Tony Romo Isn't Going Anywhere

Inside the lost season of a Dallas Cowboys quarterback who refuses to fail—even if he did just lose the biggest job in football

By Jason King

November 4, 2016

Bleacher Report

When the news began to leak—when America first learned Tony Romo was injured again—the Dallas Cowboys quarterback was in the living room of his $9 million home, surrounded by friends and family members who didn’t quite know how to act.

Or what to say.

It was just before noon on the final Saturday of August, and an MRI on Friday had revealed that Romo had suffered a compression fracture in his back while absorbing a hit from Seattle’s Cliff Avril in a preseason game Thursday night.

The injury, doctors said, would force Romo to miss the first six to 10 weeks of the season, a prognosis that still had the four-time Pro Bowler rattled when longtime friend Nick Sekeres and others arrived to console him.

“His soul was crushed,” Sekeres said. “It was like walking into a funeral.”

The Cowboys announced Romo’s injury via a conference call with head coach Jason Garrett just before lunch. Almost immediately, phones throughout Romo's home began to vibrate. Romo was mostly silent as replays of him writhing in pain flashed across the television screen. Then something hit him.

"I've gotta call Dak," Romo said.

Tony Romo lies on the turf after being injured in the first quarter during a preseason game against the Seattle Seahawks at CenturyLink Field on August 25, 2016, in Seattle. (Getty Images)

Excusing himself, Romo slipped away and spent the next 15 minutes on the phone pumping up and offering advice to Dak Prescott, the rookie fourth-round draft pick who’d be thrust into the starting role as a result of Romo’s latest setback.

While the gesture spoke volumes about Romo’s leadership, the phone call was no doubt difficult to make.

Broken collarbones, ribs and a pinkie finger. A herniated disc, a punctured lung and a bad back. Romo has dealt with countless injuries throughout his 14-year NFL career. But this one may have been the most deflating of all.

It came, friends say, when Romo felt he finally had everything in front of him.

It came when Romo—with just two playoff wins to go along with his Hall of Fame stats—sensed he was on the cusp of something special.

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Tony Romo watches from the sideline against the New England Patriots during a game at AT&T Stadium on October 11, 2015, in Arlington, Texas. (Getty Images)

Six days before his injury in Seattle, a beaming Tony Romo strutted out of the Cowboys locker room and hopped into the passenger seat of a friend’s SUV in the bowels of AT&T Stadium. Earlier that night, he played a nearly flawless two drives in the first half of his preseason debut against Miami. It was a significant step for Romo, who missed 12 games the previous season with a broken collarbone. His voice booming with energy, Romo couldn’t get over how good he felt on the field.

“My body has finally caught up to my mind,” he told his close friend and college roommate, Tommy Brewer. “I can’t wait for the real season. I can’t wait for people to see what I can do.”

For Romo, a triumphant comeback in 2016 would’ve added another chapter to one of the most fascinating stories in Cowboys history.

Long before he became one of the most well-known faces in Dallas—if not the entire league—Romo was an undrafted free agent from Eastern Illinois who spent his first three NFL seasons as a Cowboys backup.

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Tony Romo throws the ball against the Miami Dolphins during a preseason game at AT&T Stadium on August 19, 2016, in Arlington, Texas. (Getty Images)

He lived with Sekeres and Brewer in a three-bedroom apartment in the Dallas suburb of Addison, where dinner often meant a trip to the food court at the Galleria mall.

Life quickly changed for Romo in 2006, when he replaced starter Drew Bledsoe and led the Cowboys to the playoffs. All of a sudden, a guy who went unrecognized while shopping for gifts at the Cowboys Pro Shop had to request private tables at restaurants. “Romo-Mania” and “Ro-Momentum” became popular slogans around town, and fans half-jokingly added his name to the Cowboys Ring of Honor before a game.

“It was all so sudden,” Romo’s father, Ramiro, said. “Whether it was on the field or off, everything he did became magnified 100 percent.”

The attention was often positive, as stories surfaced of Romo taking a homeless man to a movie and helping push cars out of ditches during the ice storm that hit Dallas a few days before it hosted Super Bowl XLV.

"For a long time, Tony Romo was an incredibly polarizing figure in this city."


Other times, though, Romo drew the ire of fans, whether because of his failure to win playoff games or for issues involving his personal life.

That included a two-year courtship with singer Jessica Simpson that began in 2007, when paparazzi once chased the couple through the streets of Dallas as they drove to church. And Romo was blasted for jetting off to Cabo San Lucas with Simpson and a few teammates during a bye week before a 2008 playoff game he’d end up losing.

The simple act of wearing his cap backward on the sideline was irksome enough for some to call in to Dallas radio stations and question whether Romo—who has led the most fourth-quarter comeback wins in Cowboys history—was the right guy for the job.

“For a long time, Tony Romo was an incredibly polarizing figure in this city,” said Norm Hitzges, a veteran Dallas radio personality on 1310 The Ticket. “I can’t think of another position in the NFL where the spotlight is as bright as it is on the quarterback of the Dallas Cowboys.

“People really loved him, or they were really against him. There was no in between.”

Those close to Romo were impressed with his levelheadedness while operating under the intense glare that comes with his position.

“I think the thing that bothered him the most was when people questioned his commitment to football,” Brewer, the friend and former roommate, said. “He never told me it hurt his feelings, but I can see how something like that would. That’s something people should never question.”

Romo’s dedication is evident each offseason, when he spends time around coaching legends such as Mike Krzyzewski and Larry Brown to pick up pointers on motivation and leadership. It’s obvious every Thursday during the fall, when Romo takes a handful of offensive starters to dinner at various ritzy Dallas steakhouses to build camaraderie.

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Tony Romo is led to the sidelines by team officials after being sacked at AT&T Stadium on November 26, 2015, in Arlington, Texas. (Getty Images)

And in recent years, it’s been visible on plane trips both to and from road games. Fearing his chronic bad back will “stiffen up” while seated, Romo—who once played a game with a broken rib and a punctured lung—often stands throughout the entirety of each flight.

Uncomfortable as it was, Romo played through the back pain and enjoyed one of his best seasons in 2014, when he led Dallas to a 12-4 record and the NFC East title. But just when they seemed poised to make a run at the Super Bowl, Romo and the Cowboys lost at Green Bay in the divisional round.

Before he boarded the team bus after that loss, Romo huddled with friends and family members, some of whom were weeping.

“Don’t worry,” he said. “We’ll get our opportunity. Our time will come.”

Romo hoped that opportunity would be this year. After missing most of last season with a broken collarbone—the Cowboys were just 1-11 without him—he entered training camp feeling healthier than ever. His back pain was gone, he said, and he felt his time on the sidelines in 2015 enabled him to enhance his mental game.

“He believes this team is good enough to win a Super Bowl,” Brewer said on August 20. “The competitor in him will never be satisfied unless he ultimately wins one. Fair or not, that’s how quarterbacks are judged.

“He’s satisfied with the work he’s put in. But he’s not satisfied with the results.”

Five days later, Brewer, Sekeres and others watched from home as trainers tended to Romo in Seattle following the hit from Avril. Their concern died down a bit after Romo returned to the sideline and appeared to be begging to re-enter the game.

Later that night, before boarding the flight home to Dallas, Romo called his father.

“Don’t worry, Dad,” Romo said. “I’m fine.”

He hasn’t taken a snap since.

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Dak Prescott (left) throws a pass as he talks with quarterback Tony Romo during a game against the Philadelphia Eagles on October 30, 2016, in Arlington, Texas. (AP Images)

Last month, on a weekday evening during Dallas’ bye week, Romo hosted a gathering at his new home for any member of the squad who remained in town.

Some Cowboys shot hoops on Romo’s indoor basketball court while others played Ping-Pong or cards or teed off on his golf simulator. A catered meal from Nick & Sam’s, Romo’s favorite restaurant, featured steak, shrimp, lobster, chicken parmesan and numerous salads and sides.

So impressed were some of the players that they sent out Snapchats of the soiree throughout the evening.

“That just tells you what kind of guy he is,” third-year linebacker Anthony Hitchens said of Romo. “He may be out right now, but he’s as big of a part of this team as he ever was.”

At least off the field.

Whether Romo gets another chance to guide the Cowboys on it remains to be seen.

In what’s easily been the biggest surprise of the NFL season to date, Prescott has played with the poise of a seasoned veteran in leading the Cowboys to a 6-1 record in Romo’s absence. Initially, it seemed like a foregone conclusion that Romo would retain his starting position once he was healthy enough to return.

Now that seems questionable, if not unlikely.

While the rest of the country is fixated on Trump vs. Hillary, the biggest debate in Dallas these days centers on Romo vs. Dak.

"He may be out right now, but he's as big of a part of this team as he ever was."


Cowboys owner Jerry Jones admitted earlier this week that Romo could be viewed as “fragile” and has now pushed the veteran’s return date to “near the end of the year.” He’s also hinted at the possibility of sticking with Prescott even after Romo returns.

“Right now we’ve got a lot of chemistry going,” Jones told 105.3 The Fan in Dallas on Tuesday. “That has got to be really recognized if you’re making a decision.”

Legendary Cowboys quarterbacks such as Roger Staubach and Troy Aikman have opined that Dallas should continue with Prescott as its starter, and even Romo recognizes that there’s no urgency to return before he’s completely healed.

In past years, especially last season, he felt pressure to rush back from injuries simply because the Cowboys offense—without a quality backup quarterback—could hardly function without him.

Now, his friends said, Romo has the luxury of taking his time and making sure he’s 100 percent before he comes back, because he knows the Cowboys are in good hands with Prescott.

“He’s frustrated,” Sekeres said, “because he feels like these are the best years of his [career] he’s missing out on. He knows he’ll get another chance, but he recognizes that it can go fast.

“He did say to me, ‘I’m glad we’ve got our guy when I’m done.’ Tony wants the organization to be left in good hands when he’s finished playing, and he can see that Dak is going to be that guy. They’ve found his successor, and Tony is happy about that.”

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Dak Prescott celebrates after a first down during a game against the Philadelphia Eagles at AT&T Stadium on October 30, 2016, in Arlington, Texas. (Getty Images)

Although the Cowboys fanbase seems to be behind Prescott, the chatter has been more pro-Dak than anti-Romo. If anything, the lack of venom is a sign of appreciation and respect for a player who has become ingrained in the city’s fabric.

Now 36, Romo is a regular at Dallas Mavericks and SMU basketball games. Whether he’s eating at Nick & Sam’s, shopping for groceries or speaking to a church youth group, Romo almost never turns down requests for pictures or autographs. It was only last summer that he upgraded to his mammoth home—one of the luxuries of his $108 million contract. On most days, he's content to bounce around town in jeans and a ball cap.

Once tabbed by Forbes as “One of America’s Most Eligible Bachelors,” Romo is a family man now. He married former Dallas sportscaster Candice Crawford in an extravagant outdoor ceremony in 2011. Romo’s eyes watered and his voice cracked as he read his vows—“one of the only times I’ve ever seen him get emotional,” Sekeres said. Other than winning a Super Bowl, Romo’s biggest goal in football is to play long enough for his sons, Hawkins (4) and Rivers (2), to grasp what their dad did for a living.

“He’ll cut a guys’ trip a day or two short and go home early just because he misses them and wants to read them bedtime stories,” Brewer said. “His family has changed him. I wouldn’t say football is less important, but who he is as a human being is more important.”

Romo’s new image has played well in Dallas.

"I don't know for sure, but I would assume that, if he couldn't play for the Cowboys, he'd just rather not play."


“This city has thrown its arms around Tony and embraced him,” said David Shivers, the minister at Prestonwood Baptist Church and the officiant in Romo’s wedding. “Seeing him go through ups and downs has made people appreciate him even more. He’s grown up right before everyone’s eyes.

“He’s one of ours now.”

Indeed, even though he’s a Wisconsin native, Romo’s friends and relatives said he now considers Dallas his home and will continue to live there after retirement. Prescott’s emergence has sparked discussion about whether the Cowboys would consider trading Romo, a situation that could be awkward.

“This is where he wants to be,” said Andy Alberth, Romo’s cousin and one of his closest confidants. “I don’t know for sure, but I would assume that, if he couldn’t play for the Cowboys, he’d just rather not play.”

Whether it’s in a starting role or off the bench as a backup, Romo, who has declined all interview requests during his rehab, figures to see the field again this season as a Dallas Cowboy. The moment could be special. While Prescott has performed well in the regular season, Dallas’ staff may feel more comfortable with a veteran in the playoffs. Never mind that Romo is just 2-4 in postseason games.

“For as much as people knock him for his late-season issues, he’s also the person that got them to the playoffs in the first place,” said's Todd Archer, who has covered the Cowboys throughout Romo’s entire career. “Plus, most of those losses don’t fall on him. I definitely think the coaches would look at that possibility.”

Sekeres said a little-known fact is that Romo’s decision to wear jersey No. 9 was influenced by Roy Hobbs, the fictitious character portrayed by Robert Redford in the 1984 baseball movie The Natural.

In the film’s climactic scene, a 35-year-old Hobbs, who had been struggling, blasts a two-out, ninth-inning home run into the right field lights to win the pennant for the New York Knights.

“Our hope,” Sekeres said, “is that he has his own Natural moment, when he comes back and makes a final run for this city and this team.”

All he needs is a chance.

“The final chapter hasn’t been written yet,” Cowboys tight end Jason Witten said. “He’s not going to let himself fail.”

Jason King is a senior writer for B/R Mag. A former staff writer at, Yahoo Sports and the Kansas City Star, King's work has received mention in the popular book series The Best American Sportswriting. In both 2015 and 2016, King was tabbed as one of the top five beat writers in the nation by the APSE. Follow him on Twitter: @JasonKingBR

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