Perception is Reality. Ask Tony Romo.

These are the essential quotes that define my life philosophy. I have no idea where they came from; they are likely not my own, but I have owned them for so long I cannot cite anyone else. They are things I have said to those around me for years, and things I hope to teach my children.

The Quote:

“Perception is reality.”

What It Means:

In the current age, memes, which we can define as media-driven cultural narratives, rise and fall like daily tides. Memes are sometimes true but more often true-ish. They contain elements of truth but somewhere along the way coalesced into a sound bite summary that eschews nuance and complexity for ease of transmission.

For football fans, a more extreme example is Tony Romo’s reputation. The meme is that he is a “choke artist.” The origin stems from a playoff-loss following the 2006 season in Seattle, when he dropped the center’s snap while attempting to hold the ball for the game-winning field goal. Since it was such a high profile fumble, it set a definition in motion. Through the 2010 season he has had a mixture of highs and lows, including comebacks and losses. Consider:

  • His career QB rating is fourth all time, behind Aaron Rodgers, Philip Rivers, and Steve Young, and above a host of hall of famers.
  • His career fourth quarter QB rating in close (-7 point differential) games is over 100, placing him second all time behind Peyton Manning.

In week 1 of the 2011 campaign, Romo made two critical errors that contributed to a devastating Cowboy loss to the Jets, 27-24- a fumble and an interception in the fourth quarter–the interception being especially difficult to swallow, as it was thrown directly to one of the best CBs in the league. Following this “meltdown” the national media crowed over the Romo Choke Meme all week, seemingly solidifying it in stone and causing even his biggest supporters to question his ability.

Seven days later, Romo cracks two ribs, takes a quarter off, then steps back in and throws 2 TDs, leading his team back from a 14 point deficit to beat the 49ers in overtime, 27-24. Which fittingly happened to be the same final score and the same 14-point comeback. National media instantly rewrote the meme, calling his performance “gritty” and “the stuff championships are made of.”

So which is true – is he a choke artist or a comeback king?

Well, neither, actually. He has led 10 4th quarter comebacks now, which puts his career about on par with his two peers, Rodgers and Rivers. He has lost a few in critically close situations, and won a few. He is a great quarterback by many measures who has yet to win the ultimate measure, the Super Bowl.

The moral? The power of public opinion is stronger than ever, and to determine the truth in a statement takes work that most people aren’t willing to do. Be careful before repeating what others have said – it may be the truth and it may be a meme.