- - Sunday, April 9, 2017

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

While I was sitting around the other day at Signature Cigars in Rockville — one of the places I go to get the pulse of the people — several brothers of the leaf talked about the news that Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo was retiring to join Jim Nantz in the CBS broadcast booth for NFL games.

“He’s a Hall of Famer,” one guy said. “Maybe not first ballot. But he’s a Hall of Famer.”

To which I thought to myself, “Are you serious?” Tony Romo is one of the greatest quarterbacks in the history of the National Football League?

What was in that cigar he was smoking?

Well, as it turns out, he’s not alone. Following Romo’s announcement, his place in Canton became the source of debate on sports pages and web sites around the country.

NJ.com columnist Joe Giglio made the case that Romo is “a quarterback that has HOF credentials” and “should get serious Hall of Fame consideration.”

But in Dallas, Romo’s home city, the Dallas Morning News republished a column that Rick Gosselin wrote a year earlier that said Romo “isn’t even close” to Hall of Fame worthy.

There may be no more confusing debate in all of sports today than what makes someone a Hall of Famer. It is clearly a subjective decision, based on whatever criteria one develops to determine who is worthy of such an honor.

Or simply, it may come down to this – did you think of this particular player as a Hall of Famer when he played? I never thought of Romo that way, and was surprised by the reaction of those in the cigar shop who thought his election would be a no brainer.

I talked with colleague Todd Dybas about this in the press box at Nationals Park, and he mentioned Tracy McGrady — a good illustration of this conflict.

McGrady was just elected to the Basketball Hall of Fame, perhaps the easiest one to get in among the halls of honor.

I never thought of Tracy McGrady as a Hall of Famer. But his resume is surprisingly strong — a seven-time NBA All-Star, a two-time league scoring champion, and a two-time All NBA first team selection. He was drafted in the first round (ninth overall) by the Toronto Raptors right out of high school in 1997 and, over 16 seasons, averaged 19.6 points points per game.

I still don’t think McGrady is a Hall of Famer — and neither is Tony Romo.

Those who believe Romo, who will be 37 later this month, is a Hall of Fame will point to his statistics. “Numbers don’t lie,” Giglio wrote. But I would argue that numbers indeed do lie — especially when it comes to passing statistics in today’s NFL.

Here are those Romo numbers that don’t lie — 2,829 completions in 4,335 attempts, a 65.3 completion percentage, a total of 34,183 yards, 278 touchdowns and 117 interceptions over 13 seasons. Those are impressive numbers — but also inflated numbers, as are all passing statistics in this offensive gifting, defensive handcuffing era of professional football.

Even if you chose to ignore the inflation factor in Romo’s numbers and compare them to quarterbacks in Canton from other eras, they are still not good enough to overcome a career defined by postseason failures — some of them embarrassing in just six playoff games, four of them losses.

But, for the sake of argument, let’s take Romo’s numbers at face value and put him in the Hall of Fame mix. Since 1946, there have been 26 quarterbacks who have entered Canton.

Let’s look at the quarterbacks who are likely ahead of Romo, both retired and still active, in the Hall of Fame line — Peyton Manning, Brett Favre, Drew Brees, Tom Brady, Eli Manning, Phillip Rivers, Ben Rothlisberger, Aaron Rodgers – maybe even Carson Palmer, who has 285 career touchdown passes and counting. What about quarterbacks who are comparable to Romo statistically but who had more postseason success during their careers — like Boomer Esiason or Drew Bledsoe? And what about those younger quarterbacks whose careers may eclipse Romo’s – like Russell Wilson, Matt Ryan or Joe Flacco?

That’s a lot of quarterbacks — 14, more than 50 percent of those who have been elected oved a 71-year span — who are either ahead of Romo or at least sharing the same place in line.

Heck, I think the guy Romo is replacing in the booth — Phil Simms, with his 199 career touchdown passes and 33,462 yards passing over a 14-year career, from 1979 to 1993 — is more worthy for entry into Canton than Romo. See Super Bowl XXI – Simms’ record setting performance, with 22 completions in 25 attempts for 268 yards passing, three touchdowns, no interceptions and a 150.9 quarterback rating.

Of course, none of these other quarterbacks played for the Dallas Cowboys (save for Bledsoe at the end of his career). That adds a warped sense of value to his resume.

Romo supporters will argue that his December numbers are Hall of Fame worthy, but’s it’s the January — and now February — statistics that give you a bust in Canton. It’s why Troy Aikman, with three Super Bowl rings, is in the Hall of Fame and why Romo may not be, even though he broke nearly all of Aikman’s team passing records.

If you are going to overcome the stigma of postseason failure, your career regular season numbers better be overwhelming. Romo’s are not. Put that cigar out.

Thom Loverro hosts his weekly podcast “Cigars & Curveballs” Wednesdays available on iTunes, Google Play and the reVolver network.

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