Sean Payton (a former Eastern Illinois QB himself, and now the coach of the
resurgent Saints) called Romo after the draft, asking him to sign as a free
agent. He put Parcells and team owner Jerry Jones on the phone. Romo had other
offers but signed with Dallas.
ACT III: The Long
Hutchinson and Stoerner were ahead of Romo in training camp in 2003, and Romo
barely beat out Stoerner for the No. 3 spot. None of those others are in the
league now. In '04 Parcells brought back Carter and signed veteran Vinny
Testaverde, while Jones picked up former Michigan phenom Drew Henson, who'd
spent three years in baseball. " Quincy, the returning starter; Vinny, the
veteran; and Henson, the future," recites Romo. "It looked pretty bleak
for me." Quickly it looked better. Parcells cut Carter early in training
camp, and Romo beat out Henson for the backup job.
Parcells brought in Drew Bledsoe from Buffalo, and Romo remained at No. 2. He
also kept working relentlessly, as he had in college. After practice he would
stash five or six footballs in his locker and then return after dinner to throw
hundreds of passes into the netting at the Cowboys' practice bubble. He would
simulate awkward circumstances: running left and right, falling backward, high
and low arm angles as if being rushed. "Anybody can throw against air, on
rhythm," says Romo. "But how often do you do that in a game?"
Even while buried
on the depth chart, Romo felt he was progressing every day and never doubted
where his career was headed. "I'm not just going to play," he'd tell
Brewer. "I'm going to be in the Hall of Fame. I don't care who's ahead of
me." Witten remembers seeing Romo on a distant practice field, working to
perfect his Manning-styled play-fake. "This was when he had no chance of
playing," says Witten. "And he's doing it over and over again, by
ACT IV: The
Parcells does not
so much coach quarterbacks as tolerate them. A still-developing Romo was the
next in line.
In his first NFL
appearance, a preseason game on Aug. 9, 2003, at Arizona, Romo tried an
improvised shuffle pass in the red zone, and it was intercepted. Parcells met
him halfway between the huddle and sideline. "Hey, Pancho Villa,"
Parcells shouted, referring to the daring Mexican revolutionary. "What was
By his second
season Romo's scattershot passing had earned him an upgrade to Wild Thing in
Parcells's lexicon. "I was still in my trial-and-error phase," says
Romo. "I was working on things at the facility, alone, but I needed to try
some of them when I was throwing in practice. But Bill takes practice to
another level, and it's important. One day in my second year I threw high over
somebody because I was messing with my mechanics. Bill yells at me, 'You're too
inaccurate to play in this league!' I was thinking, I could have just made a
safe throw and gotten the ball there with less velocity and a less tight
spiral, but then would I be able to do it in a game when conditions aren't
perfect and people are trying to hit me? But you don't say that to Bill. He
doesn't want to hear excuses. You just keep working."
Romo's search for
the perfect spiral ended scarcely a year ago, when he finally became convinced
he could pick up a ball anytime, anywhere, and throw it accurately. Only then
did he stop ceaselessly tinkering.