Miami Dolphins Sunday afternoon, haven't started a season 2-0 since.
"Scoring 45 points every game is unrealistic," Romo said after the game. "But we're sure as heck gonna try."
Bill Parcells must be rolling over in his stolen millions, because instead of losing despite Romo, the Cowboys are now prepared to win because of Romo. Gone are the lead-coddling checkdowns to harmless targets like Lousaka Polite, replaced by go-for-the-jugular deep balls to game-breakers like Sam Hurd.
The Cowboys, who for the last four seasons played not to lose, finally are playing to win.
"You have to stay aggressive," said Garrett. "We have the weapons and the quarterback to keep pushing, keep attacking. That's what we're going to do."
Let's take a quick timeout to breathe in that philosophy, shall we? Delicious.
Instead of trying to nurture a 17-16 halftime lead, the Cowboys bewildered a weary Giants defense sapped by an injury to leading pass rusher Osi Umenyiora and the night's stifling humidity. Instead of mandating that his quarterback be a conservative bus driver, Phillips allowed Romo to play kamikaze pilot.
That, of course, is when Romo's at his best. Moving in the pocket. Scrambling. Coloring outside the lines. Throwing on the run from geometric angles only Roger Federer could duplicate. He's not your prototypical quarterback, and that's precisely what makes him so damn valuable.
Though Romo models $300 jeans in this month's GQ, he's more comfy acting goofy in his backward cap. Two hours before kickoff last Sunday night he playfully jogged around Texas Stadium, waving to fans, pouring a water bottle over his face and intercepting a casual pass between assistant trainers before sprinting up the tunnel. That was after playing imaginary drums and air guitar to his official mix-tape centerpiece, Journey's "Don't Stop Believing."