In a raw statement that touched on his appreciation for the starting quarterback who bypassed him during recovery for a broken bone in his back, and the emotion that accompanies getting older in the NFL, Romo seemed to be bordering on a retirement speech over the course of his five minutes and 58 seconds at the podium.
But the fact that he wants to play again — in his own words, the desire “burns” more significantly now than ever — was made quite clear.
“Here you are, sidelined without any real ability to help your teammates win on the field,” Romo said. “That’s when you’re forced to come face to face with what is happening. Seasons are fleeting and games become more precious. Chances for success diminish. Your potential successor has arrived.
“You’ve been injured two years in a row — now in your mid-thirties. The press is whispering. Everyone has doubts. You’ve spent your whole career working to get here. Now, we have to start all over. You almost feel like an outsider. Coaches are sympathetic but they still have to coach — and you’re not there. It’s a dark place. Probably the darkest it’s ever been.”
This is a cliché-ridden business which received a welcome rattling from Romo, who did a fine job of explaining the pain that comes with loss and self-doubt. This was not a haughty, glossed up confessional ghost-written by an editor behind the scenes (even if it did have that late-Kevin Coster film gravitas). This was a speech from a guilt-wracked 36-year-old man who was doing his best to choke back tears.
“He’s earned the right to be our quarterback. As hard as that is for me to say he’s earned that right. He’s guided our team to an 8-1 record and that’s hard to do.”
He stated his intentions for both the near future — to help prepare Prescott each week — and this offseason, where he’ll chase the high of winning again as an NFL quarterback.
“If you think for a second that I don’t want to be out there, than you’ve probably never felt the ecstasy of competing and winning,” he said. “That hasn’t left me. In fact, it may burn more now than ever. It’s not always easy to watch and I think anyone who has been in this position understands that.
“One thing that’s clear: I was that kid once. Stepping in and having to prove yourself. I remember the feeling like it was yesterday. It really is an incredible time in your life. But if I remember one thing from back then, it’s the people who helped me along when I was young. And if I can be that to Dak, I try to be and can be that person moving forward.”
Where Romo ends up next season will likely be the storyline that consumes us all during the offseason. There will be an endless string of speculation and reports, theories and takes. But if Tuesday taught us anything, it’s that there was a person with a heart at the center of this storm. It’s not perfect and he’s living proof that life never really goes as expected.
Romo was honest without feeling too sorry for himself. He was clairvoyant in his delivery, with the ultimate aim of neatly fading back behind Prescott once the attention is fixed again on his potential successor.
“I feel like we have two battles or two enemies going on: one with the man across from you and the second with the man inside of you,” he said. “I think once you control the man inside of you, the one across from you doesn’t really matter. I think that’s what we’re all trying to do.”