By Andrew Canfield, US Daily Review Contributor
Sometimes the only antidote to the rumblings is a championship. For eight seasons, Peyton Manning experienced it. The praising of his talent, the astronomical quarterback ratings, consecutive starts, and scores of touchdowns all overshadowed by the former Volunteer’s inability to capture that elusive Super Bowl title. But secure it Manning did in 2006, shaking the big game folder reputation that had stalked him since his days in Knoxville. Numerous professional athletes have been dogged throughout otherwise stellar careers over lack of a championship: Malone, Kelly, Barkley, and Marino certainly come to mind. The punctuation to a team leader’s playing days that a league title provides cannot be downplayed: it exists and is undeniably tangible.
This parallel has been full display in the Dallas sports world in recent years, as the two most marketable names in the Metroplex have faced questions about their penchant for not delivering when the season is on the line. These two athletes have similarities which do not stop with their level of identification among the Dallas/Fort Worth sports conscious: Dirk Nowitzki and Tony Romo each have a career trajectory that lends valuable insight into how far winning a championship goes to silencing doubters.
Prior to the successful conclusion of the 2010-2011 NBA season, Maverick fans were still clinging to the memory of the 2006 NBA finals. And who could blame them, as that year saw Dallas squander an opportunity to go up 3-0 prior to utterly collapsing against the pre-King James version of the Heat. This series loss had reinforced the stereotype of Dirk Nowitzki as a top tier player who simply couldn’t perform under pressure, a caricature furthered by what ensued in the season following the NBA finals collapse.
That bipolar season saw Dallas post 2007’s top regular season record and resulted in Nowitzki taking home the league’s Most Valuable Player award. But it ended with Dallas bowing out in the first round to a pesky Sacramento team (led by the Mavericks’ former coach nonetheless). What is striking is the degree to which the pre-2011 NBA champion Nowitzki resembles the current quandary Dallas Cowboy quarterback Tony Romo is mired in.
Admittedly, Romo did not take the Wurzburg, Germany route to the big leagues. Nor did he arrive in Dallas as a celebrated first round draft selection. The Eastern Illinois product spent his first several seasons as a bubble player, backing up Quincy Carter and Vinny Testaverde prior to being thrust into the limelight after the pulling of incumbent signal caller Drew Bledsoe.
Since his 2006 debut, Romo faced the same expectations as Nowitzki, namely that he would bring home Dallas’s first sports title since the Stars’ 1999 Stanley Cup victory. And, like his fellow Metroplex star, Romo had consistently been unable to pilot numerous talent-laden teams to the promised land.
The botched snap during the 2007 wild card loss at Seattle was the first taste Cowboys fans received of Romo’s frustrating, season-on-the-line anti-theatrics. Set to win their first playoff game in a decade, Dallas literally fumbled away the opportunity when Romo was unable to execute the snap and hold on a last minute field goal attempt. Though irritated, many fans chalked this up to a mistake of inexperience by a first year starter.
Then came the Cowboys 2007 regular season, which saw the team equal their best won-loss record in team history. With sky high postseason expectations, Dallas inexplicably folded during a home playoff loss to the Giants and left a stunned fan base in their wake. This eerily mirrored the Mavericks’ aforementioned first round loss to Sacramento: a stellar regular season followed by a swift exit from the playoffs. At this point four years ago, Nowitzki and Romo were each hearing the same message from the omnipresent Dallas media: they have the talent, sportswriters bemoaned, but simply cannot close the deal.
And the trend continued. Strong statistical seasons would be there year in and year out for Romo and Nowitzki, but equally as reliable would be prompt postseason exits. The 90 plus quarterback rating, double-doubles, and handsome contracts would be there in seeming perpetuity. But each of these North Texas giants would be linked by the recurrence of unfulfilled expectations until a championship ring was finally donned.
Whether it was the loss to the Ravens during the final Texas Stadium game or the excruciating defeat at the hands of the Giants during Cowboy Stadium’s inauguration, Romo has been unable to tamp down speculation that he is unable to perform on the big stage. His late game misfire against the Jets in front of a national audience during the 2011 season opener certainly did nothing to quiet his detractors.
But the championship drought for Dirk Nowitzki came to a screeching halt in June 2011. When the clock hit zero during Game 6 of this summers’ NBA Finals in Miami, Nowitzki had erased lingering questions of whether he could lead the Dallas Mavericks to a championship. His squad had stayed focused throughout four grueling playoff series to finish on top; Nowitzki finally closed the deal, though it took 13 seasons with the Mavericks franchise to do so. No more will the multi-talented 7 footer face caustic questions about the 2006 Finals collapse or the numerous disappointments which unfolded in the following years.
The catharsis brought on by the winning of a championship made the past sting a little less, giving one of these two Dallas sports icons a rebuttal when their ability to finish strong was called into question. Doubts about Nowitzki’s leadership and ability to deliver in the clutch were resoundingly answered in the affirmative, granting the German product something countless drained threes and regular season wins had been unable to.
For Tony Romo’s legacy, nothing less than a Lombardi Trophy will satiate doubters. Nowitzki now has his league crown, and nothing short of the same can stop the scores of Cowboys faithful on the verge of becoming Romo doubters from taking the last step into that camp.
Andrew Canfield is a recent graduate of the University of Texas at Arlington and a resident of Bossier City, Louisiana. He is the community relations director at a property management company and enjoys writing for the local newspaper and fitness web sites in his spare time.
Andrew is a fan of outdoor activities, and loves running and cycling in his spare time. His favorite economic author is F.A. Hayek, and he considers himself a libertarian Republican.