It happened to Roger Staubach. To some, being a Dallas Cowboys quarterback meant he was "Art Hartman,'' featured in the book and movie "North Dallas Forty'' and identified as a religious cornball who is the subject of scorn in his own locker room.
It happened to Troy Aikman. To some – or at least one maybe self-loathing sensationalist with a keyboard – he was deserving of being grilled about his talent, his intellect, even his sexuality.
And so it's happening to Tony Romo, about to begin another Cowboys season full of hope … and full of scrutiny for the quarterback who to some, plays too much golf, wears his ballcap incorrectly, cares about winning too little, is too loosey-goosey to be a leader, enjoys the playboy life exceedingly and now that he's married …
Is such a goofball that his bachelor party was staged in a cabin in West Virginia and was highlighted by a straight-sober game of Hide-and-Go-Seek?!
"There aren't a lot of non-drinking games,'' Romo tells interviewer Graham Bensinger. "It was fun … I stayed hidden for awhile. … 35 minutes. I had a pretty good spot. … We played twice. I won both times.''
Staying hidden? Having fun? Winning big? There are almost endless metaphor opportunities there, for supporters of Romo and for detractors, too. To his credit, he's fought off the naysayers in the sense that he openly says he's unconcerned about appearances.
And in at least that way, he is unlike Staubach and unlike Aikman.
He may follow in the footsteps of his famous Cowboys QB predecessors by becoming a Super Bowl winner; there is no logical reason to believe that his talents prevent him from that fate and the numbers – Romo is the No. 4 QB all-time in career passer rating – actually make the notion seem quite viable.
But he is surely not following their paths in terms of being overly concerned about what you think of him. Staubach? He's a Navy hero and a football hero and a spiritual son, if you will, of the late Tom Landry. It doesn't matter that Gent has gone on record as saying that the Art Hartman character was actually an amalgamation of any number of dedication Christians who Gent knew during his NFL days.
"It's not Staubach," Gent told the Washington Post in 1979. "But don't tell him, it'll break his heart. That character was based on any number of players who got into all that religious bull."
Nevertheless, Roger carries that reputation with him, as a representative of his city and his country and his team … and his religion.
Aikman? As a player, he believed image mattered. That's why, as animated, funny and insightful as he was in private, once the cameras flipped on, his media visits were purposely almost robotically boring. Few were aware that even then, he had thoughts of eventually going into TV work (which he does wonderfully now as the lead NFL analyst for FOX). But Aikman took time to learn from the likes of Brad Sham and Pat Summerall, always thoughtfully collecting notes that would aid him in a second career.
Aikman was concerned enough about public perception that he once received a letter from a parent begging him to stop chewing tobacco because of the bad message it sent. So he did. He also gave in, however briefly, to reporters who wondered why he was so emotionless following touchdowns. Aikman attempted celebratory theatrics there in the early 90's for a few games before reverting back to the waist-high, barely-visible mini-fist-pump.
Aikman's quality as a person is such that, maybe combined with his concern for image, he still hasn't punched in the nose the yellow belly who lifted his profile by trying to rip down Aikman's.
But Tony? He truly seems not to care, and maybe that security in himself and that comfort in his own skin is a fine way to survive the task ahead. Romo, arriving off the scrapheap and into Pro Bowl-level, clearly has developed himself and/or been developed to the point where he has elite talent. He's engineered Dallas' first playoff win since 1997 and while that's not Rogeresque or Aikmanic, it's also not reminiscent at all of Quincy/Stoerner/Hutchinson/Leaf/Henson/Vinny.
Is there nonchalance with the media? Is there a lack of visible intensity? And most of all, are there a lack of results in terms of big-time and long-term playoff success?
Yes. But Romo is 39-22 as a starter, and that's counting last season, when the Cowboys finished 6-10 with him missing the final 10 games with a broken collarbone.
"We were humbled as a football team last year; I think everyone knows that from our win-loss record," says Romo, who grabbed the leadership reins during the summer by gathering about 40 teammates for informal workouts during the NFL labor dispute. "We just couldn't let an offseason go by without improving, individually and as a team. That needed to happen. That's why we (worked out together.)''
Roger Staubach cared what you thought of him. Troy Aikman cared what you thought of him, too.
Maybe the best way for Tony Romo to survive and to thrive in their footsteps is to do it his way.
Even if "his way'' means hat on backwards, in a cabin in West Virginia, playing sober Hide-and-Go-Seek.