By: Mark Lane (@therealmarklane)
FRISCO — What the final open locker room portions of the season are like are manifold. They feel like the last day of a college semester. People are bustling about trying to gather their things and depart, but they always get caught up wishing warm farewells to friends they promise to see soon but don’t.
They are also like the ending of a 1970’s anti-hero film. People just want to get the hell out of there and escape the failure and regret, which was plentiful at the end of 2015, the year Dallas went 4-12.
I remember quarterback Tony Romo, the face of the franchise who was lost for 12 games due to a broken collarbone, took a seat at his locker in Valley Ranch. He addressed the media and fielded questions about the season, his collarbone, the disappointment, his back, the future. It is what a true leader does.
Leadership is probably innate in rookie quarterback Dak Prescott, but he also learned some of the finer examples from the 36-year-old veteran out of Eastern Illinois, whose job he took with by guiding Dallas to a 13-3 mark for the first time since 2007, Romo’s first full season as a starter.
Said Prescott on what he learned from Romo: “I’ve learned a bunch. I’ve taken stuff he’s done, stuff he’s told me, things that he might even know that I’m taking from him. Just in every aspect of the game, on and off the field and he was great. He means a lot, helping me out throughout the season.”
One of the biggest ways Romo helped Prescott was with the press conference on Nov. 15. Romo was ready to play, though the team played coy and acted like he wasn’t fully healed. He was ready, but Dak was rolling. The Cowboys were riding the hot hand at 8-1 and had just won in Pittsburgh for the first time since 1997. Essentially, Romo announced he was going to accept being Prescott’s backup so the media and fans would stop fomenting a quarterback controversy.
“I’m not going to allow this situation to negatively affect Dak or this football team by becoming a constant distraction,” declared Romo. “I think Dak knows that I have his back. And I think I know that he has mine. Ultimately, it’s about the team. It’s what we’ve preached our entire lives.”
The team. The team. The team.
Romo may have been present in the locker room at The Star, but he wasn’t the one having the last makeshift presser with the media. It was Prescott standing in front of his locker in a gray hoodie with recorders, microphones, and smartphones underneath his chin. He was the leader now.
Prescott knew the questions. He knew the media would continue to ask him about the spike on first-and-10 at the Packers’ 40-yard line with 49 seconds left in the NFC Divisional playoff against Green Bay, who ultimately sent them home 34-31 because Dallas left too much time on the clock for superstar quarterback Aaron Rodgers. Of course, Dallas head coach Jason Garrett explained the rationale was to score a touchdown on that drive and not kick a field goal, but the spike play accidentally left just enough time for Rodgers to mount a game-winning field goal drive.
“The other guy just got the ball,” Prescott answered on if the call was correct. “He did what he’s done his whole career and made plays and he’s great. Don’t regret any play-calling there, any execution we did. We gave ourselves a chance to win there at the end.”
A company line for sure. Instead of expressing some second-guessing on a play that cost his team the game, which would have tacitly placed blame on the coaching staff, Prescott defended the play-call so that no division between himself and the coaching staff would be publicly visible.
Prescott picked that up from Romo.
Whether Prescott surpasses Romo in legacy or lives up to it remains to be seen. One thing for sure is that he is the same type of leader and believer in a unified team as Romo is.
The one difference between the two is how Prescott will spend his first Pro Bowl. 26-year-old Romo enjoyed the ride in early 2007 after trying to hold a slick-as-snot K-ball for a field goal attempt.
“It’s my first,” said Prescott. “But I will do a little bit of both. I will enjoy it. I will soak it all up. I will learn a lot from the other quarterbacks, other players in general. I’m looking forward to it.”