No Excuses — It's Romo's Team Now

With T.O. gone, it's time for Romo to be a leader.

The time for making excuses is at an end in Dallas.

Terrell Owens is gone, as is Pac Man Jones and Tank Johnson. The lineup is bereft of anyone who could even remotely be labeled as a troublemaker (unless you count Martellus Bennett and his questionable lyrical stylings, but that’s a stretch).

Ostensibly, the locker room in 2009 will be a lot more cohesive and a lot less newsworthy than it was in 2008. (Whether or not the goings-on in the Cowboys’ locker room was ever "news-worthy" is debatable. I would say it wasn’t. ESPN would disagree strongly.)

The point here is that there are no longer any intangible boogie men roaming Valley Ranch these days, hell-bent on sabotage and media attention for no apparent reason other than leading that night’s SportsCenter.

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When the Cowboys lose a game in 2009 it will be because of insufficient play; not Terrell Owens, not the minutiae of his body language, not any conjured spat within the confines of Dallas’ locker room.

It’s make-or-break time now for Tony Romo, for Roy Williams, for the Cowboys as a whole.

Whether or not they perceived the situation as such (they didn’t, in all likelihood), the Cowboys had a built-in excuse for the past three years in the form of Terrell Owens. Owens was a scapegoat during good times and bad. Namely, when the Cowboys lost, it had nothing to do with poor preparation or execution, and everything to do with Terrell Owens’ supposedly foul attitude.

When they won, they did so in spite of Owens’ antics.

It was a lose-lose situation for everyone involved, except maybe sports reporters.

But never mind that ugliness, and never mind the fact that the Cowboys lost an incredibly talented football player late Wednesday night. There’s no point in arguing over it, if for no other reason than the fact that "the player" is gone.

Good or bad, Owens’ release signals a new era for Tony Romo and company (see Roy Williams). Without No. 81 in the lineup, the Cowboys will revert to being a football team again in the eyes of the public. And on a football team, it’s the quarterback who is either the hero or the goat.

Thanks to Jerry Jones, the legacies of Tony Romo and Terrell Owens will always be intertwined. If Romo bounces back and takes the Cowboys to a Super Bowl, Owens will either be A) further vilified by those who claim that he is a locker room cancer or B) he will be forgotten about altogether. (Given ESPN’s curious interest in all things T.O., I would guess the former.)

Unfair, yes, but fitting. This is big business, after all.

The Dallas Cowboys are the second most profitable sports franchise in the world (behind Manchester United). And Terrell Owens is no small part of what makes our football team worth every penny of that estimated $1.6 billion. It’s a show, for good or for bad, and Jerry Jones knows that.

He also knew, however, that the city of Dallas was full of angry and jaded fans who would foam at the mouth, or worse, stay home on Sundays until Terrell Owens was gone. So he is.

What happens next is entirely in the hands of No. 9. He claims to not care about public perception, and this might be a good idea. But he has yet to see the worst of public perception, because he has yet to play quarterback for an Owens-less football team. There is only so much blame to be shared, after all, and Owens almost always takes the lion’s share.

In his absence, Romo will sink or swim. There is no middle road, not now, not ever in Dallas. You’re either in the class of Don Meredith and Troy Aikman or the class of Quincy Carter and Ryan Leaf.

I’ve said often that the Dallas Cowboys’ legions of fans are at the mercy of Jerry Jones, and they are. But now, it seems, they are at the mercy of Tony Romo as well. Jerry has been more than clear on this point: In Romo we trust. We will trust him from the bank to the poorhouse and everywhere in between.

No more Terrell Owens, no more "distractions" and no more excuses. It’s your time to shine, Mr. Romo.

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