DALLAS — Tony Romo, decked in Mavericks apparel and a light sweat, had already stepped away from the podium when someone protested.
“That’s it? No questions?”
“Oh, we can do a couple,” Romo said, reconsidering.
This Tuesday morning press conference was already strange. Romo had walked in joking about how many television cameras had come out — “Jeez, I’m just sitting on a bench,” he quipped — more than at any Mavericks game this season. It was followed up with awkward silence, forcing another Romo interjection.
“Any questions, or am I supposed to give a speech?” Romo said with a smile, honestly unsure.
After he finished talking about what an honor it was to become a Maverick for a day, and after Dallas head coach Rick Carlisle stepped up onto the dais to say how the team was just as honored to have him, Romo would have happily stopped. He was ready to step off just two minutes into a press conference that was airing live on sports radio stations around the metroplex, bumping whatever coverage those shows had planned for the day, and even showing up on SportsCenter.
Instead, Romo, who retired from the NFL last week, ended up taking several more questions. His answer to the final one revealed why he was really running around the American Airlines Center in a Mavericks uniform in a charade that even he admitted felt slightly odd.
“It makes you feel that you accomplished something in some ways, because, you know, it feels like I left something out there that I always wanted to accomplish,” Romo said. “I’ve got to live with that and that’s part of playing sports. It doesn’t always go the way you expect. You can put everything into it, and sometimes it works out, sometimes it doesn’t. It doesn’t mean you can be OK with it.
“So this week has been special, in the sense that people have made me feel they appreciated me, that they enjoyed me playing and being their quarterback, and that it meant something for em. That they wanted to root for me and they were passionate about it. I can’t say thank you enough. It really has been a very special week.”
This was a thank you, and a goodbye.
* * *
Romo’s Tuesday as an ersatz member of the Dallas Mavericks felt strange from start to finish. But that’s no different than his past 12 months.
A year ago, the Dallas Cowboys spent a fourth-round draft selection on Dak Prescott. Last August, Romo broke a bone in his back during a preseason game, pushing Prescott into the limelight. Three months later, when doctors finally cleared Romo for action, the Cowboys stayed with Prescott in the starting role. In March, Romo was reportedly going to be released, only for the Cowboys to change their minds. Finally, Romo announced his retirement from football and accepted a job at CBS in a lead announcing spot.
Nothing could be weirder than that, not even Romo running around with the Mavericks in an actual jersey with his own damn locker.
Romo's locker already looks lived in pic.twitter.com/hcgb4WZeWG— Tim Cato (@tim_cato) April 11, 2017
What that bizarre 12-month roller coaster didn’t give Romo was a chance to say goodbye. In fact, the Cowboys themselves haven’t held a press conference with Romo. (Yes, that’s a little weird.) Skeptics will say that Romo’s football career may hold one more chapter somewhere down the line, and Romo has expressed his belief that he can still lead an NFL team at a high level. But the ostensible reality was that the man who became a beloved figure to this city was hanging them up without properly thanking it.
That’s why Mavericks owner Mark Cuban did all this.
“Absolutely,” Cuban told SB Nation. “He didn’t have that final game. He had like two possessions. He didn’t think it was gonna be his final snaps in the NFL. Clearly, for Dallas fans, he didn’t really give them a goodbye.”
Here’s what I saw in one lap around the court about 45 minutes before the Mavericks tipped off:
- One 22-year-old who had brought a real-life Cowboys helmet that his dad owned, hoping for a Romo signature.
- A Cowboys jersey-wearing fan named Eddie who had “lucked out,” since he had bought tickets in January.
- A dad and a daughter both sporting Romo’s No. 9.
- At least 18 Cowboys jerseys or T-shirts in the direct vicinity of my media seat.
- This couple below who bought tickets to this game the moment they heard the news.
Romo didn’t play in the actual Mavericks game that followed. He couldn’t, with NBA commissioner Adam Silver shooting down any idea of that happening. But Romo warmed up with the team, and even scored a few buckets on his “teammates” in friendly one-on-one games.
During the opening lineups ceremony, Romo was announced as the sixth “starter” to massive applause. By the fourth quarter, “We Want Romo” chants ricocheted throughout the arena. Once, spurred on by Cuban, Romo started towards the scorer’s table as if he was about to check in, only to be rebuffed by Carlisle. It drew an even louder reaction from those in the stands.
“At first I was just feeling like I didn’t deserve any of that, no one does,” Romo had said in that press conference before the game. “Hopefully some of the fans get a chance to see and cheer (me) on again.”
Maybe Romo will be back in an NFL jersey before we know it. Maybe not. At some point, the Cowboys will honor him for 14 incredible seasons spent wearing the star. In recent years, we’ve seen enormous retirement tours for players like Kobe Bryant and Derek Jeter who spent their entire careers with one legendary franchise. Because of the circumstances, Romo won’t get that.
But even if it’s not the sport he played, Romo will at least have this game. For a career as strange as his, with so many different ups and downs, maybe this is the perfect sendoff.
Romo didn’t talk to the media after the final buzzer, but the Mavericks handed him the microphone right before the game tipped off. He used that moment to address the crowd.
“(This) is an honor I never could have dreamed of,” Romo said. “I love you, Dallas.”