It was in the middle of January in 2002 when I first walked into the Tae Kwon Do studio in my hometown.
Inside that studio, I met my first true athletic rival when I was 12-years-old. His name was Corey.
Corey and I had an interesting relationship. We didn’t hate each other by any means, but we weren’t friends by any stretch.
Corey had started classes roughly two months before I had. The way our instructor ran his studio was there were classes in the afternoon every day from Monday through Friday and one class on Saturday at noon with Sunday being a day off.
The students who worked hard, which was most of us, tested for their next belt every two months on average.
The way the belt system worked was in this order:
- High Green (green belt with a black stripe in between)
- Various degrees of red
- Junior Black
So, by the time I had met Corey, he had tested for his yellow belt, so I was a level behind him.
It didn’t stop us from being rivals though. Corey was and still is about two inches taller than me. He lifted weights while I was as thin as a McDonald’s straw. Corey had size and confidence.
I wasn’t as confident, but I was definitely competitive. The fire between us was undeniable. Both of us battled and trained to earn the praise of Master Sekach and to be the top fighter.
We would spar each other. We grappled. We did take downs on the mat. We tried to best the other in learning kicks, forms, one-steps, and in exercise activities.
My goal was to catch up to him, but he’d always test with me simultaneously. When I got my yellow, he became orange. When I got the orange, he achieved the green status, and so forth and so on.
During that rivalry, I became the best fighter I could’ve been and it was because of Corey.
My desire to be the best wasn’t enough. I needed to make it personal. Athletes have to make it personal (at least to some level) in order to get the most out of themselves.
By having Corey there as a threat to me and vice versa, we did more than what we would’ve accomplished alone.
Now, let’s change the scene to the Dallas Cowboys and the two main quarterbacks for the team.
There is no doubt that Tony Romo is going to be the starting quarterback next season. Unless he forgets how to throw a ball, he will be the guy going forward.
But the question of Kyle Orton’s role still looms in the area because I don’t think he is just a backup.
Orton is just 29. He’s started for three teams in the past. He’s led game winning drives. He’s thrown 80 touchdowns to just 57 interceptions.
Is Orton a star? No, but he received a three-year deal worth $10.5 million from Dallas. Backups don’t earn that kind of money.
Maybe Jerry Jones was desperate for the best insurance policy so he overpaid for Orton? That’s a big possibility, but Jerry Jones isn’t one owner that I say gets desperate.
I think Jerry Jones wanted Kyle Orton on the Cowboys because he knows that Kyle Orton can win football games and isn’t your typical backup.
A lot of backups are content with their life as a clipboard holder. They know that they aren’t starting material. They get behind a star quarterback and just spend their career earning a pension on the sidelines.
Then there are the old has-been backups who play behind a younger star and become mentors.
They do it because they love to teach or they want to become a coach or they just want to stay in the NFL even as a backup role and earn some money.
Then there is Kyle Orton.
He’s one of the unique backups. He’s one of those guys that have a competitive spirit and a fire burning inside. He’s played before and he feels that he has what it takes to lead a team.
“I feel like I’ve played good ball in this league,” Orton said in an interview with the Cowboys official website. “I feel I’ve got a lot of good ball left in me. I don’t see this as committing myself to be the backup. I’m just committing myself to be a part of the team.”
Orton did say that Romo is the main man later on, and I believe every word he said, but I also believe that if Romo does struggle, does start declining, and isn’t capable of leading the team then Kyle Orton will take the reins from Romo.
This strategy was famously used by Bill Walsh when he traded a pair of draft picks to the Tampa Buccaneers in 1985 for Steve Young while Joe Montana had just lead the 49ers to a second Super Bowl Championship.
Walsh called the technique “creative tension” and it is very effective for franchises, but rubs players the wrong way and is risky. Walsh always had the approach that a team is not about a group of individuals, it is a giant machine made up of parts.
If any part gets rusty, breaks, and cannot do its job anymore, then that part is replaced and that included Joe Montana.
Walsh removed emotional loyalty and got this young stallion quarterback who had come second in the Heisman vote at BYU to back up and challenge Joe Montana just like I challenged Corey and just like I bet the Cowboys challenged Tony Romo by bringing Kyle Orton in.
Tony Romo now has a true rival in the quarterback meeting rooms now. Tony Romo has had backups in the past, but not like Kyle Orton.
First, there was Drew Bledsoe, who lost his job to Romo in 2006. Bledsoe was given a chance because Bill Parcells was the Cowboys head coach and Parcells had coached Bledsoe before.
Bledsoe was done in his career at that point. He wasn’t a threat to Romo after he lost the starting spot. He retired after 2006 at the age of 34.
Then there is Brad Johnson. That signing was silly. Johnson was in the same stage as Bledsoe. He had won a Super Bowl five years earlier with the Buccaneers, but any knowledgeable fan knew that Johnson wasn’t the X-factor to that Super Bowl win. He wasn’t even a Z-factor really.
When Johnson did play, it was hard to watch. It reminded me of my history lessons when I read about how the old Roman Empire would put Christians in the Coliseum against lions.
The pass rushers ate Johnson alive because he couldn’t move and the line wasn’t really that good. They weren’t criticized because Romo was such a mobile quarterback and didn’t complain that he had to move a lot.
Their faults couldn’t be hidden with Johnson back there. Johnson retired from football after 2008 at the age of 40.
Next we have Stephen McGee. I like Stephen McGee. He’s a homegrown product from Texas A&M and my Aggie friends have asked me numerous times if McGee could someday take over the starting job.
Maybe a miracle is too strong, but McGee was drafted to be a backup and isn’t the most physically gifted specimen. That’s why he lasted until the fourth round when Dallas drafted him. He could surprise me and everyone, but he’s not a threat right now.
Last, we have Jon Kitna. Kitna was my favorite backup. Kitna became one of my favorite players ever when I saw him take over for an injured Tony Romo in 2010. He took hit after hit and was so tough. Jon Kitna earned everyone’s admiration in Dallas.
But, let’s face it. Jon Kitna was old enough to run for president when he did that (35 is the minimum age, Kitna was 38).
Jon Kitna was never a true threat to Tony Romo. He was a mentor quarterback to teach Romo. Quarterbacks constantly are learning so mentors are useful at any age.
Jon Kitna is a high school teacher in Tacoma, Washington right now since he retired, so that’s all I need to say to prove my point. He retired after this past season at the age of 39.
That’s all folks. Three backups retired behind Romo and the last one is a career third-stringer.
The Cowboys have finally done the right thing with Romo. They have gotten a guy who can excel and isn’t going to be content on the bench if he sees an opportunity.
When Steve Young backed up Montana, you could see the enthusiasm on his face in interviews and team practices. He wanted to play. He annoyed people to let him do things. He wasn’t going to be satisfied with backing up Montana.
Obviously Montana had enough support and success to be able to tell Young to sit down and shut up, but that didn’t squash Young’s desire.
I didn’t care that Corey was bigger and ahead of me in the belt rankings, I just worked that much harder to be better than him.
Montana played even better after Young arrived and won two more Super Bowls in 1988 and 89 before Young finally earned the job and won his own Super Bowl in 1994.
I competed against Corey and while I could never say who truly was the top dog; I can bet my wallet that we were better with rivalry on our minds than if we had trained without it.
While I don’t think that Orton will act as extreme as Young or I did, I don’t doubt that Orton will want to get his reps in practice.