WASHINGTON — When Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo announced that he would retire instead of seeking a starting job elsewhere in the NFL this year, many Washington Redskins fans cheered. Chief among them was former quarterback Joe Theismann.
Theismann was one of the few analysts who encouraged Romo to retire last season after he badly re-injured his back, paving the way for Dak Prescott to get the starting job.
Less than a year later, Romo has come to the same conclusion.
“Everybody gave me a bunch of flak at the beginning of the 2016 season when I said Tony Romo shouldn’t play anymore,” Theismann told Ed and Joe on the Las Vegas Sports Network. “I’m glad he made the decision that he did.
“For me it was…you want him to be able to go forward. He has nothing to prove to anyone. He doesn’t have a [Super Bowl] ring, but there are a lot of great ones in this game that don’t have rings.”
Romo joins a class of players who will be judged for their lack of rings despite consistently performing at a statistically superior level. Dan Marino is the poster child for this group, retiring with a large number of single-season and career passing records.
Jim Kelly, Randall Cunningham, Warren Moon and Fran Tarkenton are also frequently mentioned in this group.
“You go away disappointed, but he gave the game everything,” Theismann said. “It beat the ever living daylights out of him. Now he’s able to go forward. I think it was very smart, prudent for him to leave the game of football in the shape that he’s in.”
Theismann speaks from experience. After winning a Super Bowl with the Redskins following the 1982 season, he was at the top of his game when, in November of 1985, his leg was snapped on a brutal tackle by Lawrence Taylor. Although Romo returned to take meaningless snaps at the end of the 2016 regular season, his career also effectively ended with a sack.
“It was a serious double snap, because [Taylor] got both bones,” Theismann reminisced about the injury. “It really sounded like two muffled gun shots off my left shoulder, just ‘pow pow!’
“People come up to me, and they’re so kind [in asking], ‘hey, did it hurt?’ Hell yes, it hurt. Go hang your leg off a curb and I’ll drive my car over it. You can tell me if it hurts.”
Despite the pain, Theismann wanted to come back and worked out with the team again in 1986.
“Two years later I was able to move around OK, but the leg had healed shorter. It had atrophied and I’d lost some power in my leg,” he said. “Those people that don’t understand the throwing mechanism don’t realize how integral and important the lower body is. In football, you drive off of that right foot to generate velocity.”
Instead of returning, Theismann transitioned directly into broadcasting, helping to call that year’s Super Bowl on ABC. He would transition to weekly color analysis the next season on CBS before moving to Sunday Night Football and Monday Night Football on ESPN.
By remaining around the game, Theismann actually got unusual opportunities to work out with teams he was covering.
“I threw for defenses [on scout teams] for 15 years after that,” Theismann said. “In 2000, when the Ravens played the Giants in the Super Bowl, I threw defensive drills for the Ravens that Wednesday afternoon. [Ravens head coach] Brian Billick let me throw defensive drills. I was still able to throw, but then at the age of 50, my arm basically gave out.”
That gives Romo 14 years to potentially do the same.
Reports suggest that Romo will follow that path, having accepted an analysts’ job on CBS broadcasts starting next season. This will expose him to both Thursday Night and Sunday afternoon broadcasts. Unlike Theismann who cut his teeth on regional broadcasts, however, Romo will reportedly by paired with Jim Nantz to call the top games of the week.
Theismann insinuates that the pressure of broadcasting could make things easier for Romo.
“You miss what you did,” Theismann said. “The fact that he’s going to the broadcast booth was not a surprise. Where he’s going was a bit of a surprise.”
Theismann advised Romo to continue working hard to hone his craft.
“I put in about 60 hours per week between talking to coaches, talking to players, studying film, reading clips, understanding everything that’s going on,” he said. “It’s very important that you take that time. Broadcasting is a little bit different because you want to get the information out in a very succinct manner, allowing the play-by-play guy to do what he needs to do and let people watch the game.
“These are the things Tony will have to deal with as he transitions into the booth.”