Romo sold on Green Bay Packers, gets back to fundamentals with annual camp

Tony Romo answers questions at his annual football camp June 21, with a little help from sons Rivers, 4 (left) and Hawkins, 6. (Daniel Schoettler/SLN)

 

Antonio Ramiro Romo speaks with a child-like exuberance- almost a new lease on life.

One year removed from missing golf tournaments and dealing with the stress of retirement, beginning a new career and extra scrutiny surrounding major changes, the room was full of laughter and love June 21 at Burlington High School.

Flanked by sons Hawkins and Rivers, Tony seemed to be a guy enjoying life after football, finally 100 percent healthy after a myriad of injuries shortened his professional football career.

The 1998 Burlington High School graduate, the pride of Foxtrail Circle in Brown’s Lake, got back to basics at his 15th annual Tony Romo Football Camp.

Free admission.

No drama.

No stress.

Just the sheer nirvana of playing “daddy,” spending time with his three sons and giving back to his hometown.

For the first time, the camp was free, and it only involved athletes entering grades three through five, a stark contrast to the usual two-day event that featured young children along with high school seniors and all in between.

From humble beginnings to a 7-on-7, all-out Wisconsin-Illinois high school football border battle to now, Romo has kept up with the times, carefully toeing the line of fatherhood, celebrity and nostalgia.

Much like his sure-fire Hall of Fame playing career with the Dallas Cowboys, which includes several passing records for one of the most popular and successful franchises in all of pro sports, Romo’s broadcasting career, which began with CBS last fall, is taking off.

He remains the lead color commentator for the Sunday football featured game, and his first year included multiple times where Romo “broke the Internet” with ridiculously intelligent insight, featuring his calling card of predicting plays before they happen.

Romo, who will now be the subject of a biographical documentary film, is back to competitive golf, lots of it.

He took part in the Ray Fisher Invitational in Janesville one day after the two-hour camp, which was doused with a steady, constant rain but still happened outside on the fresh grass.

The 38-year-old Romo keeps coming back home, and that can’t be overlooked.

How rare is it for an athlete or successful celebrity to fly back home each and every summer and share his knowledge of the game and gifts of gab, leadership and discipline, and ask for no money in return?

Not to mention catch up with old buddies, meet new friends and community members and graciously treat everyone around him like an equal, despite a cozy, comfy salary and bona fide star status.

His love for football continues to grow, as his natural curiosity has Tony spending more time than ever analyzing film and learning about the National Football League.

He even made Wisconsin sports headlines with this zinger from the press conference, which included Milwaukee television stations along with the Burlington Standard Press, Lake Geneva Regional News and Racine Journal-Times.

“I really think for Green Bay if their secondary is a little bit better, I think they are the team to beat this year going into the football season,” Romo said.

From one Demon to another, Tony, thank you for continuing your support for the area, as athletes drive from neighboring towns and states to learn from one of the best.

For all the Packer fans turned Cowboys fans, and longtime Dallas die-hards that flock to Burlington each June, thank you.

For the parents who want nothing more than to have their child, boy or girl, find his or her niche in life and send them to your camp with the highest of hopes, thank you.

I know, I write the same story every year about Tony. I’m from Burlington, I grew up with the guy and actually played a little football with him, lucky me.

And I probably say the same things every year.

But there’s a reason – people don’t come within one phone call of “settling” for playing at UW-Whitewater, then get one, yes one, scholarship offer to play at a D1-AA school, go undrafted and eventually don a Hall of Fame jacket.

In sports, it’s one of the most improbable, yet fascinating stories you will find, and it’s happening in your backyard.

Your platform is brighter than ever, your words more powerful, and these kids look at you as a person with great integrity, love and loyalty, not just a football player.

We all do.

Your mere presence in this little town speaks volumes to your character, and you will always be Tony to us.

Thank you.

 

Here’s the original transcript from the June 21 press conference, a 20-minute event inside the BHS press box:

 

Q: Tony, you are one year removed from football, talk about your life right now.

TR: When you are playing football, you pretty much have the same routine from January to the end of the year. Now it is different and I feel like I am doing different things. There is a lot of stuff going on, and I’m just busier. I’ve got the boys as they are 6, 4 and 9 months.

Just being the dad, and then with football with the analyzing, so we are getting a bit of everything.

 

Q: What did you take away from the production side of things in the booth?

TR: I think there is more involved than showing up and doing the game. On the production side, putting together packages and things to help make points during the game and all that stuff happens throughout the week. It has been a crash course in behind-the-scenes television, and we have a great team at CBS. It is a new team that I’m a part of.

 

Q: Tony, you got great reviews in your first year and you’d tell people what they don’t already know. What was your preparation into doing that?

TR: Initially, part of it was just taking some of what I think playing football. From a quarterback perspective, you see the game a certain way, and you want to show the viewer some of the things going through your brain when you are out there.

When I am analyzing and watching games and I want to tell you about a play, I just say what I would be thinking as a quarterback and why that might give an advantage for a team or might not and what the defense is doing to try to stop a certain thing from from happening.

Then you have to do it quickly and then you have to do it in layman’s terms. If I want to talk about an outside linebacker, it seems obvious. When you are saying an outside linebacker is rushing on the play, you better explain what an outside linebacker is really quick.

 

Q: In this business, it is hard to be universally loved, and you seemed to get rave reviews from almost everybody. Were you aware of it in the moment or did you try to not listen to it or how did you approach that?

TR: Playing football your whole career, I don’t want to say you get numb, but you start to learn that you just play the game. Some weeks it is good and some weeks it is bad, and some weeks it is part of the flow of playing in the National Football League and quarterback.

You kind of get a turtle shell of outside noise in a good way and bad way. I think I was ready going into it from an expectations or whatever the talking and writing would have been about it, but feeling like people enjoyed it was rewarding.

It is a little bit different, in football it is a scoreboard because you can tell whether or not you played well at the end of the day. It is a little harder when it comes to the T.V. aspect, and I think you just want to do as good of a job as you can.

I just want people to enjoy the time they are with you, and make the game more enjoyable, hopefully learn and have fun. Those big moments in sports, you want to make them bigger and make them larger than life sometimes. I like when something is important, so I try to make it that I guess.

 

Q: Now that you are in the booth, does your perspective change in any ways?

TR: I wouldn’t say my perspective on the game has changed. I was a student of the game, so I love to understand and get beneath it and figure out why. Not just from my position, but why defensive coordinators think certain things and why a coach is teaching this technique.

I think I have gained a little bit more insight to certain areas I wouldn’t have before, so that has been enjoyable. Just gaining more knowledge than I have, when you are around a Bill Belichick a few times you are going to gain some knowledge. So things of that nature have been rewarding.

 

Q: What do you still miss?

TR: When you are done, you never know how it is going to go. What I don’t miss is probably the way I felt on Mondays after the games.

I think the competitive side of you always misses competing, but I feel like I get that in some other areas. It has been easier with my segway afterward compared to others because you get to go into something else you want to be good at and practice at. Your mind just kind of goes there. It hasn’t been as hard as I thought it would be at first.

 

Q: Give Jason Witten (Tony’s longtime Cowboys teammate and close friend who retired and will try broadcasting) any tips?

TR: Jason is going to do great. It is an exciting time when you are going into changing, and it is also the unknown. So it is scary.

Putting yourself out there without a lot of reps unlike football where you can ease your way. There are other people in there and you got your partner right next to you. It is just the two of you in there listening. I think he is going to do great.

 

Q: How much are you going to critique Jason?

TR: I don’t think we’ll critique each other at all. I think you want to support each other. Just like any other friend, just show them that you care. We hang out. We’re not sitting around talking about philosophy every moment or so. We’re just buddies who hang out.

 

Q: Can you talk about the preparation before doing a game that no one takes into account?

TR: I basically watch tape similar to what I did as a quarterback. I watch coaches’ copy. Throughout the week, I try to assess what this team is good at that week or this year. What they are trying to accomplish offensively, defensively, or on special teams, and then I want to understand what they are teaching and what their philosophy is as a coaching staff and what they are trying to teach their players.

You have to watch until you figure that stuff out. Then you find where their strengths and weaknesses are, and you try to put it in your brain what the opponent sees when they are watching and how that fits into their philosophy of how they are going to attack it. You are trying to play the game before the game starts. So when you do that you can kind of have an advantage of how this game can go or what coaches on the other side are going to try to do to stop the other team’s weapons from doing as well as they have.

 

Q: How is your golf game and what do you plan to do locally this year?

TR: I’m playing more and practicing a lot more. I want to see how good we can get there. I’ve seen signs of life over the last few weeks. I’m going to play in the Ray Fisher this weekend and be up north. Possibly the State Am at the end of the month.

 

Q: How important is it to come back every year and do this in Burlington?

TR: I think it is important and I have said this many times. I can remember as a kid, there was a guy coming back from Whitewater and he was playing there some.

I can remember it just felt like a big deal and you hung on every word that he said. If you can come back, really it is just to say hi and let the kids know that dreams can happen. It is a real thing, and it is not something that is random. You are a real person and let them know that there is a sense of community and give them a little bit of advice here and there. I remember someone saying something, and I would hang on that. It can help someone.

 

Q: Is there something that you look forward to when you come back?

TR: I have so many friends and family. I come back a few times a year, and I have a little bit of an extended stay during this period sometimes. I enjoy it. To get out of the Texas heat and come up here. It is perfect.

 

Q: Talk about the evolution of the camp a bit. The last 12 years, it has been a two-year thing with multiple grades. This year it is only third grade through fifth grade.

TR: A little bit of it was scheduling. We did do contact days, and there are a lot of things that go into it for the high school and the teams here. Then we turned it into a 7-on-7 for one of the days as well. That was actually fun and enjoyable.

Just the amount of effort for (Burlington head coach Steve) Tenhagen and the people involved. It is just not as simple with my schedule now. It has gotten crazier.

We’re always going to do the kids, and that is the most important thing is get out here and play with them and have fun. Those are the ones who are going to remember it. The other ones you can get through teaching different ways. It was difficult to do it during that two or three hour

period when you have 150 kids to show each one a lot.

 

Q: Are you going to be involved with the new athletic facility at Burlington High School?

TR: I’m just hearing about it the last few weeks. I think it is going good, and I haven’t gotten into great detail on it yet.

 

Q: Youth football has been under the microscope with concussions. Brett Favre said something about kids under 12 shouldn’t be doing tackle football. How much do you still look at stuff like that?

TR: I don’t see the benefit of playing tackle football before that age … 12 probably is a good number though. Some sports if you look at it from a pure craft standpoint.

If you are playing tennis, it matters to play tennis before the age of 12. Now if you are throwing the football, I would argue that throwing the football a lot can make you a better player when you get to high school. Golf is the same thing and pitching.

As far as tackling and playing the game of football, I’m not entirely sure that tackling in third grade makes you a better junior in high school. You could play flag football or many different forms of it. I just don’t, and I’m not convinced that someone who is tackling at grades three through five has such a leg up over someone else who waits until seventh or eighth grade.

Then all of a sudden, when that kid is in seventh or eighth grade that kid is a good athlete, and when he puts the pads on and sees someone that he is going to make the tackle. Then a coach could teach him how to wrap up, which could happen in one training camp when you are learning it and you get better.

It isn’t a craft that is a trait; it is more of an instinct in the game. If it is an instinctive act, a lot of the things you can learn through technique, you don’t have to through playing tackle football. You can do it through playing flag football.

If you are an offensive lineman, whom you don’t want to be in third grade anyway. If you were, you can take your drop step and kick. You can practice all these things. You don’t have to collide to get better at a young age. I agree from that aspect because you are just waiting a little bit for the kids.

 

Q: What moments stick out for you from your career?

TR: There is a lot and there isn’t one specific. I was doing an interview with NFL Films. We’re going through a whole bunch of stuff, and it was like going through memory lane a little bit.

There is a lot of stuff that comes up. It is a career, you have a lot of great moments and you shared them with a lot of special people. They are etched in your memory bank.

 

Q: What are your thoughts on current Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott and former Eastern Illinois quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo?

TR: I think they will both have good years this year. I think Jimmy showed that he had a great run at the end of last year.

I think the Cowboys are adding another piece to the offensive line. I think they’ll have the best offensive line again, and Dak will have a good year. I expect both teams to be pretty good.

 

Q: What are your thoughts about the Packers?

TR: I think the Packers will probably got better than any other team I saw this off-season. It is too early, but injuries can happen.

Right now, they are right at the top for me for a pick of a team that you wouldn’t want to see in the playoffs.

The Jimmy Graham thing is a big deal. People don’t understand that you are going to see the old-school Jimmy Graham when you pair him with Aaron Rodgers. You are going to see a little bit of a different animal, and in the red zone that will be almost unstoppable.

I think you will see them treat him as a single receiver, and play a two tight end set.

One tight end will be in, and you’ll run the ball to the right. If the safety is not there, they will throw it to Jimmy Graham. If he is, they will run the ball and it will be that simple in the red zone.

That is a big deal.

 

Q: A lot of people have connected the Packers with Dez Bryant. You have knowledge of both. What would you say about that?

TR: When you draft three guys at wide receiver, that you aren’t going to bring anyone else in because there are only so many resources that you can throw at a specific position.

If they did good in mini-camp or they are playing well in training camp, you wouldn’t do that because you want these guys on the field for many different reasons.

I really think for Green Bay if their secondary is a little bit better, I think they are the team to beat this year going into the football season.

They are fine at wide receiver, and if one of these young guys is really good. It is even more dynamic with the offensive line. To be a little bit improved this year, I think they have a shot at a really good season.

 

Q: Talk about your relationship with Chris Maragos (Racine native, current Philadelphia Eagles safety, special teamer)?

TR: I haven’t seen him in probably a year or so. We see each other throughout the

season. You got kids and so much stuff going on.

I always follow Chris, and I’ll check it out. He has done a great job. He is one of those guys who you think is only supposed to make it two or three years and just keeps going. Just a great career, shows his talent, commitment to the game and how gifted he is.

 

Q: You are scheduled to broadcast the Super Bowl this year, what is it going to be like to be a part of something of that phenomenon?

TR: I think it is going to be fantastic. That is the biggest game of the year. Both those teams whoever they are at that point, you know how much went into it from a player’s perspective.

I’ll be excited to hopefully talk about how much I know I wanted to get there and the emotions of it. I can’t imagine for these players. I just want to talk about how big of a deal it will be to everybody involved from the players to the coaches to their families. I think it will be fun.

 

Q: What quarterbacks do you like watching?

TR: I just like good quarterback play in general. I mean Brady because it is so hard to beat the Patriots simply because of his knowledge of the game at this point. There is almost no way to fool him.

Somebody could make a great play, but as far as schematically in terms of gaining advantages, it is impossible at this point. The rolodex you have as a quarterback after playing that long if you really are that good is at an incredible level.

They will win just on his mind a lot of the games, and from there the talent and ability. Then you bring Belichik in. It is tough to beat New England as long as those two are together.

 

Q: Of the coaches you had in your career, which ones did you like the most?

TR: You like them all. You just learn different things from different coaches at different times. I have had some great coaches along the way.

 

Q: Is there anyone you come across from being in the booth that you now have a different impression, coach or player?

TR: I wouldn’t say there was anyone that came across as a jerk or something. More than anything you can see the passion of all these coaches and how much they care or how much time they put in.

Every week it is a big deal in the lives of these people. They are big games for everyone to watch for everyone’s favorite team. For the people directly involved, it is life or death each week, and the anticipation for that game.

The way you can feel that they want their plan and scheme to work so bad. It is such an important deal. All these assistant coaches are looking to move up and be the coordinator or head coach someday. The head coach wants to win a Super Bowl.

Every week you can change the narrative of who you are, who your team is, and just where you are going. You are never down and out, but at the same time it can get bad in a hurry. These guys all know that. The sense of urgency is high when you are around these people consistently. It makes it enjoyable to see that.

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