By Jason Keidel

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Oddly enough, there were very few Jets and Giants fans in my slice of Manhattan during the mid-’70s. Joe Namath was leaving the Jets and the Giants were historically wretched. Long before the Jets patented the Butt Fumble the Giants had The Fumble, which made Herman Edwards a cult figure long before he joined Gang Green.

We grew up in the golden age of football, which seemed to bless everyone but the five boroughs. So we pondered the world west of the Hudson for our sporting loyalties. Everyone was either a Steelers, Raiders, Dolphins or Cowboys fan.

You needn’t be a fan of the aforementioned foursome to recall the moniker, America’s Team, but it helps.

We heard it all. Though my beloved black & gold was the team of the decade, it was the Cowboys who got all the adoration. There was an enormity to them, from the epic star on the helmet to the nobility of Staubach to the stoic mystery of Tom Landry.

The football mystics even said God carved a hole out of the old stadium so that He may watch His team. It’s all gibberish, of course, and it’s hard to handle that when the Cowboys haven’t contended for a Super Bowl in nearly 20 years.

The vocal, aggregate angst from Cowboys fans is quite understandable. Jerry Jones is not given to nuance, from his mutating face to the way he fired the legendary Landry to his billion-dollar stadium to the 80-yard plasma TV musing over the field. He feeds the mantra that everything is indeed bigger in Texas. But with the opulence should come the dominance. Just ask the Steinbrenner tribe.

So it feels rather incongruous to see them struggle for so long. Jones is asking you to buy the ticket but won’t let you take the ride. He has been the GM for way too long, hires his puppet coaches, cans them, and recycles. He gets the team tantalizingly close to contention and then is doomed by his doomsday hubris.

While you would be right to direct your anger at some well-heeled Cowboys, Tony Romo isn’t one of them. In fact, he is the reason you really matter.

Maybe it’s his modest contours, or his elitist, romantic proclivities, or the jaunt to Mexico before a playoff game, or the fact that he doesn’t wear spurs to the game or doesn’t have Staubach’s military ethic or Aikman’s statuesque silhouette.

Whatever the reason, Tony Romo gets a bum rap. If the Cowboys cut him tomorrow about 20 GMs would drool on their BlackBerry trying to call his agent.

Stephen Jones, son of Jerry, made an awkward analogy, comparing Romo to LeBron James, saying both needed a ring to shake the critics off their backs. Romo and King James have little in common other than professional athletics, but if you view Jones’ comparison through a very liberal lens, he has a point.

Romo has started 100 games, and has won 59 of them, has completed 65 percent of his passes, throwing 192 touchdowns and 96 interceptions. Gaudy by any standard north of the Dallas 50.

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By contrast, the exalted Staubach tossed 153 TDs and 109 picks, completing 57 percent of his passes. Clearly, the eras are vastly different, the rules slanting almost entirely toward the quarterback, whereas Staubach, Bradshaw, Stabler, etc., were pummeled before, during and after the ball left their blessed arms. Head slaps were normal, as were spine-cracking blasts from the crown of a linebacker’s helmet. Just watch a video of Turkey Jones dumping Bradshaw on his head.

Yet when he drops 48 on the Broncos, Romo detractors point to Peyton’s 51. Romo, after all, threw an interception after his 500 yards and five touchdowns. He blew it. In fact, Romo is blamed for losses, nuclear proliferation, and global warming.

Maybe you need to lose him to realize how good he’s been. He’s not perfect, and you are quick to remind us. But whom would you rather have? Try naming ten – heck, six – quarterbacks you’d rather start right now. Brady. Manning. Rodgers. Brees. Big Ben? Not this year. Eli? Please. Matty Ice is frozen. Cutler? Stop. Matt Stafford hasn’t won anything, either.

This is coming from someone who abhors the Cowboys, still remembers Hollywood Henderson’s remarks about Terry Bradshaw, and delighted at the 44-0 shelling in Dallas to the ’85 Bears.

But fair is fair. And while some of us could do without the TMZ-like lust for the Dallas Cowboys, it does afford us a chance to watch Tony Romo play football. And he does it very well. Sure, a ring would laminate his place in the Illuminati but he knows that more than anyone.

He has no posse, rap sheet, groin-grabbing theatrics, or other shady refrain. He seems like a decent dude who wants to win and speaks in a proper, corporate cadence.

Teams like the Cowboys, Notre Dame, and the Yankees project a certain, surreal visage, as though wearing uniform not only imbues you with athletic splendor but also biblical virtue. Some of that is earned on the field; the rest is decades of mythologizing, from NFL Films to NBC to Regis Philbin.

The irony is that Romo has earned that kind of reverence, yet he is regarded as a regurgitated backup. With all due respect to Don Meredith and Danny White, Tony Romo is the third-best quarterback in team history. That designation will mean much more, of course, with a Super Bowl ring, which is how all stars and All Stars are judged.

Tony Romo is aware that his resume is incomplete. Just stop acting like he doesn’t have one.

Twitter: @JasonKeidel

Jason is a native New Yorker, sans the elitist sensibilities, and believes there’s a world west of the Hudson River. A Yankees devotee and Steelers groupie, he has been scouring the forest of fertile NYC sports sections since the 1970s. He has written over 500 columns for WFAN/CBS NY, and also worked as a freelance writer for Sports Illustrated and Newsday subsidiary amNew York. He made his bones as a boxing writer, occasionally covering fights in Las Vegas, Atlantic City, but mostly inside Madison Square Garden.

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