Former Dallas Cowboys starting quarterback Tony Romo officially took a backseat to rookie sensation Dak Prescott during a solemn, but heartfelt, news conference at the team headquarters at the Star in Frisco.
Romo read a prepared speech of a little less than 5 minutes with class and dignity, earning as much respect on this day as did surpassing Hall of Famers Roger Staubach and Troy Aikman to collect all of the team’s passing records over the last 10 years as well his 24 comeback victories.
He said he still has a burning desire to play, but acknowledged that Prescott has earned the right to be the starting quarterback after leading the NFC East-leading Cowboys to an NFL-best 8-1 record while riding a team-record tying eight-game winning streak.
Romo, who will be the team’s official back up quarterback starting Sunday against the Baltimore Ravens, said he will support Prescott and not be a distraction to a team seemingly in the midst of a magical season.
“You see football is a meritocracy,” Romo said. “You aren’t handed anything. You earn everything every single day single day oven and over again. You have to prove it. That’s the way that the NFL, that’s the way that football works. A great example of this is Dak Prescott and what he’s done. He’s earned the right to be our quarterback. As hard as that is for me to say, he’s earned that right. He’s guided our team to an 8-1 record and that’s hard to do.
“We all know something magical is happening to our team. I'm not going to allow this situation to negatively affect Dak or this football team by becoming a constant distraction. I think Dak knows that I have his back. And I think I know that he has mine. Ultimately, it's about the team. It's what we've preached our entire lives.”
That Romo didn’t take any questions from the more 40 reporters and cameras in audience was likely proof that how hard it was for him to stand up there and make these concessions. He purposely wrote the speech in attempt to answer any perceived questions about his mindset throughout the process and likely didn’t want to be moved off his talking points.
Romo, speaking to the media for the first time since Aug. 25, certainly didn’t see this day coming when down with a back injury on the third play of the third preseason game against the Seattle Seahawks when he was crunched by defensive end Cliff Avril.
It was initially labeled back spasm and perfect hit. Romo said he was fine after the game.
But the next day it was revealed that he had fractured bone in his back. The prognosis went from 3-4 weeks to 6-10 weeks, resulting in feelings of guilt about letting his team down again _ one season after missing 12 games because of a twice-fractured collarbone in a nightmarish 4-12 campaign.
He would eventually not only miss the first nine games, but his starting job to Prescott in a season he entered thinking he would be at the center of something special.
“To say the first half of the season has been emotional would be a huge understatement,” Romo said. “Getting hurt when you feel like you have the best team you’ve ever had was a soul crushing moment for me. Then to learn it’s not three or four weeks but 10 is another blow. And through it all you have a tremendous amount of guilt on having let your teammates, fans and organization down. After all they were depending on you to bring them a championship. That’s what quarterbacks are supposed to do. That’s how we’re judged. I love that. I still do. But then here you are sidelined without any real ability to help your teammates win on the field. That’s when you’re forced to come face to face with what’s happened.”
At 36 years old with two playoff wins under his belt and mountain of broken bones in his body, Romo heard the whispers from the media and fans alike that it was time to move on from him. The fact that the Cowboys moved and went about their business of the season with a new quarterback is a football reality. But still it made for some trying times and soul searching.
“You almost feel like an outsider,” an introspective Romo said. “Coaches are sympathetic but they still have to coach and you’re not there. It’s a dark place. Probably the darkest it’s ever been. You’re sad and down and out and you ask yourself why did this have to happen? It’s in this moment you find out who you really are and what you’re really about.”
Romo made it clear that he still wants to play, believes he can play and has a burning desire to continue to play. He didn’t speak about the future. But there is no doubt that retirement is not in the forecast.
“If you think for a second that I don’t want to be out there, then you’ve probably never felt the pure ecstasy of competing and winning,” Romo said. “That hasn’t left me. In fact it may burn more now than ever.”
But this moment and this time is not about him. It’s the Cowboys and it’s about Prescott. Romo recalled a time when he was in Prescott’s shoes, taking over for Drew Bledsoe in the middle of the 2006 season and leading the Cowboys to the playoffs while creating a sensation of his own.
“It’s not always easy to watch,” Romo said. “I think anybody who’s been in this position understands that. But what is clear is that I was that kid once, stepping in, having to prove yourself. I remember the feeling like it was yesterday. It really is an incredible time in your life. And if I remember one thing from back then, it’s the people that helped me along when I was young.”
Romo is again leaning on his youth, a time when he learned to play the game and just wanted to be part of a team and part of something special.
That is what is he will channel in helping Prescott and the Cowboys possibly make a run to the Super Bowl for the first time since 1995.
“Everyone wants to be the reason they winning or losing,” Romo said. “Every single one of us wants to be that person. But there are special moments that come from a shared commitment to play a role, while doing it together. That's what you will remember. Not your stats or your prestige but the relationships and the achievement that you created through a group. It's hard to do, but there's great joy in that.”
Romo ended reiterating that his passion to compete and be the best that he can be still burns. But he also learned that he stroke that competitive fire while also taking a back seat to what’s best for the team.
He said the key is subjugating your ego and controlling the man inside of you.
“I feel like we all have two battles or two enemies going on,” Romo said. “One with the man across from you. The second is with the man inside of you. I think once you control the one inside of you, the one across from you really doesn't matter. I think that is what we are all trying to do.”
Romo ended with "Thank you guys, I appreciate it."