BURLINGTON — The story of a boy progressing from an unfulfilled soccer player as a high school freshman in 2004 to starting quarterback of the Dallas Cowboys 12 years later seemingly has enough enticing angles for a potential movie.
Chris Hanna, president of ZGN Productions in El Paso, Texas, sure thinks so. That’s why he was on hand Thursday at Tony Romo’s annual football camp in Burlington to discuss his new film, “Now or Never: A Tony Romo Story.”
Hanna was present at each of Romo’s previous two camps to accumulate footage for use in his film, which runs one hour, 34 minutes. It was scheduled to be previewed for a private audience Thursday night at the Plaza Theater in downtown Burlington.
The film features interviews with people who include Steve Tenhagen, Romo’s primary receiver on the 1996 team who is now Burlington’s head coach, longtime basketball coach Steve Berezowitz, Ken Kremer, Romo’s former agent, and former Eastern Illinois teammates JR Taylor (a longtime Racine Raider) and Steve Sholl.
“We’ve been out here for the last two and a half years all the way from El Paso, Texas, to Burlington, Wisconsin, and we had this great opportunity,” Hanna said. “It is basically about what makes a person be the person he is today. That was very inspiring to make, to have the opportunity to come out here the past two years and interview coaches and his friends and family.”
What are Hanna’s ultimate plans for this film?
“We have already submitted it to over 25 film festivals around the country, also in Canada and Mexico, and we hope to tour the film all over place and definitely share that story and share the community of Burlington throughout all the festivals and we’d love it to get it on the platform of Netflix or Amazon,” he said.
Minutes after Hanna discussed his film, its subject took his seat for his annual press conference inside a small room at Don Dalton Stadium, which had yet to be constructed when Romo started for the Demons during the 1996 and ‘97 seasons.
Romo, who had been given a preview of the film, revealed his impressions when he opened the press conference.
“He’s been working on it for two and a half years now and any time anybody does anything on you, it’s just a real honor,” said Romo, who turned 39 in April. “I’m just excited for people to see it. It’s really well done. I know how hard Chris worked on it and I think it’s real special to see the film.”
It certainly has been special to see Romo as the lead color analyst for CBS since retiring from the Cowboys following an injury-plagued 2016 season. Thrust immediately into the high-pressure lead position, Romo was a natural as Jim Nantz’s sidekick and worked his first Super Bowl in February.
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He has been lauded for routinely telling viewers things they don’t realize and for having an uncanny ability of predicting what play a team is going to run. As Cindy Boren of the Washington Post wrote following Romo’s memorable performance during the AFC championship game between the Patriots and Chiefs in January: “He can be a little too excited, a tad over-caffeinated at times, but he’s become the best thing about color commentators: You know it’s a big game when he’s calling it and, in two years, he hasn’t disappointed.”
When Romo was asked Thursday afternoon about his remarkable ability to dissect what a team is going to do for his audience, he likened it to solving a puzzle.
“I always wanted to never be at a disadvantage when I was playing football,” Romo said. “My brain just wants to always have an answer. It’s like a puzzle. As a quarterback, you can figure the game out — not just on your side of the ball, but the other side. You just won’t be surprised. You’ll always have an answer.
“I always want to have an answer to counter whatever it is the opponent can do. As you study, you start to know the game at a very deep level, I guess, and now when I look at it, it just seems like a math problem. It’s just systematic.
“It’s normal now because of all the years of studying. When I’m watching now, it just comes very quickly to your brain.”
Romo’s other primary passion since throwing his final pass for the Cowboys — a 3-yard touchdown strike to Terrance Williams in a 27-13 loss to the Eagles Jan. 1, 2017 in Philadelphia — has been golf. While competitive, a man who has walked the links with Tiger Woods and Michael Jordan hasn’t approached the mastery he has while providing his football insights for a national audience.
Still, this two-time champion of Racine’s annual Tri-Course Amateur Championship is going to continue striving to solve this game. For him, it’s just another puzzle to figure out.
“I think it’s like what I just described in football,” Romo said. “I know where I’m at. I think I’m seeing a lot of signs. It’s deliberate practice is what I call it. It’s highly technical where you’re trying to figure out each technical thing and go on to the next thing.
“The big thing won’t show up until you’ve done the 25 other things. It might take a year, it might take a week. It depends on what you’ve got to learn. I think what will happen is you’ll take a big leap at some point and you’ll just become a different player.
“Usually, I find that when you commit a lot of time, you’ll get there.”
As Romo addressed the 20 or so media members, his proud father, Ramiro, looked on from the wings. He, too, has seen the new film of his son and is pleased that the formative years of Burlington’s favorite son are out there to serve as inspiration for a national audience.
“You can see that Chris put in a tremendous amount of work, it’s very, very accurate and anybody who is interested in watching something like this will really, really enjoy it,” Ramiro said.