- TOP PLAYERSOffensePABLO S. TORRE | August 20, 2012
- TAMPA BAY buccaneersENEMY lines WHAT A RIVAL COACH SAYSJune 28, 2012
- Faces in the CrowdJune 11, 2001
A BOY on a bike in a blizzard. Imagine that. It's a December Friday in Burlington, Wis., evening closing fast, and the wind is whipping, the sleet flying sideways—a get-home, stay-inside kind of storm. Anyone who's lived there a day knows enough to stay off the road. Cars rumble by the boy, their fat tires peppering him with slush. What kind of idiot... ?
Ramiro Romo has stopped looking for his 15-year-old son by now; he figures Tony rode the Burlington High bus to his basketball game at East Troy. But just a few minutes outside Burlington, Ramiro squints at the figure ahead, back hunched, legs churning. He's sure it's Tony the moment he sees him.
Anyone who knows Tony Romo has heard this story. Anyone who loves the Cowboys' quarterback loves telling it. It's 1995: a boy on a bike in a blizzard. Storm holds up his dad on a jobsite in Racine; kid can't find another ride; figures he'll power his fixed gear, banana-seat special 15 miles through the snow. That night Tony led Burlington to a win in double overtime. That's Tony, they all say.
But there's always been one thing missing from the retellings. For Ramiro, it was disturbing, actually, to see his son so desperate to play. Tony wanted it—whatever it is that sports give—so badly that it could make a lunatic ride seem logical. Ramiro had never seen such want. As he eased his pickup truck to a stop he felt a tightness building up in his chest, like a stone placed there.
"I started crying," Ramiro says. "I couldn't hold it in."
It didn't make sense. Tony would soon be a star, a quick study who excelled at any sport that he put his hand to. He was good-looking, upbeat, a leader, and in years to come none of that would change. But he possessed this other quality, produced an effect that anyone invested in him needed to live with. The effect would come and go, and then, just when you thought it was gone for good, there'd be Romo yanking his chinstrap and walking hunched off the field. Just to see him, sometimes, the guy could break your heart.
THERE COMES a point in any long discussion with Tony Romo when he'll let slip the word greatness. Be ready. It'll catch you flat-footed, at least the first time, because he's supposed to be about many things—sweet and telegenic blondes, maddening interceptions, games horribly lost and stunningly won—but not that. That's bigger game than you'd expect from an undrafted free agent who by all rights should be thrilled just to be here—and who often appears to be exactly that. Greatness seems more the purview of others, madly gesticulating quarterbacks, brain surgeons and actors who decide to take on Hamlet. Tony Romo, king of Cabo, is not the type to take on Hamlet, is he?
Yet here he sits one October evening at home in Irving, Texas, sporting the postpractice slacker ensemble—ball cap, loose T-shirt, baggy shorts—when he drops the word. He's wearing the same grin that opposing fans take as a self-satisfied smirk (and that Dallas fans take as a sign of ease or the lack of a ravenous hunger that can be sated only by football, 24 hours a day), saying, in essence, You must not believe all that you see.
At 33, Romo has, it turns out, a code. It has to do with finding his own weaknesses and attacking them without pride or mercy. It also has to do with keeping such effort out of view.
"I don't enjoy showing that to other people," he says. "I think there's some greatness in doing it on your own. I saw at a young age all that showmanship of showing the grind, and I really appreciate the hidden grind. It makes you feel like you have an advantage. It builds your confidence. I prefer to work on my own, then come back and be better. You show up, and then it's, You've improved; that's great! The guy who is always being seen—to me, sometimes that seems fake."