Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo has been reading blitzes for years, so he naturally saw this one coming.
When the first questions during his teleconference call with Seattle-area media Wednesday were of his recollection of the botched field-goal attempt late in a Jan. 6, 2007, playoff game against the Seahawks, he was prepared.
“Shoot, it feels like I was 10 years old back then,” he laughed.
Romo actually was 26 at the time; he just handled the snap like a 10-year-old.
His notorious bobble allowed the Seahawks to hold on for a 21-20 win, and it buried Romo under an avalanche of criticism.
He returns to CenturyLink Field on Sunday for the first time since then. In the interim, he has been to the Pro Bowl three times and fashioned the second-highest career passer rating in NFL history (97.3, trailing only Aaron Rodgers).
Romo played an important role in getting the Cowboys into that wild-card-round playoff game, having taken over as starter from Drew Bledsoe in October and leading Dallas to five wins in his first six starts.
After getting the ball with little more than 4 minutes remaining, Romo drove the Cowboys to the Seattle 2, where they faced a fourth-and-1 play. Coach Bill Parcells considered going for the first down, but after the Seahawks called a timeout, he sent on kicker Martin Gramatica for a 19-yard attempt – a sure thing, shorter than an extra point.
The snap was fine, but Romo lost the handle, then scrambled to his left, where he was stopped short of the goal line by Jordan Babineaux, whose play helped earn him the nickname “Big-Play Babs.”
The Seahawks lost in overtime the next week at Chicago. Parcells retired from coaching, and Romo set about living down the mistake.
“I take responsibility for messing up at the end there,” he said after the game. “I cost the Dallas Cowboys a playoff win, and it’s going to sit with me a long time.”
So … did it?
“I think any time you lose the last game of the season, it’s really hard in the National Football League,” Romo said. “Really, every team but one has a bad taste in the mouth, but that’s why you go back to work.”
Linebacker Leroy Hill is the only remaining member of the Seahawks who was on the field for the play. (Marcus Trufant would have been with the defense on that drive but he was injured that day and was used to raise the 12th Man Flag before the game).
But Hill did not even really bear witness to the play because his duties were to be in “man” coverage on the tight end in case it was a fake.
“The ball was snapped, so I’m looking at my man and I hear the crowd,” Hill says, making a roaring sound of a crowd gone wild. “It was crazy, the loudest point of the game, but I can’t really take my eye off my man.”
And suddenly, he sees his teammates jumping all over one another.
“It was crazy to win a playoff game like that because they drove down the field and they had the game in the bag, pretty much, with just a chip-shot field goal,” he said before pointing out the object lesson. “(You’ve) got to play it down to the last play … anything can happen … that’s the world of sports.”
Given the cushion of five seasons, Romo can look back at his growth from that point.
“Football is a great game that teaches you a lot of lessons,” he said. “There’s a million different things you learn that are life lessons in a lot of ways. The adverse situations you go through can help build character, can help you learn the process it takes to get better and how to improve as a football team.”
And that, he said, was definitely one of those situations “… you can look back on and use as motivation, and it helps you.”
Romo has put together a splendid career, and Hill and Trufant on Wednesday touted him as one of the game’s best quarterbacks these days.
Hill was asked: With the perspective of time, can you feel any sympathy for what Romo went through after that dramatic mistake?
Hill let out a laugh that was very much characteristic of a linebacker, a species not given to tender feelings toward quarterbacks.
“No … I can’t say I feel sorry for Romo,” Hill said. “This ain’t a ‘sympathy’ game.”email@example.com 253-597-8440 @DaveBoling