Thanks for the memory, Romo

Dallas quarterback Tony Romo grieves after erring in a playoff game in Seattle in January 2007 (Credit: Sportsday)

Everyone remembers the bobbled snap.

It was January 6, 2007. A wild card playoff game, Dallas at Seattle.

And I was stuck on a plane.

The flight meant I missed the first third of the game. After deplaning, I found a bar in the Tucson airport that was showing the game. There, I caught the final fraction of the first half. At the end of the second quarter, Dallas quarterback Tony Romo tossed a pass to Patrick Crayton. The receiver powered past two Seattle defenders to give the Cowboys a 10–6 lead going into halftime. (Spectacular photo here.)

And then the bartender turned off the TV and closed down for the night.

I hurried through the airport, debating whether to leave my luggage and come back for it after the game. I made the wrong call; in baggage claim, I waited eons for the luggage carousel to retch up my suitcase. Hurrying outside, an eternity passed before the shuttle came to take me to long-term parking (c’mon!).

Firing up the fierce engine of my mighty Ford Taurus, I drove off to find the nearest place that might be showing the game.

Bryan Millard (71) played guard & tackle for Seattle from 1984–91 (Credit: Seahawks)
Walter Jones (71) dominated defenders at left tackle from 1997–2009 (Credit: BH)

Well, not the nearest place, because that was a strip club — not my scene, and Arizona educator contracts discourage teachers from shaming our schools by frequenting sordid establishments.

Moreover, since I rarely drink, I possessed only vague knowledge of Tucson’s alcoholic geography. So I drove — legally, but assertively — to the only sports bar I knew of, a few miles away.

By the time I got there, it was late in the fourth quarter. Fans in Cowboys regalia thronged the joint, razzing me as I slipped in, wearing my Seahawks jersey (#71, in honor of Walter Jones and Bryan Millard, two of the greatest offensive linemen in franchise history to that point).

I ended up sitting with a heavily tattooed and multiply pierced cholo, a Cowboys-hating Steelers fan. I annoyed the waitress by ordering a Diet Coke. (After the game, I faced a 90-minute drive home.)

Dallas had taken a 20–13 lead, thanks largely to a 93-yard Miles Austin kickoff return.

Miles Austin (14) takes a Josh Brown kickoff to the house (Credit: Star-Telegram)

Then, Seahawks quarterback Matt Hasselbeck connected with tight end Jerramy Stevens for a 37-yard touchdown.

Seattle now led, 21–20, but young Tony Romo engineered a drive that brought the Cowboys into the red zone.

On third down, Dallas tight end Jason Witten caught a pass, but linebackers Lofa Tatupu and Julian Peterson savagely stuffed him just outside the 2 yard line. My heart sank when the officials awarded Dallas a generous spot and a first down. (Screwed by the officials, again!) But a booth review corrected the mistake: Fourth and inches.

Cowboys coach Bill Parcells elected to attempt a field goal. From the two. A chip shot, from extra-point distance.

I knew Martin Gramatica would nail it — any NFL kicker would, 99% of the time — but I didn’t care. With 1:19 remaining on the clock, I expected Seattle’s dynamic offense to drive down the field and get close enough for Josh Brown to kick a game-winning field goal.

But that wasn’t necessary, because Romo botched the hold. Gramatica never got a chance to kick the ball.

Tony Romo bobbles the snap (Credit: Sports Illustrated)

But that wasn’t the end.

Romo snatched up the pigskin and ran for it. In squeezing toward the middle of the field to block the anticipated kick, Seattle defenders had lost containment, and Dallas linemen threw blocks to keep it that way.

Nothing but green field stood between Romo and the end zone.

Romo scoops up the snap (Credit: )

Romo ran fast back then. The only Seahawk with a chance to stop him was #27, reserve safety Jordan Babineaux, nicknamed “Big Play Babs” for his tendency to make clutch plays at crucial intervals.

This is how kickers block (Credit: Global)

The Cowboy quarterback had a head start, but Babs had defensive back speed and some momentum, having run in from the right to block the kick. Gramatica helped even the odds by “blocking” Babs in that adorably ineffectual “I’m a kicker” kind of way.

The ensuing race was a nail-biter. As Babs gained on Romo, it seemed unlikely that the quarterback could reach the end zone, but it looked like he might make a first down — which would have hurt the odds for a Seattle win even more than an instant score. With just over a minute remaining on the clock, four new downs would let Dallas drain the clock and take the lead, leaving Seattle no chance to come back.

Fortunately, Babs overtook and ankle-tackled Romo, just inches shy of that bright yellow line. (Video here.)

Big Play Babs saves the day. Again. (Credit: )

Possession turned over on downs to Seattle. The Seahawks sat on their lead as time expired.

I high-fived the cholo at my table, dropped a nice tip, and sailed grinning through a sea of slackjawed, dejected Dallas fans.

Romo’s detractors blame him for bobbling the snap and blowing his team’s chance to win that game.

But I remember his quick-witted recovery and the athleticism that nearly elevated his error into a playoff upset. These cliffhanger contests are why we watch sports in the first place. Romo may have lost the game, but he won a measure of my admiration that day.

I took no joy in the injury he suffered against Seattle in the preseason last year, ending his career as a starter, and probably hastening his retirement. Although the Cowboys are an odious franchise fronted by a remarkably slimy owner, Romo was a worthy adversary.

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