FRISCO, Texas -- The Tony Romo you don't remember has been among the NFL's best quarterbacks for a decade.
He’s the dude who is 15-4 as a starter in his past 19 games and 29 games over .500 in his career. He has 247 touchdown passes and 117 interceptions, and in 2013-14, his last two healthy seasons, he threw 65 touchdown passes and 19 interceptions. Only Peyton Manning had a better touchdown/interception differential in those two seasons.
We’re taking about a quarterback with the fourth-highest passer rating in NFL history, a player who has 30 game-winning drives and 25 fourth-quarterback comebacks.
And the last time Romo was healthy, the Dallas Cowboys averaged 29.1 points per games, finished 12-4 and won the NFC East, while coming within a controversial noncatch -- Dez Bryant still swears he caught the ball -- of taking a fourth-quarter lead against the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field in a divisional playoff game.
None of that matters these days, though, because rookie Dak Prescott is 4-1 as a starter and Cowboys fans are thirsty for a winner after seeing just two playoff wins since the 1996 season.
Prescott is the Cowboys' latest football messiah, which is the same way fans viewed Romo when he took over in 2006 after Dallas had persevered through six seasons of life in football purgatory while searching for Troy Aikman's successor.
If you tune in to local sports talk radio in Dallas or read the message boards or comments sections on Cowboys-focused websites, the vibe is clear: It’s time to move on to Prescott.
But Prescott does not agree. “This is Tony’s team,” the rookie said once again Wednesday afternoon in the Cowboys' locker room. “I knew that going into the situation. I think everybody knew that. I’m just trying to do the best I can to give my team a chance to win week in and week out.”
On one level, the infatuation with Prescott makes sense. He represents the future, and we live in a culture in which we’re constantly searching for the next big thing, whether it’s an athlete, cellphone or dating app.
On another level, the Prescott infatuation is way over the top. Less than a year ago, Cowboys fans prayed for Romo’s health after watching the collection of spares who replaced him go 1-11. They spent of the offseason obsessed with Romo’s health because the thought of starting Prescott or Kellen Moore was depressing.
But Moore broke his leg in training camp, and Romo suffered a compression fracture in his back in a preseason loss to the Seattle Seahawks. Enter Prescott, who has played better than anyone in the organization could have expected.
Remember, he entered training camp as the third quarterback. Yet he has played so well that, after five games, many fans now view the 36-year-old Romo as a progress-stopper.
Robert Griffin III was the NFL's Offensive Rookie of the Year with the Washington Redskins in 2012; three years later, no one would be surprised if the Cleveland Browns cut him after the season. In 2013, Nick Foles started 10 games and threw 27 touchdown passes with just two interceptions for the Philadelphia Eagles. He was cut before training camp by the Los Angeles Rams, who have turned to Case Keenum as their starter.
A lot of players have flings with success. Only a few have long-term success. At the moment, Prescott looks like he’ll be one of the lucky few. But so did Griffin and Foles at one point in their careers.
Until more Prescott evidence exists, there’s no need to get rid of a proven player like Romo.
The Romo you don’t remember has never had his talent questioned. Not by Jerry Jones. Or Stephen Jones. Or Jason Garrett. Or any of his teammates. Any question about Romo revolves around his health. After all, he missed all or parts of 14 games last season after breaking his collarbone twice. He has missed the first five games this season, and is expected to miss at least two more. If he does, that’ll mean he will have missed all or parts of 21 of the last 23 games. If Prescott weren't playing so well, no one would care. They’d only wonder when Romo was returning.
But since Prescott looks like a viable option for the future, after completing 69 percent of his passes for 1,239 yards with four touchdowns, no interceptions and a passer rating of 101.5, they’re ready to move on.
Romo’s body -- not his talent -- will tell us if his time in Dallas should end. If Romo returns and his body betrays him again, then it’s time to go with Prescott.
Until we have an absolute resolution of the quarterback situation, though, we’re going to be embroiled in a controversy the likes of which we haven’t seen since Aikman vs. Steve Walsh in 1990. Fans will make it so, especially if Prescott plays well in the next two games against Green Bay and Philadelphia.
The first time Romo plays poorly or throws an interception, fans will scream for Prescott. Don’t forget, Cowboys fans booed Aikman during a 2000 home game against the San Francisco 49ers because they wanted Randall Cunningham.
If they’ll boo Aikman, they’ll certainly boo Romo.
That said, don’t mistake a controversy outside the Cowboys’ practice facility for a controversy inside their facility. Players such as Sean Lee, Jason Witten, Tyron Smith, Orlando Scandrick, Bryant and others won’t let that happen.
“We can’t control what’s going on outside this building. Everybody wants to talk. Everybody wants to do all that, say crazy stuff, but, you know, people need to understand those are people just talking,” Bryant said. “You’re not hearing that from Coach Garrett or Mr. Jones or people around this building. It does not matter.”
Talk to a few of the team’s leaders, and they make it clear they believe Romo remains among the league’s elite quarterbacks. They’re just happy the season isn’t over because he’s hurt now or if he gets hurt later in the season.
They’ll tell you Romo’s ability to identify defensive fronts and coverages during his pre-snap reads will allow him to exploit defenses in a way Prescott can’t do at this stage of his development.
They’ll tell you Romo will help them win games like he has always done. They remember the Romo you don’t.