DALLAS – So there he was, really his first somewhat public appearance since announcing he was moving from the football field into the CBS booth as the No. 1 TV analyst after the Cowboys last week granted his release.
There at the American Airlines Center Tuesday morning following the Dallas Mavericks shootaround before tonight's final home game of the season, with young son Rivers, who was dribbling around with a smallish basketball, and frankly not bad for a 3-year-old, the one his mom had told me once is "their little Tony."
Romo seemed relaxed. At ease. And as he would say later during a short, little press conference, somewhat embarrassed that the Mavericks thought enough of his career to have him suit up for Tuesday night's warmups before what's a meaningless game with the Denver Nuggets and then sit on the bench during the game.
Sort of the Mavs ways of saying thank you for all he did.
In fact, as he approached the interview podium, Romo looked out into the media crowd, roughly 40 deep, and quipped, "Geez, (all this) for sitting on the bench."
Oh, Romo did a conference call last week, appeared on a couple of radio talk shows, but really hasn't taken a bow in front of anyone after his 14-year career with the Cowboys has come to an end, not like he will Tuesday night after the Mavericks extended this once-in-a-lifetime invitation to the one-time high school basketball star to enjoy another little sports Paper Lion experience of sorts.
"At first I was feeling, I was just feeling I didn't deserve any of that," Romo said of his reaction to the invitation made by Mavs head coach Rick Carlisle and star Dirk Nowitzki. "Makes me feel special. Standing here today I feel a little embarrassed to be honest, that you're lucky enough to be in a position that someone cares enough to do something to honor you.
"So, um, I'm a lucky guy."
Once again, he sure is. He's healthy heading toward his 37th birthday on April 21 after having signed his six-year, potential $108 million extension with the Cowboys back on March 29, 2013. He is walking away from football into a multi-million dollar contract with CBS to analyze games, somethings he's never done on a professional basis.
And now, after avidly following the Mavericks during his 14 years in Dallas, attending many a game, he's getting to fulfill a dream of sitting on an NBA bench, too. One he certainly must have had back when playing ball at Burlington (Wis.) High School averaging 24 points a game.
The Mavs were only too happy to accommodate.
"I just want to say we're honored to have Tony with us," Carlisle said of the day Romo is spending with the Mavs. "He's stood for all the things great Dallas athletes stand for. Great competitor, winner, plays hurt, you know, the whole thing. He's been a great supporter of the Mavericks, a good friend to myself, Dirk, Mark and so many of us.
"We wanted to see if he would be willing to do this, and happy he was enthusiastically accepting. Great to have him here. He busted the ass of a few of our younger guys out there, so that was fun."
Romo, though is not delusional.
When asked if he could go out and play 10 or 15 minutes, which he won't since the Mavs technically could not even sign him to a 10-day contract, Romo said, "I'm pretty sure I can't go out there and play 10 or 15 minutes. I'm pretty sure if I did I'd probably wake up tomorrow morning feeling a little sore. We don't like that at my age."
When asked about the size of these NBA players, Romo sheepishly said, "I look like a turtle out there."
As humbly as Romo entered the NFL, an undrafted rookie free agent out of Eastern Illinois, he leaves with a good measure of humility, and still, even after a career stocked with four Pro Bowls, five winning seasons and just about every Cowboys franchise passing record, there is that one lingering regret as he describes what the past week has been like for him after his decision to step away from the game and enter the broadcast booth.
"It's been overwhelming. I mean, I've had close to 600 text messages that I'm still working on, you know, 100 or so calls and a bunch of other stuff," Romo said. "I guess it makes you feel like you accomplished something someway, because as you know, I feel like I left something out there that I've always wanted to accomplish. You know, 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, sometimes it works out, sometimes it doesn't. But it doesn't mean you can be OK with it."
Not hard to read between the lines that his inability to get the Cowboys to a Super Bowl and win one still somewhat haunts him.
"So this week has been special in the sense that people have made me feel that they appreciated me, that they enjoyed me playing the game at quarterback – that meant something to me," Romo said. "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."
And deservedly so.