Cowboys look to Carolina for hope

IRVING, Texas -- In late October 2006, Tony Romo offered hope for the Dallas Cowboys.

At 3-3, the Cowboys were nothing but average and Bill Parcells knew he had to change the dynamic of the team, so he called on Romo to start at Carolina, putting the team's fortunes in the hands of an undrafted quarterback whom few knew much about.

We know how that turned out. The Cowboys made the playoffs, even if their season eventually ended diabolically in Seattle.

At 2-3 this year, the Cowboys have looked nothing but average -- and, really, below average -- as they return to Carolina this week for the first time since Romo's first start and in need of that energy the quarterback infused in them then.

"I don't care if I throw for 100 yards, 400 yards, three interceptions, no interceptions, five touchdowns or none, I want to win the football game," Romo said leading up to his first start. "That's what the team wants to do. Regardless of the individual performance of anyone in here, the way to right the ship is to get a win."

He feels the same way now. Well, maybe except for the five-interception part.

"I think there's a great sense of urgency at practice," Romo said. "I think the guys have taken the right approach and are committed. But you've got to go out and do it now."

Romo's first start wasn't a perfect performance. Romo's seventh pass of the game was picked off and turned into a touchdown to give Carolina a 14-0 lead late in the first quarter. But the Cowboys scored the final 35 points for the win.

"You always remember your first start," Romo said. "We won the game, so obviously you look back fondly on it."

Romo completed 24 of 36 passes for 270 yards with a touchdown and an interception. So happy was Parcells after that game that he kissed a few guys on the cheek and even tugged at the brim of Terrell Owens' hat.

The Cowboys won five of Romo's first six starts and a season was saved.

"With the team we've got, with the plusses Tony could bring to us, I'm not in any way dismissing the possibilities this year," owner and general manager Jerry Jones said before that Panthers game as the team moved to an untested quarterback.

Earlier this week, Jones talked on KRLD-FM about championship hopes in large part because of what Romo can do for this team.

Before making the move to Romo, Parcells polled his coaching staff in a meeting room about what to do. It was not a unanimous vote to switch, but Parcells made the move anyway.

"Nervous? I don't think that could be the right word," Parcells said then. "I am anxious to see what is going to happen. That would be an honest assessment. I am not positive. But I'm hopeful. I do have confidence in Tony."

The decision proved to be the correct one, but Parcells chose to retire after the emotion-crushing wild-card loss to Seattle. At least he left the Cowboys more secure at the quarterback position than they had been at any point after Troy Aikman's retirement.

Only eight players remain on the team from 2006: Romo, Jason Witten, DeMarcus Ware, Marcus Spears, Jay Ratliff, L.P. LaDouceur, Jason Hatcher and Miles Austin.

"Absolutely, he lifted it," said Witten, who had more catches (six), yards (80) and touchdowns (one) in that game than in any of the first six that season. "I thought we played better. We rallied behind him. A lot of guys did good things. But he gave us a big emotion, absolutely."

Romo was a mystery then. He joked during that week his favorite target was Oliver Hoyte, a linebacker who was turned into a fullback only a short time earlier, not Owens, Terry Glenn or Witten.

Parcells told Romo that he reminded him of some other quarterbacks through the years and "he started off with John Elway," Romo laughed.

On Thursday, Romo didn't crack many jokes as he answered questions, mostly about the final seconds in Baltimore last week that led to a missed game-winning field goal attempt.

On that crisp night in Charlotte, the Cowboys found out they could win a game when they needed to and jump-started their season.

Six years later, Romo and the Cowboys have to come alive again in Charlotte.