A dude named Romo was playing the ninth hole at a Dallas-area golf course when I caught up to him by cell phone Thursday afternoon. Upon being asked about the distractions facing the Dallas Cowboys before Sunday's divisional-round playoff game against the New York Giants, he immediately started laughing.
"All this stuff people talk about, it's kind of just – I don't know how else to put it – media driven," Romo said between practice swings with his seven-iron. "It's designed to sell papers and get hits on the Internet, but it doesn't mean a thing. At the end of the day, it's about what you do on the field."
Before you go bemoaning this seemingly cavalier approach to preparation by the Dallas quarterback, realize that this was Ramiro Romo, the man who, some tabloids and gossipy websites would have you believe, will be Jessica Simpson's future father-in-law. Son Tony still was at the Cowboys' facility in Valley Ranch, getting ready for the biggest game of his young life.
Trust me, the younger Romo is a lot less stressed about whether he'll rise to the occasion than most observers. From listening to some of the ominous comments critiquing the Pro Bowl quarterback's quick getaway last week with teammates and a certain high-profile celebrity, you'd have thought he fled to Mexico with O.J. Simpson.
If you're waiting for a harsh rebuke of Jess and Tony's excellente Los Cabos adventure, you had best look elsewhere. I've covered enough football to know that winning quarterbacks and hot chicks go together like armchair QBs and cold beers. For example, it didn't seem to hurt Tom Brady's focus a year ago when he led the Patriots to a fourth-quarter comeback victory in San Diego with supermodel Gisele as his guest. Even more, had Romo just gone to Mexico with his parents, this would be a non-issue.
Ultimately, anyone who has spent time around Romo understands that he'll be about as rattled by his south-of-the-border escape as he was when he threw five interceptions in Buffalo last September and still managed to pull out a come-from-behind, last-second triumph over the Bills.
And if you're wondering whether all this talk of Simpson as a distraction has, in and of itself, evolved into a distraction, rest assured that Romo won't be fazed by the hoopla, either. But don't take it from me; take it from the man who has watched him thrive under pressure at all levels, ascending from scrub duty as an undrafted free agent out of Eastern Illinois to become the aw-shucks face of America's Team.
"Tony's pretty comfortable in his own skin," Ramiro Romo says. "He's never worried about what other people perceive him to be or what they think is happening in his life. He knows the truth. And trust me, he'll be focused when he steps on that field."
Of course, focus doesn't guarantee that Romo will play well – or that he'll lead the Cowboys, the top seed in the NFC, to their first postseason victory since the 1996 season. Should the Giants pull the upset, Romo will take the fall, whether he deserves it or not.
Never mind that there have been plenty of other distractions at Valley Ranch in the 12 days since the Cowboys officially entered postseason mode.
Last week, assistant coaches Jason Garrett and Tony Sparano each hit the road to interview for NFL head coaching opportunities. Depending upon whether you believe media reports, Sparano already may be the clandestine coach of the Miami Dolphins. Garrett, the team's first-year offensive coordinator, is so hot that there has been media speculation Dallas owner Jerry Jones would consider firing coach Wade Phillips and putting Garrett in charge to avoid losing him – especially if the Cowboys lose. Jones did his best to squash that notion Thursday.
Then there is Terrell Owens' ankle injury and the suspense about whether the star wideout will be limited in Sunday's game or, even worse, unable to play at all.
When T.O. is reduced to sidebar status, you know the circus is in town.
As for Romo dealing with distractions and hurdles, he has been down this road before. He was in the process of leading Dallas to a dramatic playoff victory over the Seahawks on a rainy night in Seattle last year when the fairy tale took a slippery turn: Romo, still the holder for field goals (a remnant of his days as the backup), let a snap squirt through his hands, depriving the Cowboys of a potential game-winning kick with just over a minute remaining.
Romo nearly redeemed himself, picking up the ball and racing forward but falling just inches short of a first down and a couple of yards shy of the end zone. It was one of the more infamous gaffes in NFL playoff history, and many people wondered if the kid would recover.
The answer: He was even better in '07, completing 64.4 percent of his passes for 4,211 yards, with 36 touchdowns and 19 interceptions. In late October he agreed to a reported six-year, $67.5-million contract extension.
When Ramiro thinks back on his son's special season, he recalls so many stirring snapshots: the season opener, when Tony shook off all the doubts from the playoff defeat and threw for 345 yards in a 45-35 victory over the Giants; the big victories on the road, including the crazy one in Buffalo; the spectacular play against the Rams on which Romo ran back to recover a snap that had flown over his head, fielded it 33 yards behind the line of scrimmage and sprinted forward for a four-yard gain and a first down.
There was also a private moment the Romos shared with their son as they dined together the night before the Nov. 29 game against Brett Favre and the Packers that essentially determined home-field advantage in the NFC.
"We were really nervous, and his mother and I tried not to let on as to how nervous we were," Ramiro recalls. "But Tony just had this calm about him; it was almost eerie. And after the game (a 37-27 Dallas victory), she and I said to one another, 'He knew.' "
Earlier this week, Ramiro found out something even more fulfilling. Diagnosed in September with prostate cancer at age 50, Ramiro underwent surgery two months later and waited to hear from doctors what the next course of treatment would be. On Tuesday, he says, "I just got news that I'm cancer free. No radiation, no chemotherapy. It's a blessing."
Now ask yourself this question: What's more distracting to an athlete – a parent battling cancer or a couple of days by the pool with a singer and actress?
Here's how I look at it: The quarterback of the Dallas Cowboys just learned that his dad is going to be OK. Come Sunday, whatever goes down and whoever's passing judgment, the younger Romo will be just fine.
TAKE IT TO THE ATM
This time, Al Harris won't take one to the house on Matt Hasselbeck – but Charles Woodson will, helping the Packers outscore the Seahawks – Rodney Harrison will narrowly escape being declared clinically delusional, and the Pats will surprise no one by beating the gritty Jags … Joseph Addai will pick up where LenDale White left off and gash the Chargers on the ground in an Indy victory.
PLEASE, BOSS, SEND ME TO …
Lambeau Field, to see what could be Mike Holmgren's final game, in a town near and dear to his heart … but wait, I also want to see what could be Tony Dungy's last game (less likely) in what could be the RCA Dome's final game (very likely). Ah, what the hell – I think I'll do both, with a little logistical help from a former colleague who never slows down.
LIES, LIES, LIES
1. Brett Favre will retire before Mike Holmgren.
3. Golf Channel anchor Kelly Tilghman will spend her two-week suspension shacking up with Fuzzy Zoeller at the Shoal Creek Country Club.
WORLD'S SIMPLEST POOL
Phoenix Suns general manager Steve Kerr survived his fifth consecutive week in this spot, riding the Chargers' 17-6 victory over the Titans into the divisional round of the playoffs. And now, to demonstrate his undying gratitude to the Bolts in Blue? "I'll take the Colts," Kerr says. "Love the Chargers, but I can't see them going into Indy and winning. Indy 31-20."
OXYGEN-DEPRIVED THOUGHT FROM ABOVE
Hush, ladies and gentlemen. It's time for Football Night In America. Some respect, please.
LET'S DO SOME DON JULIO SILVER SHOTS FOR …
Jon Gruden and Keyshawn Johnson. It takes a big man to admit he was wrong, which is essentially what Gruden did when he had Bucs general manager Bruce Allen call Johnson's agent, Jerome Stanley, to see if the ESPN commentator would end his retirement to sign with Tampa Bay late last month. Or perhaps Gruden simply is a mercenary who cares more about winning than anything else. Whatever. It's still cool that, after their inability to coexist led to Johnson's deactivation and banishment for the final six games of the 2003 season, both Gruden and Johnson were willing to put aside their differences and work together again. "I considered it," Johnson said earlier this week. "I'm not the kind of person who holds a grudge, and we did win a Super Bowl together. They're not stupid; they know what I can do. If George Steinbrenner could keep firing and rehiring Billy Martin, and if Phil Jackson could come back to the Lakers, why couldn't I go back to Tampa?" For the record, Johnson says he is happy at ESPN but would listen to offers to return as a player, most likely for the Dolphins now that Bill Parcells is running the organization, or, less likely, as a member of Miami's front office. Money will play a role in his decision-making process.
YAHOO! SEARCH WORDS OF THE WEEK
Polish man spots wife
ROLLIN' WITH THE ROYALS
A week after suffering a 6-4 defeat in a Premier League match at Tottenham, Reading returned to White Hart Lane for an FA Cup clash and rallied to secure a 2-2 tie. Stephen Hunt scored both goals for the Royals, the second coming in the 78th minute (after Leroy Lita's shot was saved and deflected), while Dimitar Berbatov tallied twice for Spurs, giving him six goals over the two matches. The two teams will meet again later this month at Reading, and the team with the highest cumulative score will advance to the Cup's next round. In the meantime the 13th-place Royals, still looking for their first away victory of the season, resume their Premier League schedule Saturday at seventh-place Aston Villa.
LYRIC-ALTERED SONG DEDICATION OF THE WEEK
This one's for all you Packers fans, from former Green Bay backup Matt Hasselbeck, who reprises his Lambeau Field catch-phrase from four years ago while hitting notes Freddie Mercury could only dream of – to the tune of Queen's "I Want It All."
"We want the ball
We want the ball
We want the ball … and we're gonna score!
Adventure seeker on Holmgren Way
Just an alley creeper, back in Green Bay
Hungry passer boasting, with no time for doubt
But if overtime happens, I won't throw the quick out
It ain't much I'm asking, Brett heard me say
Gotta score me a touchdown move out of my way
We want the ball, we want the ball, we want the ball, and we're gonna score!
We want the ball, we want the ball, we want the ball, and we're gonna score!
Listen all you Seahawks, come gather round
I gotta get me a game plan, gotta win in Titletown
But just give me, huh, what I know is mine
No Shaun Alexander, this is MY time
Ask my sister-in-law, she was on "The View"
When the lights are shinin', I'm gonna come through
We want the ball, we want the ball, we want the ball, and we're gonna score!
We want the ball, we want the ball, and I am bald, and we're gonna score!"
TRIPPIN' ON E(MAIL)
"Great article, 'Over the top.' It reminded me of old time sports writing before television and music videos (not that I would know first hand) gave us the image; not our imagination. I relived that game's drama through your article. Thanks."
Cardiff by the Sea, Calif.
Sadly, I do remember sportswriting before music videos.
"Your article about the San Diego Chargers is one of the most boneheaded, biased pieces of (expletive) I have ever read. If you had any kind of sports sense you would already know the Bolts match up great against Indy. SD beat them without any offense last time. That won't happen again just like Peyton (Manning) won't throw 6 ints. … Bottom line is SD's defense is much improved, and morons like you that over look the 'juiceless Bolts' better get ready to eat some crow. … Thx for bulletin board material."
De nada. And thanks for some material for my bulletin board.
"It seems as though you have a personal dislike of the Chargers. My longtime girlfriend is a sportswriter here in L.A., and she noticed the same thing. I wonder if you should try at least to conceal your bias a bit more, if not eliminate it altogether from your writing. I'm not sure what the genesis of the bias is, but I don't think that kind of predisposition mixes too well with the idea of ostensibly objective journalism."
Your girlfriend should have been with me and my spirited crew – and a bunch of our friends on the Chargers – in the Gaslamp Quarter early Monday morning (before I went back to my hotel room to finish the column). She'd have felt the love.
"No question, but an appreciative comment on Michael Silver's writing style … From time to time over the years, I've read enough sports writers' columns to know that your poetic description in 'Over the top' is rare. As a former English teacher and journalism major, I commend the persons who hired you, for recognizing your literary way with words. Your writing style will influence me to read your column frequently."
Thanks. I totally appreciate it. And see, Arthur, the chicks dig me (if only in a literary sense).
"I just have to say that the first sentence/paragraph of your article on Yahoo! Sports about LT's touchdown was about as captivating a sentence as I've ever read in any sports article. Nice."
New York City
You make me want to go to Yankee Stadium and start a "Reg-gie, Reg-gie" chant.
"Insecure fan base? What a joke!"
Yeah, you seem pretty secure. My apologies.
"Sports is OK, but we need to remember it's still just a game. LT's touchdown was fine, but to give a play-by-play is a little silly. I was a waste of time, and boring."
Don't be so hard on yourself, Dollie.
"I knew that LT was going to get the job done on that play (against the Titans). What an example this young man is to the NFL and to all aspiring athletes. He is a hero. He literally is risking his life everytime he makes those plays. I was as nervous as I'm sure his mother and wife as I watched him jump over the army of big bodies. LT … a true MVP."
It's a tough job, but somebody's got to do it. I know exactly how he feels when I write all night. (Well, maybe not, but it sounds cool.)
"Incredible leap? I've seen hundreds of leaps better than that, and he got lucky – he was stopped. If the whistle blows a second sooner, no touchdown. What, does he have pictures on you for you to fawn over him so? He's a self-centered, pompous ass."
It's not that hard to get pictures on me, especially with the advent of cell-phone cameras. There are probably some from the Gaslamp Quarter the other night, though I'm pretty sure the person I was hugging was LT's blocking back.
"I usually don't read the sports section, but my husband left it up on our computer. (I got sucked into your opening paragraph, because I like your writing style.) I can't believe you're giving LT all the credit. What about the guy who pushed him back up making that second attempt possible?"
Yeah, Brandon Manumaleuna did seem to give LT a nice boost, which theoretically is a penalty. But enough about that: I'm just psyched that you accidentally read my column and were interested enough to respond. Then again, unless your husband leaves this on the screen, you may never see this.
"Don't you think that part of LaDainian Tomlinson's miserable numbers on Sunday was the absence of the injured great blocking back Lorenzo Neal? Every time Lorenzo is playing, his running backs have great seasons. I think his absence is a large reason the Chargers offense barely won!"
I totally agree: Lo Neal (with whom I may or may not have posed for photos early Monday morning) is the best in the business. And I'm sure the fact that you're from his hometown only increases your pride in his accomplishments.
"I sent a message to you about one of your stories you wrote about the Chargers and I was quite upset with the story you wrote and I apologize for what I wrote. I am a diehard Chargers fan and even when they are doing horrible, they are still my No. 1 team. I really liked the article you wrote (Monday) though. I think the San Diego Chargers have a really good chance. To be honest, I think the game against the Colts will be a really good one. (Peyton) Manning is intimidated by the Chargers whether he admits it or not. You can see it in his face every time the Chargers play the Colts. Great column."
I accept your apology. Peyton may be next.
"Thank You! Thank You for your Over-the-top, ephedrine-laced diatribe at 4:19AM this week! I have been thinking those exact same thoughts regarding Norv being a supposed 'upgrade' as a coach. If anything, I would say that the Chargers are winning despite Turner. Until he wins a playoff game against one of the top teams in the AFC (the Pats or Colts), he has not come close to justifying his replacing of Marty (Schottenheimer) as the man in San Diego. I can only hope that Marty returns to coaching and gets that elusive Super Bowl victory so that his coaching career will be complete."
Rice Lake, Wis.
Your last name isn't Schottenheimer, is it? Just checking.
"I couldn't agree more with your diatribe! I'm still not sold on Turner, especially after reading (Monday's) column and learning that LT felt he had to talk Turner into going for the game-clinching TD. Let's hope the Bolts can turn this victory into a playoff win streak, and then maybe I'll re-evaluate Turner's head coaching prowess. One quick question – will we Silver-fanatics still have the pleasure of reading your columns once the season is over? I don't think that I can handle losing both the Sunday game days, and your subsequent (genius) commentary all at once!"
Santa Barbara, Calif
Keep calling me genius, and you will definitely be getting columns from me in the offseason, albeit not quite as frequently.
"Hello Mike! Or should I say Mr. Genius? Greetings from Slovenia, Europe! I just want to say thank you for all the entertainment you provide us! I enjoy your columns very much and I always check for new ones. … Anyway, I hope you will post my e-mail and give me a little satisfaction after I found out that no network around here airs Saturday's playoff games – so I won't be able to watch my Packers (and the Jags-Pats game)! Now I am stuck with Cowboys-Giants (and endless stories of that Simpson (expletive) and Colts-Chargers game – this one is not that bad, but still. … Help me Silver!"
Mr. Genius – even cooler.
"Let me begin by saying that Yahoo! made a great move when it signed you. I have really enjoyed your columns. And now for the other shoe … Your comment about Ed Hochuli being 'freakishly muscular' and associating him with Roger Clemens was a low point in an otherwise great column. NFL officials have random drug testing and, unlike Roger, no one has sworn under oath that he has used Hochuli's butt for a pincushion. Hochuli has always struck me as someone who takes his job seriously. There are times when he has explained calls and helped me understand why certain calls are made. Thanks for the good work. I hope 2008 is a wonderful year for you and your family."
John Berry, Jr.
Let me begin by saying that Yahoo! did make a great move, and I made an even better one by coming aboard. As for Mr. Hochuli, you do realize that I was joking, right? My only issue with Ed is that he's a bit too eager to be in the spotlight. Then again, I can relate.
"How dare you speak negatively of the legend that is Ed Hochuli. May the wrath of his biceps and size kids small referee jersey smite you. Loved you on 'Everybody Loves Raymond.' Keep up the good work!"
Ed's going to come kick my ass, isn't he?
"Mr. Silver, '6. San Diego Chargers: Is Antonio Gates the Chargers' Sgt. Hulka?' I have not laughed so hard in a long time. Thank you, sir! 'An army without leaders is like a foot without a big toe. And Sergeant Hulka is always gonna be here to be that big toe for us. I think that we owe a big round of applause to our newest, bestest buddy, and big toe … Sergeant Hulka.'"
Here's a question for you (and everyone else): How can the first half of 'Stripes' be so uproariously funny and the second half be so unfathomably dull?
"Just wanted to let you know that I am a great fan of your coverage. I am the football fanatic in my house and your articles make it easier for my hubby to understand what in the world I'm talking about. Looking forward to next season. By the way, how often do you hear from female fans?"
This week? Constantly. And I am not complaining, at all.
"Loved your column, just discovered it. Just discovered football in '07 much to my Cowboys-extreme-fan husband delight. It's only taken him seven years to convert me. Wanted to say thank you for writing so clearly even a football newbie like myself can understand rather than speaking in Statspeak. I just hate that. I actually understood what you said and enjoyed the facts and stats. Must be the influence of the hot, blonde wife. P.S. I was surprised to see so many people give a d*** about how ee cummings wrote his name. I hate hitting the caps button at all, so I love it! Thanks again."
Thank you, and congratulations to your husband for successfully converting you, which adds new meaning to the term "seven-year itch."
"No question; just a comment. I have never read your column, but I have to say I love it! Sports and humor are two things I absolutely love! I am a girly girl but truly love football and basketball (Cowboys and Spurs fan; Mavericks are good but not as good as my Spurs). I love your quick-witted responses and your ability to keep my attention. Other columnists don't do squat for me. Keep it up! Lotsa love from The Big 'D'!"
Girly girls are always welcome here.
"Do you have a prediction for the Super Bowl champion? Mine is either Dallas or Indianapolis. Thanks for your articles, we enjoy them!"
Corpus Christi, Texas
I'll stick with New England, my preseason pick. And I'm starting to disagree with the Beach Boys: I wish they all could be Texas girls.
"'The Jags and Steelers will stage a high-scoring instant classic on Saturday night, and the visitors will find a way to pull it out … Eli Manning and the Giants will come up big in Tampa, but the Bucs will still find a way to pull out the game … As long as Oprah stays on board, Barack Obama's campaign will continue to roll.' We're not worthy! (Even though the Bucs lost and Obama doesn't need Oprah!)"
I humbly disagree. Ms. Winfrey is one female admirer I'd love to have, that's for sure.
- Tony Sparano