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Courageous Effort By Romo Puts Him in Rare Company with Dallas Legend Smith

Posted on September 24, 2011 by Chris Kent

Pro Football Hall-of-Famer Emmitt Smith, the National Football League’s all-time leader in rushing, now has company on the same page in the Dallas Cowboys’ history books. The page noting courage and toughness while playing injured. Present day Dallas quarterback Tony Romo is his new neighbor.

Dallas' Tony Romo passes the ball as he is about to be tackled by the 49ers Aldon Smith (99) and Justin Smith (94) last Sunday in San Francisco (AP/Tony Avelar).

Romo’s heroic performance of playing with a fractured rib in leading Dallas to a 27-24 come-from-behind overtime win at San Francisco last Sunday placed Romo in the same conversation as Smith in this category. Along the way, it answered questions about Romo’s toughness, both mentally and physically.

In compiling a legendary 15-year career as an NFL running back – 13 of which were in Dallas – Smith’s epic game of playing with a separated right shoulder while leading the Cowboys to a division-clinching win over the arch rival New York Giants at Giants Stadium on Jan. 2, 1994 is widely recognized as his signature performance. This showed his love, heart, and passion for the game in addition to his courage and toughness. It also demonstrated his commitment to the Cowboys and that he played more than for the money, especially in a year where he saw the Cowboys open 0-2 in his absence due to a contract dispute.

After sustaining the injury following a 46-yard run with two minutes left in the first half, Smith persevered physically by refusing to come out of the regular season finale. The Cowboys needed to win the game to lock up home field advantage in the NFC playoffs.

Running against a defense featuring Lawrence Taylor, who had one sack in the game, Smith resorted to sheer guts and willpower in rushing for 168 yards on 32 carries and adding 61 yards on 10 catches, one which went for a touchdown. Smith did much of this with one arm throughout the second half. Of Smith’s 229 yards from scrimmage in the game, 78 came after the injury.

Adding more significance to Smith’s performance was the fact that he

Emmitt Smith suffered a separated right shoulder on this play after he was tackled by Giants' defensive back Greg Jackson after this 46-yard run late in the second quarter on Jan. 2, 1994.

handled the ball on nine of the 11 plays on the game-winning drive while totaling 41 of the 52 yards that led to Eddie Murray’s 41-yard decisive field goal. Smith’s performance propelled Dallas to the victory and a week off before its’ first playoff game, key factors which helped the Cowboys go on to win their second straight Super Bowl later that month.

While not as much was at stake for Romo and Dallas last Sunday against the 49ers, Romo’s display of physical and mental toughness will forever rank close with Smith’s performance. There is a big difference between starting the season 0-2 and 1-1. Very few teams have made the playoffs after starting 0-2, yet the 1993 Cowboys’ are one of them.

While the playoffs are a long ways off in 2011, Romo and Dallas have been much the talk of the league through the first two weeks of the season. After playing the highly regarded New York Jets toe to toe in the season opener in New York, the game broke loose in the fourth quarter.

The Cowboys took a 24-10 lead into the fourth quarter on the Jets and had never lost a game in their franchise history when they led by at least 14 points in the fourth quarter. That changed due in large part to Romo miscues.

Leading 24-17, Romo drove Dallas to the Jets’ 2-yard line where he fumbled on a head first dive. The Jets recovered and the Cowboys came away with no points. After the Jets tied the game 24-24 with a touchdown off a blocked punt, Romo threw a lazy pass toward Dez Bryant that was intercepted by Jets’ all-pro cornerback Darrelle Revis which set up Nick Folks game-winning field goal as the Jets won 27-24.

Facing much criticism throughout the week leading into the San Francisco game, Romo and Dallas were heavily scrutinized. However things would get worse.

Tony Romo surveys the field and sets to deliver a pass against San Francisco.

Taking the game’s opening kickoff, Romo drove the Cowboys to the 49ers’ four-yard line before rookie kicker Dan Bailey missed a 21-yard field goal. While Romo’s fractured rib would not be known until x-rays confirmed it at halftime, it was determined that he suffered the injury on the third play of the game when he took a hit to his upper midsection as he threw a pass. Later, with about 11 minutes left in the second quarter, a blindside hit by defensive back Carlos Rogers sent Romo to the ground and he was slow to get up. That hit didn’t help and Romo’s inaccurate throws that followed reflected that.

Romo did respond, throwing a 53-yard touchdown pass to Miles Austin late in the second quarter. Romo finished the first half 8-for-17 for 144 yards and the one touchdown as San Francisco led 14-7 at halftime.

Yet, Romo’s toughness would be questioned further as the third quarter commenced. Reserve quarterback Jon Kitna – who went 4-5 as a starter for Dallas in 2010 when Romo was lost for the season with a broken collarbone – started the third quarter. Although Kitna threw two interceptions – one coming on a deflection – he connected with Austin on a touchdown pass to force a 14-14 tie.

Then, with about one minute to play in the third quarter, Romo came back

Tony Romo talks with doctors on the sideline and gains clearance to return to the game in the third quarter.

into the game. With the Cowboys’ medical staff determining that Romo could not worsen the injury with the proper protection in place, number nine sucked it up for the good of the team and informed head coach Jason Garrett with a tap that he was going back into the game. Call it sheer will, toughness, and a desire to win.

In a move that paralleled that of Smith some 17-plus years ago, Romo put it all on the line. Trailing 24-14 at the time of his return, Romo led a now-famous comeback while looking pain right in the face. There were grimaces and struggles to get up after being knocked down. Dallas offensive lineman would help him up after he took a hit or fell to the ground.

Playing with courage and guts, Romo led the Cowboys comeback on a field and in a stadium, Candlestick Park, that has produced so much drama between these two teams in the past. There was ‘The Catch” game in 1982 when Dwight Clark leaped over the outstretched arms of Everson Walls to snare a Joe Montana pass that gave San Francisco a 28-27 win in the NFC Championship game. Eleven years later in January of 1993, Dallas would turn the tables when Troy Aikman hit Alvin Harper on a deep crossing pattern to set up insurance points in an eventual 30-20 win in the same game as the Cowboys started their dominance of the 1990’s.

However that was all a backdrop to Romo and Dallas last Sunday. Looking to overcome the mistakes that cost his team a week earlier in New York, Romo rose to the occasion. Romo connected with Austin on a 25-yard touchdown catch to pull within 24-21. After holding the 49ers scoreless, Romo engineered a 10-play 44-yard drive in the final four minutes that ended with Bailey’s game-tying 48-yard field goal as regulation time expired. The game was tied 24-24 and it was onto overtime.

San Francisco won the coin toss and elected to receive. The Cowboys would force a punt and then Romo sealed the game. Romo connected with Jesse Holley in stride on a 77-yard catch-and-run over the middle that put Dallas in business at the 49ers’ two-yard line. That set up Bailey who converted a 19-yard field goal to win it.

Tony Romo answers questions about his comeback performance while playing injured during the postgame press conference in San Francisco.

Romo finished the day 20-for-33 for 345 yards, a 116.4 passer rating, and a pair of touchdowns, both to Austin. With three touchdown catches on the day, Austin set a personal best.

In the end, Romo had to surely exhale. However not to hard. He would certainly feel the pain again in doing so, just like Smith did back in 1994. Yet in the end, it was worth it. Romo had just taken one for the team. In the process, he answered his critics behind a timely display of mental and physical toughness.

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