A man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. Sound familiar?



I am sad.

I am sad about Tony Romo leaving the Dallas Cowboys. I am sad because there is a special place in my heart for Tony Romo and now Tony Romo is now no longer my quarterback.

Which is a big deal because Tony Romo has been a quarterback with the Dallas Cowboys since my junior year of high school. He became the starting quarterback the same year I moved to Fort Collins to attend Colorado State. He has been my quarterback through the most formative years of my life.

Tony Romo is being released by the Cowboys. Or traded. Or something. The point is, it’s sad.

Of course, I knew that one day Tony Romo would no longer quarterback my favorite professional sports team. No one plays forever, though some—Cal Ripken, Gordie Howe, Tim Duncan—oftentimes made us feel like they could. Sports, especially football, is too violent to lend itself to longevity. Roger Kahn, author The Boys of Summer, once wrote that sports are about “what the process of aging does to strong men.”

This is a sad process, especially when we’re talking about Tony Romo. It was this process and the injuries it imparted that accelerated Romo’s departure from the Cowboys. When he went down with another back injury in a preseason game against Seattle, rookie Dak Prescott took over and promptly led the team to a 13-3 record and a first-round bye in the playoffs.

Romo’s fate with the franchise was sealed. It doesn’t matter if he’ll be released or traded. Simply knowing that Romo is no longer a Cowboy breaks my heart.

And that’s fitting, given all the heartbreaking that occurred while he wore no. 9.

As the Cowboys reeled off 11 consecutive wins under Prescott, a meme appeared on Facebook that feigned to show the reaction Cowboys fans had to the news that owner and general manager Jerry Jones was considering starting Romo once he got healthy. The text read, “When Dallas Cowboy Fans Hear Romo Might Be Coming Back,” with Michael Scott delivering the punchline:

Technically, yes, this was how I felt. My head said Prescott, but my heart wanted Romo. The irony is that by hoping Jerry Jones would (for once) make the smart decision, I was helping to usher Romo out the door. Sticking with Prescott was and is the correct decision.

But the sentiment of the meme was all wrong. This meme made me sad. I loved Romo—goofy smile and turnovers and all. He deserves a statue outside AT&T Stadium. I wanted him to be healthy again (he missed most of the 2015 season due to injuries and all of this season because of said injury). I wanted him to be successful, to have another shot at replicating the 2014 season (in which he threw 34 TDs, only 9 INTs and had the best QBR in the league).

All that hope disappeared when Romo suffered that back injury in a meaningless preseason game in August. But it really was just more of the same. Bad luck and bad news defined Romo’s time in Dallas. I don’t know if he’ll play another down in the NFL, but right now his legacy is one of failure and injury and what-ifs.

Tony Romo is the Charlie Brown of the NFL. Even his most famous (infamous) play is about a botched kick.

Even when he isn’t making mistakes, the result is still a gut-wrenching tragedy.

There it is. An entire career summed up in two plays that rip your heart out. Ted Kooser once wrote a poem about the “reliable sadness of grass among graves,” and I’ve often thought about how that helps one to understand Romo as quarterback.

I’ve been a Cowboys fan since I could walk. My dad grew up in eastern New Mexico and his entire family likes the Cowboys. The mid 90s were great, but the Jacksonville Jaguars have more playoff wins in the last 20 years than we do.

So when Romo replaced Drew Bledsoe in 2006, we thought we had our guy, the next Troy Aikman to lead us back to rings and relevancy.

But it was not to be. Instead, we got Jessica Simpson and Carrie Underwood and too many 8-8s and Head Coach Wade Phillips and injuries and back surgeries and…

And that reliable sadness.

Image if this were Hollywood. Romo would have won MVP last season and won the Super Bowl over Tom Brady. The ultimate redemption feel-good story. Instead, he watched from the sidelines as a rookie took his place. At 37-years-old and given the fact that he hasn’t played a full season in three years, this might be it for Romo.

If we were honest with ourselves, we’d realize how much our lives mirror Romo’s. We are constantly failing, constantly facing setbacks and bad luck, constantly suffering the judgment of others (see: Facebook), constantly learning how to deal with disappointment—and constantly disappointing others. It’s not easy to love a loser. It’s much easier to love the winners, like Peyton Manning and (if you’re from Massachusetts) Tom Brady. It’s much easier to love those who merit our affection.

You and I? We are losers. We are without merit. This is why Romo matters. His story is our story. To quote Kahn again:

 

You may glory in a team triumphant, but you fall in love with a team in defeat. Losing after great striving is the story of man, who was born to sorrow, whose sweetest songs tell of saddest thought, and who, if he is a hero, does nothing in life as becomingly as leaving it.

 

Can you love a quarterback just because he’s your quarterback? Even if he’s never won you a championship? Even if he’s constantly letting you down? Can you give your heart to someone who is going to continue to break it?

This reliable sadness is absorbed, canceled out, by Jesus. He became sad for us.

 

. . . he had no form or majesty that we should look at him,
and no beauty that we should desire him.
He was despised and rejected by men,
a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief;
and as one from whom men hide their faces
he was despised, and we esteemed him not. (Isaiah 53:2-3)

 

This is how God loves us. Even when we were without merit, Christ died for us. He loves us because he loves us (Deuteronomy 7:7-8). The reliable sadness of our lives is turned into something joyful in the justifying grace of Christ. I can give my love without others having to prove their merit to receive it. I can receive love from others without proving why I deserve their love.

But we’re not good at doing this. As even Romo said in his much-anticipated press conference in November, we all want to be the reason we win or lose. In other words, we all want to be responsible for our acceptance. We all want to show why we’re worthy of someone else’s love.

Charlie Brown wanted the same thing. He wanted to show the Little Red Haired Girl why she should like him. But after some soul searching, he realizes that there is something wrong with him. Yes, he is sick. The reason for his visit to the doctor’s office? “A serious case of inadequacy.”

The human condition is one of inadequacy. A reliably sad inadequacy. Thankfully, God makes us adequate (2 Corinthians 5:21). Because he loves us. Because he’s ours. Because we’re his. Because his love is the most reliable thing imaginable.

This is why I love Tony Romo, even though it doesn’t make any sense.