Former Dallas Cowboys quarterback and Wisconsin native Tony Romo leaves behind a high school, college and professional legacy few can match, but few will remember.
The four-time pro bowler and all-time Cowboys passing yards and touchdowns leader was one of the top 10 quarterbacks in the NFL for almost a decade, but, despite his accomplishments, Romo should be remembered for his rise up the football ladder, not for his numbers.
Despite being born in San Diego, Romo grew up a “Sconnie” in every sense of the word. The Burlington native played as a rare but dominant four-sport athlete in high school, throwing up impressive numbers in football, basketball, golf and tennis.
The Wisconsin Coaches Association first-team selection proceeded to Eastern Illinois University after high school in 1999, taking only two years to climb to the top of not just DI-AA football, but all of college football. Romo finished second in passer efficiency in the Ohio Valley Conference as a sophomore and finished first as a junior. His senior season was no different, becoming the first OVC and EIU player to win the Walter Peyton Award, given to the best player in DI-AA.
Romo set the school and conference records for touchdown passes (85) and finished as a consensus All-American and OVC Player of the Year for his last three seasons. He is the only EIU player to ever have their jersey retired and was inducted into the school’s Hall of Fame in 2009.
Despite his collegiate accomplishments and initial interest from the Broncos and Cowboys, Romo fell to become an undrafted rookie free-agent for the Cowboys in 2003. After three seasons of failed quarterbacks in Dallas and Romo serving as a glorified placekicker, he finally got a shot.
Replacing Drew Bledsoe early in the 2006 season, Romo caught fire, leading the Cowboys to the wild-card round of the playoffs and a passer rating of more than 95. The inspired play was enough to earn him his first of four pro-bowl appearances and became the beginning of an incredible run for Romo and the Cowboys.
Despite early postseason losses, the young gun won the NFC East Division twice in his first three seasons and became the first Cowboy to throw for more than 4,000 yards in a year during the 2007 campaign. Over the next few years, Romo would remain in the top 10 for QBR throughout the year but fall short of reaching the postseason success, which kept him out of the conversation of the league’s “elite” quarterbacks.
From 2010 to 2016, Romo would miss a total of more than two and a half seasons, a brutal time that ultimately pushed him into retirement. Despite breaking constant regular season records and leapfrogging the stats of former Cowboy quarterbacks and Hall of Famers Troy Aikman and Roger Staubach, Romo’s doubters remained great in numbers.
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While the interceptions and playoff blunders certainly give outsiders enough of a reason to throw Romo under the bus in conversations of good quarterbacks, his overall stats put him in the conversation for one of the best quarterbacks in the modern era. All in all, Romo posted a 97.1 career passer rating, the fourth highest of all-time and the highest among retired players.
The San Diego-born, Burlington-raised, Eastern Illinois graduate and Dallas Cowboy leader has been one of the best at every rung of the ladder he’s reached. People shouldn’t chastise Romo for not getting to the top of the ladder, but should celebrate him for how high he was able to climb.