I had not watched an entire football game this season until this past Sunday. By the second quarter of the first game of the season, it was obvious my N.Y. Giants had nothing. I enjoyed some early season Schadenfreude as the Cowboys stumbled out of the gate, but when they actually started to play well, I couldn’t bear to watch it. And so Sunday night’s AFC Championship game between the New England Patriots and the Kansas City Chiefs was the first time I really listened to CBS broadcaster Tony Romo in action. Like just about everybody else, I was blown away.
It’s not the first time Romo has turned heads in the booth. But what he managed to do Sunday night–calling play after play before they happened, explaining the action on the field like a filmmaker explaining his shot choices on a DVD director’s commentary–was remarkable. It made a frustrating Patriots win (like most of America, I was pulling for the Saints and the Chiefs Sunday) enjoyable to watch. Romo somehow emerged from the game as much of a star as Tom Brady. It may have helped earn Romo a fat contract extension.
His broadcast booth performance had me thinking about a story I wrote about Romo’s rise to the NFL in 2012. The article looked at Romo’s unlikely rise from a small town high school star athlete to NFL superstar through the lens of a single high school football game he played back in 1997. Listening to Romo call the game Sunday, I was reminding of an aspect of Romo’s athleticism that many of the coaches and teammates who played with the future Cowboys quarterback cited as key to his rise. From an early age, Romo possessed an uncanny ability to read the game of football.
“In high school, you normally tell the quarterback to look to one side of the field,” Burlington High School football coach Steve Gerber told me back in 2012. “Maybe they get through their first or second read, and if you get to your third read, you’re moving your ass out of there. But he wasn’t that normal kid who could just read the one side of the field. You’d give him one side, and then he’d find a way to get the ball over to a receiver at the end of the third or fourth route on the progression list.”
Peter Jackle, the high school football reporter for the Racine Journal Times, which covered Burlington sports back when Romo was playing, also remembered the young player’s precocious vision on the field.
“He made a comment to me one time that I never forgot,” Jackle said. “He said, ‘I just see things in slow motion. I just see it. I see the game well.’ And then I read somewhere that he took the number nine because that is the number that Robert Redford wore in The Natural.”
That kind of vision was on full display Sunday night. Romo’s performance in the broadcast has led Sports Illustrated to wonder if it was “the best of all-time in the booth?” On his radio show, Stephen A. Smith taunted Jerry Jones, saying that if the Cowboys hired Romo “as your coach in Dallas, you might win something.”
I hope Jerry doesn’t take the advice–I’m happy with the comical impotency of the Jason Garrett era. I’m also happy with Romo staying in the booth. I might watch more football.