Contrary to perception, Tony Romo has not died. It just feels that way.
The man’s expected release from an NFL team, after he made more than $100 million, has a family with little cute kids, and will soon sign a big contract to play for another franchise, and the reaction to this tragic release is for immediate deification.
The “In memoriams” have flooded out from all media outlets, so allow me to join in with this sincere note of thanks to Romo. Since I was in high school, a career of ambition of mine was always to write a book. He made that possible.
Shortly after Romo was promoted to be the starting quarterback of the Dallas Cowboys in 2006 a publisher contacted me to write a book about him. The company wanted to capitalize (cash in) on his popularity.
But he fell off in December, bobbled that ball in Seattle, and the book idea died with it. When Romo returned in 2007, no one was sure how he was going to play out.
In fact, during training camp a coach told me, “We don’t know what he’s going to do if he doesn’t hand off.”
I wrote that in a story, and Tony was was not happy with me. He told me to my face. I simply could not envision an undrafted guy from a I-AA school would become the star quarterback of the Dallas Cowboys.
Nailed that one. Romo was not the guy who struggled in the latter stages of 2006, and in 2007 his career rapidly ascended.
So the publisher asked me again if I would do the book. A bit desperate, I again agreed to write it. In a hurry.
This is absurd but I was given two weeks to complete a manuscript. This timeline is not atypical in publishing. The publisher wanted the book on the shelf the day after Thanksgiving for holiday shopping.
I was covering the Dallas Cowboys as a beat writer at the time, so I was familiar with his Romo’s story. I had interviewed his parents, visited his charming hometown of Burlington, Wisc., etc. It was a lot to do in a short amount of time, and I lost an entire chapter when my computer died, but it was doable.
I came up with the title, “Tony Romo: America’s Next Quarterback.”
A few weeks after the book came out, I bumped into him as he came off the podium following a game. I asked him if he wanted a copy, and he smiled and said, “I went out and bought it last night.”
The book is a flattering view at his career and life until that point. As beat writer, and I was not about to torch him ... not that there was any reason. It’s a fun, breezy 28,000-word look at what was, and remains, an inspiring story. The man is a movie.
A few weeks later, I asked him if he wanted some copies for family or friends. I’ll never forget what he said: “No. Make people buy it. Make some money off it.”
This never, ever happens.
I heard later his mom was none too happy about the book, although that was never confirmed directly by his parents. I think she thought I was profiting off her son. They probably did not know I made, I think, around $7,500 on it.
Both his mother and father could not be kinder more decent, salt-of-the-earth people. Tony is a product of those two in every way.
As the years went by, and I eventually became a columnist, I expressed some pretty harsh sports opinions about Romo. He and I never had any more personal interactions but rather it was all professional. Because he is a professional.
So when people ask me what I will remember the most about Tony Romo, it will be the fact his existence created an avenue for me to complete a lifelong ambition. It opened a door for me to have a book published.
I was deboarding a flight to Washington D.C. when I saw a kid reading it. He was 12. I had to show him my ID that I am the author, and then he asked me to sign it.
On the last day I covered the Cowboys as a beat writer in 2008, I sent him a text message thanking him for his time and decency. I had not heard back from him via text in years, so I about fell on the floor when he wrote me back.
He thanked me for the book and said it was well written.
I don’t collect many autographs, and the above photograph of my book is only one of two items I’ve ever had signed by someone I covered (the other was Brett Hull).
The book remains in a briefcase because I don’t want that signature to fade. It means a lot to me, and he means a lot to me. I had three other books published since then, and in a way he made that possible.
Whatever I have expressed about Tony Romo, all of it comes with the following: Thank you.
Listen to Mac Engel every Tuesday and Thursday on Shan & RJ from 5:30-10 a.m. on 105.3 The Fan.