Former Demon chooses family time over risk of further injury

Tony Romo and son Hawkins, 5, share a laugh during a wide receiver drill June 21 at Burlington High School. (Mike Ramczyk/SLN)


By Mike Ramczyk

A few months after sitting out most of an entire season as the Dallas Cowboys quarterback and losing his starting job to rookie Dak Prescott, 1998 Burlington High School graduate was given an offer he couldn’t refuse.

In April, Romo announced his retirement from the NFL, which came as somewhat of a shock since he was 37 years old and seemingly fully recovered from injury.

But numerous injuries and surgeries took their toll, and a promising second career was too good to pass up.

In the fall of 2017, Romo joined the No. 1 football team with Jim Nance for CBS, where he’s demonstrated his gift of gab and vast football knowledge.

Romo has received rave reviews as a color commentator, and his ability to predict plays before the snap has become his trademark.

A multiple-time Pro Bowler with the Dallas Cowboys, Romo went undrafted in 2003 before enjoying a 14-year NFL career where he was the starting quarterback for 10 years.

Romo returned to Burlington in late June for his annual football camp, the first in a more-than-decade long run where he wasn’t an NFL football player.

“For me, the itch isn’t there,” Romo said. “Everyone tells you there’s always an itch. But right now, I literally feel anxious with the analyst role.”


Here’s the original analysis column on Romo’s retirement and heavily-publicized football camp in June, including Sports Editor Mike Ramczyk’s take on Romo choosing family and a new challenge over his first love, football. It appeared in the June 29 edition of the Burlington Standard Press, on Page 1.


BURLINGTON – If there’s an itch, Tony Romo isn’t scratching it – at least for now.

Despite poking and prodding from the local media at his 14th consecutive Tony Romo Football Camp last week at Burlington High School, Romo didn’t budge.

“For me, the itch isn’t there,” Romo proclaimed after voicing a hint of irritation with my question, prompting laughter from a packed press conference. “Everyone tells you there’s always an itch. But right now, I literally feel anxious with the analyst role.”

“It’s going to feel like you’re playing in your first game again.”

Sorry, football fans, including all those guys who played with Tony and watched him and cheered for the past decade or so, he’s not coming back.

Tony Romo is not Brett Favre.

Brett Favre was a crazy, rare example of someone who simply wasn’t good at sticking with a decision – three or four times.

Oh, there were attempts to get Romo to crack at the press conference, which featured the most combined television and newspaper media perhaps in the history of the event.

Questions were hurled Romo’s way about the itch to play again, whether family played a role and if broadcasting a Dallas Cowboys game will invoke the old, competitive feelings.

Nope. Not a chance.

“It’s going to end at some point, but I don’t think you’re ever truly prepared. These guys (gestures to his kids, who were sitting on his lap) help a little bit.”

Deep down, I root for the miraculous comeback story. What if Dak Prescott, the Cowboys’ starting quarterback, goes down in Week 15? What if he goes down in the playoffs?

Would the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to finally win a Super Bowl, and validate your Hall of Fame career (he’s going in even if he’s actually retired) be enough to take that text message from owner Jerry Jones and say, “What time and where?”

I think that’s the only possibility for the Hollywood, Brett Favre-like comeback that many people from Wisconsin probably crave.

Even then, would it be worth it?


Injuries can’t be taken lightly

Romo said in his press conference he’s in the best shape of his life, but his words when asked about future health clearly showed he’s looking at the bigger picture.

After three back surgeries and two collarbone fractures, his body needs to be the most important factor.

“These kids like to play,” Romo said about Hawkins and Rivers, 3. “They like to play sports, they run around and tackle dad – while he’s sleeping sometimes.”

“They want me to be active, and that played a little bit of a role. You always want to get out a year or two early, rather than a year or two late. I’m in the best shape of my life. My workout routine hasn’t changed too much. Once I had back surgery, I’ve had to adjust.”

Tony and wife Candace are expecting a third boy in August, and he joked they almost have an entire basketball team.

The emergence of Prescott combined with CBS’ desire for a young, fresh face, especially someone who played at a Pro Bowl level as little as two years ago, was the perfect out for Romo.

Sure, he could’ve gone to the Houston Texans, Chicago Bears, Denver Broncos, or any number of teams looking for a proven, star quarterback – something extremely rare in football – but it seems obvious the injuries have taken their toll.

Maybe one more devastating hit would affect Romo’s ability to wrestle around with his sons, let alone his ability to play in the NFL.

Maybe he considers it a blessing that he’s good now, after a nightmare of injuries since 2015, and that’s enough.

Sometimes, enough is enough.

Everybody has to call it quits, whether they like it or not. You can be forced out, like Joe Theismann and his broken leg, or Favre’s final concussion, or ride off into the sunset.

Romo chose the latter, and he will turn his attention to the broadcast booth, his family and, perhaps, coaching one day.


Romo credits Dalton for football origin

Based on his affinity for home, especially his poignant love for the late Don Dalton and the Burlington High School football program, I wouldn’t be shocked if Romo ever took over the reigns or simply joined close friend Steve Tenhagen on the sidelines.

“Don Dalton was probably the biggest legend to come through here,” Romo said. “Personally, I don’t play football if it wasn’t for Don Dalton.”

Romo was one of only a handful of kids out for the soccer team in 1994, his freshman season, and the soccer team wasn’t going to have a season.

That’s when Dalton approached Romo, told him he would “make some calls,” which meant tell head coach Steve Gerber Tony’s playing even though it’s a month into training camp or else, and the rest is history.

“Freshman year, I went out for like three weeks and played eighth-string quarterback maybe for a day,” Romo said. “Sophomore year, I broke my finger on the second day and didn’t play. I wasn’t going to play football again, but Dalton convinced me to play.”

“It’s hard to put into words what someone like that really means to a school. He was tough, but it was tough love in a good way, like the way a father should be. He cared about the kids, and he cared about the game.”


An underdog success

So the kid from Foxtrail Circle off Highway W, walking distance from the Browns Lake Golf Course, is really done.

Romo is an inspiration to us all, from just about as humble of beginnings imaginable to the most coveted position in possibly the most popular professional sports league in the world.

A better basketball player and maybe golfer in high school than football player, if you can believe that, Romo came from a town of 10,000 people and a high school that didn’t even compete in Wisconsin’s largest division, and made it all the way to the top of the NFL, an All-Pro and multiple-time Pro Bowler.

The kid who earned only a half-scholarship from college football’s “minor league” subdivision, I-AA, at Eastern Illinois, wasn’t even one of more than 250 players drafted in 2003.

The odds of an undrafted free agent making a team, let alone a Pro Bowl, are mind-boggling, but Tony did it.

Bill Parcells saw something in Romo that continues to impress everyone he touches to this day – competitive fire, elite talent and an unmatched work ethic.

Romo’s charisma and leadership are evidenced every year he gives back to his small community, and he still feels like he hasn’t arrived.

He’ll take that mindset into his next career, and I have little doubt he’ll become one of the most successful football analysts on TV.

“When you come from Burlington, Wisconsin, you recognize that life isn’t always the quarterback of the Dallas Cowboys,” he said.

“At any point, that can be taken away. You appreciate it, and you grind. I know it seems silly, but I’m comfortable with where I’m at.”

Thank you, Tony, for an unforgettable ride.