Sunday, January 17, 2010

Crucial time for Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo, who finds his boyhood idol in his way

By David Moore
Dallas Morning News
Updated: 01/17/2010 12:02:13 AM CST

By now, you've heard the tale of how Tony Romo grew up admiring the quarterback he must beat this afternoon.

You shake your head at the thought of Brett Favre leading the Green Bay Packers to a Super Bowl title while Romo was the starting quarterback for the Burlington High Demons. You chalk up their similar styles as a young man's homage and still find it a little hard to believe that the two are now peers who exchange texts.

Favre is in the twilight of a brilliant career. Romo is coming into his own, eight days and two tons removed from his first postseason victory.

When these two compete today at the Metrodome, they won't view the game through some nostalgic Wisconsin haze. Favre came out of retirement — again — to lead Minnesota to the Super Bowl. Romo is one win shy of returning the Cowboys to the NFC championship game after an absence of 14 seasons.

What is Romo's first memory of watching Favre play? He can't tell you.

His only concern is the memory he will take from this divisional-round matchup.

"This is why you play the game, to play in these games," Romo said. "It's very easy to prepare and get ready for situations like this because it's so enjoyable. Hopefully, we have a lot left."

Romo followed Favre and the Packers on TV like every other boy in Burlington, Wis. He was 14when his father took him to his first game at Lambeau Field. It was an exhibition game, and the quarterback for New England was Drew Bledsoe, the player Romo eventually replaced for the Cowboys.

Coaches in Burlington say Romo had an uncanny ability to watch pro athletes in all sports and imitate their styles. The first time he did a fake jump pass at the line of scrimmage in a high school game, everyone knew what he had taken from Favre.

But that was a long time ago. He also followed John Elway as a teenager. If Elway still played, and Romo grew up near Denver, would people see similarities there?

Romo downplays the comparisons to Favre, saying the Vikings quarterback is in a class by himself and the league won't see another player like him. But Favre acknowledges some common traits.

"The similarities would be improvising and making plays, extending a play using your feet, things like that," Favre said. "His excitement, his passion for the game is obvious. I think it's genuine. That's what people like.

"I've said this, the few times I've played him in the past and even more so now, he's really playing at a high level."

This has been Romo's best season. He completed 63 percent of his passes for 4,483 yards with 26 touchdowns and only nine interceptions. He became more proficient as the season progressed at protecting the ball and not letting that compromise his ability to make big plays.

The Cowboys never wanted to take away what makes Romo special. All they wanted was for him to cut down on turnovers and make better decisions.

It's interesting. Favre's decision-making has also been called into question throughout his career. But he enjoyed arguably his best season with 33 touchdown passes and only seven interceptions.

"I think Tony needs to play exactly the way he's played," Favre said. "He does not need to worry about what other people think of him. I don't think Jerry Jones would take anyone else at any time other than Tony Romo, and that's the way it should be.

"Tony, I think he knows that. I think his confidence is proof of that."

The two quarterbacks have developed a relationship. Romo said he and Favre "talk about a lot of different things" but didn't want to be specific.

Favre texted words of encouragement to the Cowboys quarterback when every story seemed to question whether or not he could succeed in December and beyond.

"He has nothing to prove," Favre said.

Romo would disagree. There is always something to prove.

And this day, he must prove it against one of his boyhood idols.