It’s been over a year since we last checked in with Antonio Ramiro Romo, the iconic quarterback of Dallas Cowboy fame better known as Tony Romo. At the time, the veteran NFL star was finally healthy, suited up and anxious to get back in the mix. But instead of barking signals on the field, Romo was stationed on the sidelines wearing a pair of ear phones. The hero who had engineered more fourth quarter, comeback wins than any player modern history, had lost his job to rookie Dak Prescott.
“I was okay with it,” recalls Romo. “Dak deserved to start because he earned it.”
Ironically, time flies and Tony Romo would become a rookie again, albeit in a different capacity. And the Mexican-American warrior with the Hollywood looks doesn’t bother to look in the rear view mirror. Life has been good with his new gig this season in the broadcast booth for CBS, with a lot less physical pain.
Romo had been a permanent fixture in Dallas for 14 years. He had been selected to the Pro Bowl four times and in 2013, resigned with the Cowboys in a mega-deal worth $108 million. But his body was gradually starting to break down. Romo took a beating over his lengthy career, suffering through injuries that included a herniated disk, compression fractures to the vertebra, a broken collarbone and several ribs, a punctured lung, a fractured left clavicle and numerous concussions.
At age 37, it was time for Tony to consider new journeys in football that would still allow him to make a difference and share a special expertise for the game. That opportunity fell into place when CBS executive Sean McManus offered Romo a broadcasting gig for the current NFL season. While intrigued with that scenario, Tony didn’t formally accept until McManus promised to pair him up on the network’s “A Team” with legendary play-by-play voice Jim Nantz.
“I was weighing different options,” Tony recalls. “But the chance to work with a pro like Jim made my decision easy.”
For years, Nantz had partnered up with Phil Simms, another former quarterback who spent his entire career with the New York Giants. Simms is a nice guy but painfully boring, so McManus kicked him upstairs to join the five man studio crew and gambled with the “rookie” in the booth. The smooth-talking Nantz combined with the hyper personality of Romo was the perfect contrast and have produced positive reviews. Another thing that Romo brought to the table is his unique ability to read formation schemes on both sides of the ball and predict plays before they happen, which has been a special treat for the more sophisticated living room viewer.
Romo gave fans a hint of what to expect in his debut game with Nantz back on September 10th. The Oakland Raiders were battling the Tennessee Titans and on several occasions Tony pointed out how a play was developing, almost like he was on the field calling out audibles before the ball was snapped. In nearly every situation he was spot on, but it didn’t stop there. In that game and others that would follow on the schedule, Romo would break down the strategy during the replay in rare football jargon seldom heard on the air. Nantz filters the comments and if translation is needed, plays the role of a confused fan and asks an appropriate question. That’s Tony’s cue to elaborate in more general terms, and he quickly obliges in language even a housewife can grasp. The timing has improved each week and as a result, CBS ratings have skyrocketed over other networks that telecast NFL games.
There are some in the broadcast business who seem less than impressed with Romo’s style, perhaps even a lack of respect. Brent Musburger, for example, believes that Romo’s ability to predict plays in real time will diminish the longer he is out of uniform. That seems unlikely because those who know Tony understand that he has always been a student of the game. He does his homework, the mind wired with football intellect. That won’t change just because he now wears a coat and tie.
“The job Tony has done is really pretty remarkable,” notes Chris Collinsworth, a star analyst in his own right who will work this year’s Super Bowl with his ageless partner Al Michaels on NBC. “He’s come in and added a new dimension to the game.”
Now that the NFL playoffs have officially begun, Romo’s boyish zest in the booth will be under increased scrutiny. Does he care? Probably not. He’s confident and already making waves within a new niche. Romo and Nantz will team up for at least two more games before the latter heads off to anchor key tournaments on the PGA Tour. Hell, don’t be surprised if Romo, a scratch golfer, makes an occasional guest appearance.
“I’ve always admired Tony and we’ve been friends for a long time,” admits Nantz. “We have a lot in common so the chemistry, you know, it was always there.”