It wasn’t textbook and it wasn’t pretty, but the pace of Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo’s ascent last season to star status catapulted from that of a rock climb to a rocket launch.
After three years of backing up other quarterbacks, Romo finally got his chance when former Cowboys head coach Bill Parcells took a leap of faith in a game against the Giants in October of last season.
“Romo, you’re in!” Cowboys quarterbacks coach Chris Palmer shouted at halftime with the Cowboys down by five.
He didn’t lead his team to victory that game, but Romo did show his leadership that had long been buried at the end of the Cowboys’ bench.
Two days later, Parcells announced that Romo would start the team’s next game, against the Carolina Panthers.
Romo, who was christened Antonio Ramiro Romo at birth, went on to rack up 19 touchdowns on 2,903 yards passing, ending the year with an impressive 95.1 quarterback rating.
“This kid is for real,” former Cowboys guard Marco Rivera said of the quarterback.
“He can take charge in the huddle. He can lead the team. He can play,” continued Rivera.
Romo has come a long way, but it wasn’t that long ago that Parcells likened him to a ball in tall grass.
“Lost!” barked an exasperated Parcells in response to a quizzical look one day by Romo.
Romo was a three-season athlete in high school and went on to play I-AA football at one of the two colleges that offered him a scholarship, Eastern Illinois University.
“You know those guys who threw a nice, tight spiral in high school?” Romo said of his early playing days. “That wasn’t me.”
Even after four years of relentless determination to improve on and off the field, Romo’s fundamentals still needed a lot of work, and his mechanics were “a little scary,” admits Tampa Bay Buccaneers pro personnel director Mark Dominick.
Nevertheless, then-Cowboys assistant and fellow Eastern Illinois-alum Sean Payton decided to take a chance on the small-town kid and recommended that the team sign him as a free agent when he went undrafted.
Now, Romo has found his place in the Dallas sun, and his family couldn’t be happier.
His grandfather, Ramiro Romo, immigrated to America from Mexico as a teenager and now lives in San Antonio with Tony’s grandmother, Felicita.
The couple takes great pride in their grandson’s success and encourages others to make the most out of their circumstances.
“I remembered the hard times in Mexico and how I struggled when I first got here. It’s like coming from nothing to where we are today,” says Ramiro Romo.
“I think of how far we’ve come, not only as a family but as people.”
But even with all the trappings of celebrity status that have landed on Romo, this Burlington, Wisconsin-native holds to a refreshingly simple philosophy.
“I just try to be a good person and work as hard as I can in football,” says Romo. “I can sleep at night if I do that.”
And after emerging as the Cowboys’ brightest star last season, even now-retired Parcells might have to agree that Romo is certainly not lost anymore.