I generally agree with the sentiment that a player shouldn’t lose his job due to injury.
But there’s always room for exception when the replacement is exceptional.
Wally Pipp is history’s most famous example. He was the New York Yankees first baseman who sat out a game in 1942 due to a headache. Some guy named Lou Gehrig took his place and never left the lineup, eventually playing a then-record 2,130 consecutive games.
Thus, a new term came into being. The former first baseman was “Pipped” by Gehrig, who enjoyed a Hall of Fame career and was immortalized in “Pride of the Yankees.”
Drew Bledsoe can relate. The No.1 overall pick in 1993, Bledsoe led New England to the Super Bowl in 1996. He was in the prime of his career when he suffered a potentially life-threatening injury during a game against the New York Jets in 2001. A sixth-round draft pick named Tom Brady took his place as starting quarterback and has started ever since, collecting four Super Bowl rings and two league MVP trophies along the way.
Which brings us to Tony Romo and Dak Prescott, the Dallas Cowboys’ former and current starting quarterback, respectively.
Romo is the 36-year-old, brittle veteran who has played just four games since last season, none this year. Prescott is the 23-year-old fresh-faced rookie who has led Dallas to a 5-1 record while compiling the league’s fourth-highest completion percentage and fifth-highest passer rater.
He’s The Future and it started in Week 1.
Little did we know that Prescott would position himself to keep the job when Romo recovers from a back injury, perhaps as soon as Week 8 after the Cowboys’ bye. Seven quarterbacks were among the 134 players drafted ahead of Prescott in April. Dallas wanted to select QBs Paxton Lynch and Connor Cook but they were snared earlier.
The idea that an afterthought could supplant the franchise’s all-time leader in passing yards, passing touchdowns and passer rating was unthinkable. But here we are.
If the first five games weren’t convincing enough (though they should’ve been), Sunday’s blowout at Green Bay did the trick. Prescott completed 18 of 27 passes for 247 yards and three touchdowns. An interception late in the third quarter was his first, coming on his 177th pass; no NFL QB ever started his career with more pass attempts before throwing an interception.
Cowboys owner, general manager and chief micromanager Jerry Jones has steadfastly insisted that Romo will return to the lineup when healthy. Why Jones makes those proclamations instead of coach Jason Garrett is a different discussion. But someone should give Romo a clipboard, headset and spot on the bench, indefinitely.
That was heresy to Jones after Dallas beat Cincinnati in Week 5. “Tony is our No. 1 quarterback,” he told reporters then.
On Sunday in Green Bay, Jones sounded like a candidate for conversion. “I think what we’re going to do is wait until the next card is played,” he said when faced with the Prescott-or-Romo question again.
Former Dallas coach and two-time Super Bowl winner Jimmy Johnson has switched his allegiance. “Initially I was for Romo, but watching Prescott against Cincinnati, it’s his football team,” Johnson said Sunday on Fox’s halftime show. “Romo should be the best, most talented, most expensive backup in the league. Romo can make big plays but sometimes those big plays they are for the other team.”
That’s the other thing. It’s not like Prescott is taking Brady’s job. Romo has been very, very good, but not great when it matters most. Brady has 22 postseason wins; Romo is 2-4 in the playoffs since taking over in 2006. In the four games Romo played last season, he threw five touchdowns and seven interceptions.
This isn’t the way he was supposed to lose his job, but timing is everything. He picked the wrong year to suffer a fractured vertebrae, a broken bone for the third time in his last five games, including preseason.
This also isn’t the way Prescott wants to get the job. Much better to beat out the veteran in training camp, or relieve him if he struggles during the season. Prescott is careful not to campaign for a position he’s already won.
“Everybody wants to be on the field,” he told reporters Sunday. “But as I’ve always said: It’s not my call. This is Tony’s team and I’m just here to help my team win each and every game that I can.”
He can help best by continuing to take snaps. Along with rookie halfback Ezekiel Elliott, they have a good thing going on offense. Blind allegiance to a creaky veteran is no reason for a change now.
“I don’t think you can disrupt the momentum this team has,” former Dallas quarterback Troy Aikman said during the Cowboys-Packers broadcast. “When you have it, you ride it.”
Correct. Which means Romo should ride the bench until further notice.
He’s officially been Pipped.