SAN ANTONIO » Tony Romo finally has a playoff victory for the Dallas Cowboys to go with his three Pro Bowl selections.
The former undrafted quarterback is coming off another record-breaking season in which he also had a career-low nine interceptions while taking every snap for the NFC East champions. He has a 38-17 record as a starter.
Certainly biased Wade Phillips already considers Romo an elite quarterback – "I think Tony’s there," the coach unabashedly said at the start of training camp.
Yet after only 3-1/2 seasons as a starter, Romo knows it will take a lot more than what he has done already to be discussed in such terms. He expects to be judged by wins, Super Bowls "and things of that nature."
"I love the tradition and the history of the game," Romo said. "So for me, you set out to accomplish certain goals and right at the top the only way to be included in any talk of anything is to go out and win a championship."
Maybe this will be the season Romo can add that to his glowing yet incomplete resume.
With 20 of 22 starters back from last year’s division winner that defeated Philadelphia in the playoffs, there are expectations that Dallas could end a 15-year Super Bowl drought and become the first host team to play for the championship. The next Super Bowl is at Cowboys Stadium in February.
Romo has even gotten caught up in the excitement, telling a crowd of more than 22,000 at the Alamodome for a kickoff event the night before training camp began that, "We’ll see you at the Super Bowl in Dallas."
Pro Bowl tight end Jason Witten, one of Romo’s best friends since they arrived as rookies together in 2003, was caught a bit by surprise by Romo’s proclamation. Not the sentiment, of course, but the fact he claimed it so publicly.
"He’s excited. I think he’s confident in where he’s at, and he’s confident where everybody else is at and really grabbing everybody else and bringing them to the level he’s playing at," Witten said. "That’s the sign of a great quarterback and really what he’s trying to do. With that, good things will happen."
While it is still obvious that Romo has the same goal as owner Jerry Jones, the quarterback has since insisted that he wasn’t making any predictions.
On the same stage that night, after having tried to temper his obvious expectations earlier that day during an hourlong news conference, Jones flashed one of his three Super Bowl championship rings to the cheering crowd and yelled it was time to get another one.
Among the big reasons Jones can anticipate such things is the escalating play of Romo, the eighth starting quarterback for Dallas since Hall of Fame and three-time Super Bowl champion Troy Aikman played his last game in December 2000.
Romo, who turned 30 this offseason, has already shattered the team record by throwing for at least 300 yards in 24 games. He had eight last season, when he also set single-season marks for completions (347), attempts (550) and yards (4,483).
His career quarterback rating of 95.57 is more than 12 points higher than two-time Super Bowl champion Roger Staubach, who is second on the Cowboys list.
Asked what areas of improvement made him the proudest, Romo said "there’s 30 I could probably run off." Among those he mentioned were his footwork, an arm angle change, decision-making and experience in certain situations."
Romo is definitely taking better care of the football, with a career-low six fumbles (four lost) last season along with his fewest interceptions.
Another huge factor is continuity, since this will be the fourth consecutive season in offensive coordinator Jason Garrett’s system.
"That’s fun for me to go out and see if the stuff I’ve worked on is really going to work," he said. "I figure playing the game probably won’t be quite as enjoyable when I stop getting better than I was the year before. That hasn’t happened yet. That’s exciting because it allows you to think you have a chance to go to another level."