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Sunday, August 5, 2012
It's ring or (no) bust for Tony Romo

By Tim MacMahon
ESPNDallas.com

OXNARD, Calif. -- The Pro Football Hall of Fame class that was just inducted in Canton, Ohio, owns a grand total of zero Super Bowl rings.

Tony Romo
Tony Romo is among the all-time leaders in passer rating, and DeMarcus Ware is climbing the all-time sacks list. Both have one playoff win with the Cowboys, but Ware's elite status isn't in question.
DeMarcus Ware and Jason Witten, the two most accomplished players on the Dallas Cowboys' roster, could very well know that feeling. That's not the case with Tony Romo.

Romo needs a championship to have a chance to have his bust in Canton. A lot of people will perceive him as a bust if he doesn't win a Super Bowl, much like Danny White, a good quarterback who didn't live up to the standards set by Roger Staubach and later reinforced by Troy Aikman.

The stats are really only relevant to Romo's legacy if he earns a ring. Fair or not, that's a reality for franchise quarterbacks that Romo has accepted, almost to the point of encouraging that line of thinking.

Nobody cares that only one quarterback in NFL history has a better passer rating than Romo. Everybody cares that Romo's resume features only one playoff win.

The standard that comes along with being a franchise quarterback, especially for America's Team, doesn't apply to an outside linebacker or tight end.

Nobody questions whether Ware and Witten are among the NFL's elite at their position. They're in the midst of Hall of Fame-quality careers.

Ware should climb into the top 20 all-time sacks list this season. He's the only player with two of the top 10 season sacks totals.

Witten has the third most catches among tight ends in NFL history and should rank third all-time among tight ends in yards by October. He'll probably break Hall of Famer Michael Irvin's franchise record for catches this season.

Jason Witten
Jason Witten's Hall of Fame odds shouldn't be affected if the Cowboys win a ring while he's still in Dallas, but he's keeping his eyes on the prize.
Unlike Romo, neither Ware or Witten need to win a title to have a strong case for Canton. Quarterback is the only position in which the win-loss record is considered an individual stat.

Not that it provides any comfort for the two stars who have made a combined 13 trips to the Pro Bowl.

"I've got one playoff win to go with that," Witten said, disgust dripping from his voice. "It makes me sick. That's why I've said, I'll be damned [if the Cowboys don't win a championship during his career]. I feel like that would be awful to think at the end of this to say, 'Hey, he had all these catches and one playoff win.' That's something that every morning I wake up and it makes me sick."

Ware's take on his stats and accolades: "If I can get a ring, get to a championship, I'd take all that away. … Not many guys can be in the league of leagues where they can say, 'Hey, I've got my ring. I've won this many championships.' That's what sets you apart."

The truth is that Ware and Witten have already set themselves apart. Their historic numbers just feel hollow to them.

You don't hear anyone argue that Justin Tuck is a better pass rusher than Ware because Tuck owns a couple of prestigious pieces of jewelry.

You don't hear anyone argue that Dallas Clark is a better tight end than Witten because Clark's Indianapolis Colts won it all.

But Romo's teammates seem to be the only ones who consider him to be on the same tier as Super Bowl champs such as Eli Manning and Ben Roethlisberger, although Romo's stats compare favorably.

This really isn't about reputations, though.

It isn't perception that makes Witten want to puke. It's the feeling that the Cowboys have blown precious opportunities.

"Maybe it wouldn't be that bad if we didn't have the right guys that I think could achieve it, but I believe we've got a group to do it," Witten said. "Now what's going to happen? We've got to make it happen."

Romo needs to make it happen to be widely recognized as great.

Ware and Witten need to make it happen for their Hall of Fame careers to feel whole.