IRVING, Texas – It's been about five and a half years since the most defining play of his career. For Tony Romo, it feels like it was about 20 years ago.
Either way, the Cowboys are returning to Seattle for the first time since Romo's infamous botched hold on what could've been a game-winning field goal in the wild card round of the 2006 playoffs.
By now, the play is a distant memory for some, including Romo, who was asked by the Seattle media on Wednesday about that moment, which likely cost the Cowboys their first playoff win since 1996, a streak that continued three more seasons.
"Shoot, it feels like I was 10 years old back then," said Romo, who turned 32 back in April. "Football is a great game, it teaches you a lot of lessons. Your ability to interact with other people, how to develop into a leadership role, lots of things. But you put your head down and just get better."
Obviously, Romo did get better. He bounced back from that 21-20 loss to the Seahawks with a career season in 2007, setting Cowboys records for completions, passing yards and touchdowns in leading the team to a 13-3 regular-season record. He also earned his second straight Pro Bowl appearance.
And since then, Romo has strived to get better each year even though the Cowboys' record has been up and down. He enjoyed the best statistical season of his career in 2011, despite Dallas going just 8-8.
While he said he doesn't often think back to that moment in Seattle, he admitted plays like that can be motivating.
"Going through adverse situations in football can help build character," Romo said. "You can look to those spots and use it as motivation. That's just one of those situations you took, as it was as a disappointing loss. It was a very tough at the time."
Tight end Jason Witten is considered one of Romo's best friends on the team, going back to their rookie seasons in 2003. Witten said he recalled how bad Romo hurt after that play.
"What a freak play that was," Witten said, referring to Romo serving as the holder, along with his starting quarterback duties, and dropping the snap that prevented a go-ahead field goal with a minute remaining. "I do think his mindset of taking the next step – we really saw him elevate his game the next year and put himself in a category of elite quarterback – that's when it started. Finishing that (2006 season) that way really fueled him. I think we've seen how he's handled it and pushed himself. I think he remembers those adverse situations."
Witten hasn't forgotten either. And he hasn't forgotten going to the Pro Bowl that season when Saints head coach Sean Payton, a former Cowboys offensive coordinator and quarterback coach and one of the biggest reasons the Cowboys signed Romo in 2003, made a joke to everyone about having Romo be the holder during the game.
"I think (Romo) laughed out of respect. I'm not going to speak for Tony, but I know I felt like I wanted to punch him at that moment," Witten said of Payton. "But he probably laughed out of respect. That's the way Tony is. He's going to be the bigger man in that situation. But he was hurt for a while, not just because he felt like he lost the game, but he hurt for everybody else around here, his teammates. He felt like he let them down."
But like Romo, Witten said it's a significant play that won't be forgotten. It turned out to be the final game for head coach Bill Parcells, who retired from coaching after that season.
That's a play, that's a season that we'll always remember," Witten said. "Hopefully we're better because of those situations."
Romo obviously has gotten better. Now he'll return to the venue, which has changed from Qwest Field to CenturyLink Field, to see if can do enough things to not only showcase those improvements, but leave with something that slipped through his hands the last time – a victory.