Kirk Wessler column from the Chicago Bears-Dallas Cowboys game
Did you know we are nine days into Hispanic Heritage Month?
Well, we are.
And, wouldn’t you know, the National Football League is all over this marketing opportunity. Along came this week’s Sunday Night Football showdown between the Dallas Cowboys and the Chicago Bears — the self-proclaimed “America’s Team” vs. the real thing — and the NFL trotted out Gloria Estefan to sing the national anthem, right in front of a giant American flag.
Now, I gotta tell you something about the tiny, middle-aged, Cuban-American hottie with the big voice.
Yours truly was majorly disappointed last February, when Ms. Estefan no-showed a press conference with entertainers lined up to perform at Super Bowl XLI in Miami. I had to settle for Prince blasting my eardrums into little pieces.
Not this time. Sunday night, Estefan showed up at Soldier Field as a black-leathered Gloria and sang about “The Star-Spangled Banner” in a voice as sweet and lovely as she. Don’t ask if she was actually singing or this was a lip-sync. Couldn’t tell. Didn’t matter.
She was here. I saw her.
Wish I could say the same of the Bears, 34-10 losers in this game, which banners around the stadium celebrated as “Futbol Americano.” (That’s to differentiate from Futbol Restoworldo, which in the Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave we call “soccer.”)
According to the NFL hype machine, there are “approximately two dozen” Hispanics playing in the league. Among them, the machine says, is Tony Romo, who plays quarterback for the Cowboys.
Romo is a Wisconsin kid. He grew up in a town called Burlington, where he played high school football so well no major college programs wanted him. He went to Eastern Illinois University, where he won the Walter Payton Award as the best player in NCAA Division I-AA. He was so impressive no NFL team drafted him. But the Cowboys did sign him as a free agent, and because he is of Mexican descent, Romo is now one of the approximate two dozen the NFL celebrates this month.
He’s also turning into one heck of a pro quarterback. He’s no fluke.
The rap on Romo was that he went to the Pro Bowl last season and got off to a sterling start this season by compiling great stats against bad defenses. And it’s true that in 13 NFL starts before Sunday, he had faced just one defensive unit ranked in the top half of the league. Surely, the vaunted Bears would expose him as a fraud.
Unless you think 22-of-35 accuracy, 329 yards, two touchdowns and a QB rating of 100.8 against the best defense in the NFC is a fraudulent performance.
“That made a statement, certainly,” Cowboys coach Wade Phillips said. “Tony can compete against the top defenses in the league.”
The Bears could argue they kept Romo and the Cowboys in check the first half. They did, after all, manage to sack him three times and intercept him once. But the Cowboys also got flagged for five offensive penalties during those opening periods, so it’s a valid argument that they stopped themselves.
Come the third quarter, though, nothing got in their way.
Nine plays for 89 yards and a touchdown, the Cowboys went on their first possession of the second half. Ten plays for 91 yards and another touchdown on their next. Romo was throwing on almost every down, spreading the receiving wealth among seven teammates, but hitting superstar Terrell Owens eight times for 145 yards.
Romo found receivers from the pocket. He slipped through the fingers of Bears defenders and found receivers on the run. He found receivers who didn’t even seem to be open until the ball settled into their arms.
He looked like one of the top quarterbacks in the NFL.
“I’ve thought that all along,” Phillips said. “I see him make decisions and make plays that I just don’t see a lot of other guys make.”
Futbol Americano, indeed. Viva, Romo!
KIRK WESSLER is Journal Star executive sports editor/columnist. Contact him at (309) 686-3216 or firstname.lastname@example.org.