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Romo respects Favre, but won't be starstruck Thursday night

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McClatchy-Tribune
November 27, 2007
— It’s an irresistible, made-for-TV story line: Kid from small-town Wisconsin grows up idolizing Brett Favre and winds up facing his hero in an epic battle between two 10-1 teams with Super Bowl aspirations.

Cue the violin music and the baritone voice-over.


In reality, however, there’s a hole in the two-hanky tale bigger than the one in the Texas Stadium roof.


See, Tony Romo grew up idolizing Michael Jordan. He rooted for John Elway in Super Bowl XXXII. At Burlington (Wis.) High School in the mid-1990s, when Favre fever was sweeping Wisconsin, he picked No. 16 as his football jersey number in honor of Joe Montana.


“I was probably the outcast,” Romo admitted.


His all-time favorite sports moment? No, it’s not Favre sprinting around the Superdome after throwing a touchdown pass to Andre Rison in Super Bowl XXXI. It’s not a grieving Favre going off for 399 yards and four touchdowns against the Oakland Raiders one day after his father died.


It’s Jack Nicklaus, then 58, contending at the 1998 Masters.


“I come home from church on that Sunday morning in ’98 and I can’t wait,” Romo said. “And the first thing (CBS announcer) Jim Nantz says when he comes on the screen is, ‘You’re not going to believe this.’ And they show Jack.


“I jumped so high my head hit the ceiling.”


Romo is sorry to burst your bubble, but he barely knows Favre. They chatted for a few minutes at Favre’s charity golf tournament in Mississippi a couple years ago. That’s it. They don’t even exchange text messages.


So when he leads the Dallas Cowboys onto the field Thursday night to face Favre and the Green Bay Packers in a National Football Conference mega-showdown, Romo won’t be trembling in his spikes in the presence of his boyhood idol.


“I enjoyed watching Brett play, but it wasn’t like that,” he said. “I know it’s difficult for (the media) to understand that. I know what you guys are trying to get at. I can understand the angle and it’s nice and it’s fun.


“But I’ve got to beat the guy this week.”


However, even Romo can’t deny that his blue-collar background, his meteoric rise to NFL stardom – he went from the bench to the Pro Bowl in a 10-game span last year – and his aggressive-impulsive style of play are eerily reminiscent of a future Hall of Fame quarterback.


“I guess the neat thing is that people think in some small way that you resemble him and that’s a huge compliment, obviously,” Romo said. “It’s probably a disservice to him because of how unbelievable he’s been throughout his career.


“We both play with a passion when we’re out there and we both enjoy winning. I know he’ll compete and I know I will, too.”


Elusive in the pocket and dangerous on the run, Romo plays with an enthusiasm that rubs off on teammates. Like Favre, his impish grin masks an off-the-charts competitiveness. And the truth is Romo did try to incorporate some of Favre’s quirky mannerisms into his own game.


“Tony would tape his favorite players and he would try to emulate them,” said Steve Berezowitz, Romo’s high school basketball coach. “He would practice moves that Jordan did. Favre and (Dan) Marino and Elway, too.


“I remember Favre used to do that handoff and then jump up in the air. Tony did that a couple times in high school. He came off the field and I was like, ‘What are you thinking?’ He was just laughing.”


In Dallas, the comparisons to Favre were inevitable and Romo did little to discourage them. He’d improvise in practice and the coaches would get on him, telling him to knock off the Favre stuff. He perfected a “Favre walk” that Cowboys tight end Jason Witten said was a dead-on imitation.


Perhaps it’s not surprising that Favre–who famously copied Elway’s pigeon-toed strut–sees a lot of himself, circa 1995, in the 27-year-old Romo.


“When I see him play, it reminds me of myself,” Favre said in a conference call with the Dallas-Fort Worth media. “He’s not going to rush for 500 yards, but his creativity to bail himself out is very good.


“And without being in his head, he probably has the same mentality I had in that there’s never a bad play, which can get you in trouble but for the most part it’s worked out for him.”


Has it ever. Romo leads the NFC in touchdowns (29), average gain per attempt (8.64 yards) and quarterback rating (105.3). After just 21 career starts he’s thrown for more yards (5,946) than all but six quarterbacks in franchise history.


More importantly, the Cowboys have the No. 2-ranked offense in the NFL and are 10-1 for the first time in team history.


“I think his game management, besides his playing, has really come along,” said first-year Cowboys coach Wade Phillips. “He obviously did a lot of great things last year. But he seems to be more consistent overall.”


It’s impossible to overstate Romo’s popularity in this part of the country, or among Cowboys fans nationwide. His No. 9 jersey is the NFL’s hottest seller and every aspect of his personal life is scrutinized, especially given the celebrity company he has kept (Jessica Simpson, Carrie Underwood).


He’s become a larger-than-life hero in the Dallas-area Hispanic community, which is crazy about the Cowboys. When Romo signed a six-year, $67.5 million contract extension recently, his Latino fans rejoiced.


“A lot of it has to do with his personality,” said Larry Rodriguez, who has covered the Cowboys for 19 years for the Fox affiliate in Dallas. “He’s very approachable. Even when he was a backup you wanted to get to know him. When he signed that big contract the Hispanic community was like, ‘Yes!’ “


Now, Romo finds himself in the biggest game of his life, a game that probably will determine home-field advantage for the NFC playoffs.


On the other side of the field will be Favre, a man he admires and respects but does not worship. Romo never owned a No. 4 Packers jersey. He never wore a cheesehead. He wants to play well, but not to impress Favre.


“I don’t think it’s a matter of Tony trying to go out there and impress anyone,” said Cowboys receiver Terrell Owens. “I think Tony is going to go out there with the mind-set of winning the ball game.


“And if that impresses Brett, so be it.”



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