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Parcells: Romo no rookie on field

Fourth-year pro stars in first year starting. Cowboy is NFL’s top-rated passer.

IRVING, Texas — Bill Parcells keeps telling everyone to stop thinking of Tony Romo as a rookie. He’s a fourth-year player who happens to be in his first season actually playing.

It’s an interesting distinction. And it’s probably a big reason Romo — who had only two small-school scholarship offers, then wasn’t drafted by the NFL — has gone from 3 1/2 years of waiting to becoming an overnight sensation as the quarterback of the Dallas Cowboys.

Romo absorbed everything he could while backing up Quincy Carter, Chad Hutchinson, Vinny Testaverde and Drew Bledsoe. He saw what worked and what didn’t, and refined his own game by treating every practice like it was the Super Bowl.

Now that he’s finally getting his chance, Romo is having the kind of impact Kurt Warner and Tom Brady had when they went from “Who’s he?” to Super Bowl MVP.

Romo has won four of five starts, taking the Cowboys from 3-3 and near implosion to the second-best record in the NFC. They have a one-game division lead over the Giants going into their meeting Sunday at the Meadowlands.

Romo is the league’s top-rated passer, ahead of Peyton Manning. Romo even outdueled Manning recently, completing 19 of 23 passes and ending Indianapolis’ 9-0 start.

Pretty nice outing, right? Well, over Romo’s last three games, that’s the only one that DIDN’T earn him the NFC offensive player of the week award.

“It’s not as glorifying as you guys are making it out to be, from my perspective,” Romo said. “I’m just throwing the ball to a guy who is open.”

Over his five starts, Romo has hit his target 71.2 percent of the time (109 of 153) for 1,394 yards and 10 touchdowns. Most importantly, he’s avoided the “impulse throws” Parcells has feared since his very first preseason game, when Romo avoided several rushers, then flicked an ugly shovel pass that was intercepted.

As if two interceptions in five games wasn’t proof enough of his game-management skill, he’s also gone 29-of-31 in the second halves of the past three games.

Romo’s budding tale got terrific exposure simply by playing on Thanksgiving. Yet he added to his lore by treating a national audience to a Cowboys record-tying five touchdown passes. Roger Staubach never did that and Troy Aikman needed overtime to pull it off.

Before that game, several fans half-jokingly added Romo’s name to the team’s Ring of Honor. While that is still premature, it’s no longer “ludicrous” (Parcells’ word) to consider Romo for the Pro Bowl. His name already has replaced Bledsoe’s on the ballot.

“He’s definitely the real deal,” Staubach said this week. “Man, it’s exciting, isn’t it? Troy resurrected the Cowboys in the 1990s. Now we need someone to do it again. Tony could be that guy.”

This too-good-to-be-true story has produced unbridled Romo Mania, along with other phrases coined from his name: Romo-mentum, Romo Sapiens. Stores can’t stock enough of his jersey. There’s also been lots of talk about a romance with Jessica Simpson.

Truth is, he dined with her dad and left him tickets for a game. Entertainment mags say she’s back with singer John Mayer, but the Romo-Simpson story won’t go away — probably because people don’t want it to.

After all, isn’t the starting quarterback for the Dallas Cowboys supposed to date sexy blond pop stars? Especially the quarterback who already seems to be living out a fairy tale?

(Oh yeah, one more thing: Romo wears No. 9 in honor of Roy Hobbs, “The Natural.” Really.)

AP sports writers Howard Ulman in Boston and Brett Martel in New Orleans contributed to this story.

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