One of these days, NFL teams will err on the side of caution and safety, tune out a injured star’s predictable and understandable impulse to beg his way back into a game, and keep that player on the bench for his own good.
That day was not Monday, though, or Tuesday. Not in Dallas, not with the Cowboys, and not with Tony Romo.
Facing a choice between safeguarding their franchise player, who had been knocked out of the game against Washington with a hit to the back he had undergone two surgeries on in two years, or trying to win the game, the Cowboys went for the win. Romo got some kind of shot, and back he came to the roar of the crowd.
In a sense, they did win, even though they lost the game — their gamble paid off when Romo, initially diagnosed with a bruised back, finished the fourth quarter and overtime without doing himself more damage.
Lucky Cowboys. Even more vital, lucky Romo.
Coach Jason Garrett spent considerable time Tuesday answering questions from reporters about how much Romo personally swayed the decision to put him back in, compared to the medical staff whose obligation is to evaluate his health and the risk.
Yes, Garrett acknowledged, Romo himself is a factor. He played with a punctured lung in 2011. He played with disk damage last December. Romo, Garrett said, is “not only a physically tough person, he’s a mentally tough person.
“We try to take the emotion out of it. The fact that the player is jumping up and down saying ‘I want to go back in the game,’ that’s a factor. His history, his credibility, was a factor. But it’s a medical decision, and we make it very unemotionally."
All you can do is take his word for that.
However, here’s what he didn’t say, and you wonder if he or anyone else on the sideline, locker room or AT&T Stadium hallway — including owner Jerry Jones — thought about it at the time:
“Yes, in fact, that is Robert Griffin III across the field from us. And yes, that’s Colt McCoy in front of us. What’s your point?”
Here’s the point.
Griffin talked Mike Shanahan and the team medical staff into letting him stay in that playoff game against Seattle at FedEx Field in January 2013, even though everyone in the stadium and watching on TV saw how badly he was limping on his right knee. He tore his ACL late in the game.
McCoy, then the Browns’ quarterback, took a vicious hit to the head from James Harrison in a prime-time game in 2011. He never underwent a concussion test from team doctors on the sidelines and was allowed to return to the game by the coaches. Afterward, he didn’t remember going back in. The NFL has since changed its sideline concussion protocols. McCoy didn’t start another regular-season game until Monday night.
Griffin and McCoy should have been tipping points in shifting the long-held mindset about players toughing it out and proving their leadership by refusing to leave a big game no matter how hurt they are. They should have changed the culture, or at least started the ship’s slow turn in a new, more sane and sensible direction, away from misguided macho.
If that didn’t change things, the wave of lawsuits against the NFL should have, including one from some 750 ex-players alleging misuse of painkillers and other drugs.
Some things have changed. You just couldn’t tell by Monday night or Tuesday afternoon around the Cowboys.