Reality of Romo: Facts Trump Pundits' Labels
Published: Tuesday, October 8, 2013
Updated: Tuesday, October 8, 2013 01:10
As a sports fan, I occasionally find myself aimlessly sifting through highlight reels and plays on YouTube. But my favorite sports video doesn’t take place on a field or a court or in a sporting arena of any kind; it takes place on an ESPN set. The video in question is a segment from a show in which Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban absolutely skewers Skip Bayless for the lack of substance in his — and that of many so-called pundits around the industry — sporting analysis. The segment is brilliant as much for its hilarity — particularly in shots that show Bayless’ colleague Stephen A. Smith sitting silently in the background hoping to avoid Cuban’s wrath — as it is for its brilliant demonstration on the kind of analysis it takes to make good executive decisions in sports.
Cuban shows the cunning intellect that has made him a successful owner and businessman as he cuts right through all of the usual buzzwords and superficial jargon Bayless spews out when he proclaims that LeBron James is not “clutch.” Cuban immediately exposes the lack of analysis in Bayless’ assertions that James choked in the NBA Finals against the Mavericks and counters by explaining the ways in which the Mavs’ defense took the game out of LeBron’s hands; they double-teamed and made other players more viable options so that LeBron would pass the ball. What Bayless said — whether for ratings or from simple ignorance — about LeBron shying away from the spotlight was, in reality, a superstar sizing up the situation and choosing to make the best available play. That James’ teammates could not deliver was a reflection of the weaker aspects of the Miami Heat, which the Mavericks effectively exploited. LeBron has since won two championships and silenced the doubters that should not have existed in the first place, but the flawed “analysis” of guys like Bayless is still far too prevalent in sports. If you need more proof, just look at the aftermath of Sunday’s game between the Denver Broncos and the Dallas Cowboys.
Tony Romo has acquired the reputation of a choker, and as such, his brilliant duel with Peyton Manning was completely overshadowed by a last-minute pick that may have cost the Cowboys the game. People love to simplify a game down to a few key plays, but the fact of the matter is they all matter equally; the crucial third down conversion does not exist in a vacuum, but it is intrinsically connected to the second down that came before it, and all other preceding plays. Romo’s interception did not have any more impact than Manning’s pick earlier in the fourth quarter that allowed the Cowboys to take the lead, and it did not cost the Cowboys the game. What cost the Cowboys the game was the horrendous defense that gave up 51 points, spoiling a performance for the ages from Romo, in which he threw for 500 yards and five touchdowns while outplaying one of the all-time greats at the top of his game. This same all-time great had an almost identical interception in the playoffs last year in overtime against the Ravens.
The multitude of Romo haters will point out that the interception is just another in a long line of boneheaded plays by Romo with the game on the line; they cite the elimination game versus the Redskins last year and the fumbled snap in his first season as a starter. Then they stop. That’s because there really isn’t much else to point to when trying to promote this fallacy that Romo is a choke artist. To go along with a top five all-time quarterback rating, Romo has the highest quarterback rating in the fourth quarter in NFL history. He tied Matt Ryan for the most fourth-quarter comebacks in the 2012 season, and over the past several seasons he ranks with the elite in that category. He also has an above average DVOA — a statistic measuring opponent-adjusted per-play efficiency — in the second half and overtime in one possession games. The fact is that Romo is a great quarterback saddled with a terrible defense and an equally terrible offensive line. People can proclaim that Joe Flacco is elite or Eli Manning is a Hall of Famer because of their Super Bowl rings, but Romo is a better quarterback than both of them. Winning is a team game, and those championship Giants and Ravens were better teams. The Giants won those titles predominantly because their defense shut down two historically prolific Tom Brady-led offenses. With a defense like the one the Cowboys put out on Sunday, Romo could be Joe Montana and still not get the Super Bowl ring he’ll need to quiet the doubters.
It’s easy to point to a handful of plays and label an athlete as a “choke artist,” but in most cases, including with Romo, the facts and statistics reveal a much more complicated and accurate portrait — if you’re smart enough to pay attention.
Darius Majd is a junior in the College. THE SPORTING LIFE appears every Tuesday.