It was a very Romo thing to do, getting hurt 90 seconds into his first preseason game of the year. After a short scramble, Romo was sliding—surrendering—when Seahawks defensive end Cliff Avril came in from behind during Thursday night’s preseason matchup. The tackle was questionable, but there were no flags on the play. (And after being attacked by Cowboys fans on Twitter, Avril says he is reaching out to Romo.)
Romo writhed around on the ground for a moment, and it looked terrible.
— NFL (@NFL) August 26, 2016
But a few minutes later he was standing on the sidelines, warming up. Though the Cowboys somehow, wisely, didn’t let him back in the game, there was great relief among Cowboys fans: As I mentioned in Texas Monthly’s September issue cover story, this season is a now-or-never moment for Romo, the last chance he has to write a legacy that might include an NFL championship. He has been, up to now, thrilling to watch, but heartbreaking for the people rooting for him. So seeing him throwing a ball, then smiling and talking with reporters after the game, was just the Romo-est way for this all to happen. He gave us hope again. For his legacy. For the Cowboys’s 2016 season. For September issue magazine sales.
Then over the weekend, an MRI revealed that Romo had a fractured vertebra. He could miss more than half the season.
It’s understandable to wonder why the incredibly valuable, incredibly fragile veteran was even playing in a preseason game. (New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski hasn’t played in a preseason game since 2012.) It’s understandable to wonder if we’ve seen the last of Romo, if he should possibly retire now to save his own future health. He’s broken his collarbone or back at least five different times. It’s understandable to wonder if, at 36, Romo’s bones are now made of dried spaghetti noodles held together with duct tape. After all, that hit didn’t even look especially hard.
Every moment of his career has taught us not to hope anymore. But, sadly, there is still hope. He’s expected to play again. Current reports put the timeline somewhere from six to ten weeks. If Romo returns in week 7, and Dak Prescott—who has been very impressive in preseason games—can win even half of the games until then, the team will be in fine shape. (Aside from a brewing quarterback controversy.) Even if Romo comes back three weeks after that, and the team has lost five or fewer games, there’s still a feasible chance of making the playoffs, especially in the NFC East.
If this sounds naïve and optimistic—well, it is. But it’s also fact. This is what Romo does. He’s never really out of it. And with him around, there’s always a chance for an amazing season, even if it’s remote. It’s that paradox that has always come with Romo fandom. He’s good enough to inspire optimism where there should be none, even if we all know how this will eventually end.
And, if we have seen the end of Romo? Well, he’s given us a lot over the years.
Plus: Dak Prescott is looking pretty good right now.