Take it as a sign of devotion to the most important thing in Tony Romo’s new life — not his old football job as the Dallas Cowboys QB, and not even his new job atop the TV food chain at CBS — that Romo conducted his debut press conference as a member of The Tiffany Network not from a New York stage, but rather from his living room couch in North Dallas.
"I felt like it was the right decision,’’ explained Romo of his choice to leave an active playing career behind. “My wife (Candice) would tell you we've had a lot of late nights. It was nice to have some clarity. … I do like the aspect of being able to spend time with your kids. That wasn’t just the only reason. That was part of it. Health was a little part of it. Part of it was just, the closer I got, it’s an exciting opportunity to go to CBS.”
I can call this a “lifestyle choice’’ due to all of the above reasons, choices that caused him to cease a pursuit of what I’ve termed “the perfect fit’’ in move to the Houston Texans or the Denver Broncos. That fit never revealed itself. And a fit continuing with the Cowboys in a locker room not big enough for both him and his heir, Dak Prescott? That was never going to happen, either.
And yet on a very eventful Tuesday, Romo couldn’t quite bring himself to utter the word "retired.” He tiptoed down the same path on Wednesday in an expansive and entertaining exclusive interview with my colleagues "Ben & Skin'' on 105.3 The Fan.
And that’s a mistake.
"I could play tomorrow,’’ he said, and even at 37 and with a recent history of injuries that likely caused suitors some reluctance in throwing huge piles of guaranteed money at him, that is certainly true. “I’m making this decision with the choice to be able to play as well. … Do I envision coming back and playing football? Absolutely not. I'm committed to CBS for good. Do I think I'm going to get some calls? I'm sure I will."
That pushes shut the door. But it doesn’t lock it.
He took another crack on it on Wednesday on The Fan, when asked about the word "retired":
"You wanna call it 'retired,' you wanna call it whatever you want,'' he said. "I don't envision that ever changing."
Closer. But not good enough, still.
There are a number of reasons that a Romo return to the playing field is a notion I’ve labeled “fanciful and foolish.’’ Yes, Romo will find it difficult to give up the itch, as all athletes do. And yes, Cowboy owner Jerry Jones will allow visions of sugarplums to dance in his head, visualizing some heroic re-do for one of his all-time favorite players and people. (Romo's comments to "Ben & Skin'' reinforce the strength of the bond between the Romo and Jones families, so strong, as I write here, that they recently vacationed together during the tumult. Of course, when Tony noted that "There wasn't anybody who stood up for me more last year (than Jerry),'' he's throwing more shade at estranged pal Jason Garrett, the head coach who he feels betrayed him. But that's a tale for another day.)
But CBS is making a gigantic commitment here, in pairing Romo with long-time pal Jim Nantz on the network’s No. 1 team. This is flirtation that began five months ago (no, not two months ago -- five months ago) and one that now puts the rookie broadcaster in prime-time television, a commitment meant to last decades. Count up viewers and affiliates and sponsors and this is a multi-billion-dollar engagement.
You don’t quit this job in December because you have an “itch.’’
Furthermore, while Romo could indeed “play tomorrow,’’ that’s not the same as being able to roll off the couch in North Dallas and play in Week 7 or Week 14. Romo is already something shy of being a bodybuilder-type. He might have a “football body’’ after a training camp. But as it stands, he’ll have a “golf body’’ in a few months. And if he’s as human as the rest of us, he might have a “Dad Bod’’ by the time the 2017 NFL season commences.
No, it’s best to accept that the page has turned — and to feel good about the fact that Romo, despite never winning a Super Bowl and never even being much of a postseason winner — gets to have a hand in turning his own page.
"I'm a Dallas Cowboy. I understand that," Romo said. "I really like to think that some guys have done it exactly right. Others probably wish they could do things a little bit different. There's a handful of guys that just get lucky and everything works out perfectly."
This set-up is fairly perfect.
*He is smart enough to know what he doesn’t know; "It reminds me of my rookie year where you really don't know anything," Romo said. "You're walking into a brand new situation and you can kinda play the game. I can kinda talk. But this is a completely different world. I like that challenge."
*His is a storybook career now set for another thrilling chapter. An undrafted rookie from coming from nowhere (OK, from Eastern Illinois) to become a four-time Pro Bowler and the franchise leader with 34,183 yards passing and 248 touchdowns and a 78-49 career record? Sweet stuff for Romo the competitor, who now aims that same nature on a new job.
The decision, he said, “got easier when I started to really get excited about working with CBS. That part of it got the juices flowing and started to get you excited to be a part of a team and go attack a craft."
*Romo got his release from Dallas (rather than a retirement), thus making him a “street free agent.’’ The transaction going down this way means the Cowboys don’t own his rights, and can’t ask him to pay back $5 million of guaranteed money that could’ve been in play with a retirement.
But it also means, if this is done wrong, that his visage can linger in the ether, that his shadow can hover over The Star in Frisco, that his ghost can haunt Dak and the Cowboys when they need to move on, unobstructed by any combined Jerry/Tony visions of grandeur.
"As an organization, we did what he asked us to do in terms of his release, and we wanted to do what was ultimately in his best interest and in the best interest of his family," Jones said. "He is a young man who is just getting started on a long journey in life.’’
Good. Therefore, in addition to letting him go, the Cowboys, with only the dead money of $19 million split over two seasons and an eventual Ring of Honor berth the remaining ties, need to let it go. Do the tributes and stuff ...
But then let it go. And Tony needs to do likewise.
Years ago, on the day Barry Switzer stepped down as the Cowboys coach, I suggested to him that he should retain an office at Valley Ranch. He could serve as a consultant to Jerry, as a mentor to his successor, as a bridge between eras.
“Fish, that ain’t gonna happen,’’ Switzer said. “You’ll never see me there at Valley Ranch ever again.’’
Stunned, I asked for his reasoning.
“The new coach doesn’t need the old coach second-guessing him, looking over his shoulder, being asked questions by you media guys every time something goes wrong,’’ Switzer said forcefully. “Jimmy (Johnson) did that to me, to us, by sitting in the catbird seat (at FOX Sports) and ripping everybody at every turn. Nope. I won’t do that to the next guy.’’
Candice and Tony Romo have a third child on the way, a third son, due the first week of the NFL season. He sounded truly joyous with "Ben & Skin'' when discussing how his 5-year-old son Hawkins was delighted to learn of him leaving the NFL because it means Dad can buy the kid more LEGOs. He is bumping Phil Simms from the CBS perch, a move even CBS Sports chairman Sean McManus concedes is a “risk." He leaves football with his $127 million in lifetime earnings, with his health, with a bright future and with a lovely family.
Romo doesn’t have to say the word “retirement.’’ But for the good of the Dallas Cowboys team he leaves behind, he needs to act on the word, and live on the word.