For eight years, Dallas Cowboys fans grew accustomed to quarterback Tony Romo racing onto the AT&T Stadium field right there at the 50-yard line.

But this past Sunday, Romo entered the stadium with a new leading role — color commentator for CBS Sports.

Soon after the national anthem was played, the crowd was asked to turn its attention to the big screen for a tribute to one of the Cowboys’ most beloved ex-players.

A video commemorating Romo’s 14-year career, all with the Cowboys, was played, narrated by his best friend and favorite target, tight end Jason Witten.

Nearby, in the end zone, a “WELCOME HOME 9” banner set the stage.

“From Eastern Illinois to North Texas is a long way,” Witten started off saying, while Romo, shown on the right-hand corner of the big screen, removed his headphones to watch the tribute, one he knew nothing about.

“It was an unlikely journey that gave us a kid with a number that would become synonymous with America’s Team: 9,” Witten added. “And what followed was a journey that we all got to be a part of.”

Indeed, we did.

From the heartbreaks of a dropped field goal snap in Seattle to a questionable no-catch call in Green Bay, but with 24 fourth-quarter comebacks to momentarily help us forget those painful moments, no one did it with more heart than Romo.

“No matter the score, with 9 under center, you always knew there was a chance,” Witten said. “He had one goal: win.”

The video featured a number of Romo’s heroics, from a high snap that he turned into a first down against the Rams to finding Witten time and time again for a clutch pass-and-catch.

The play I remember most? That’s when he made the Texans’ J.J. Watt look foolish on a sure quarterback sack that ended up in a disappearing act turned touchdown pass to Terrence Williams.

Oh, yeah, that one stands out all right.

“Tony Romo taught us all what it means to love a game — the greatest game on earth,” Witten said in closing. “And for that we say, ‘Thank you, 9.’”

Well said.

Then I watched Romo’s reaction to the tribute, how it noticeably touched him as he acknowledged the packed house and its long standing ovation, his humbling smile for a long-overdue “thank you” he deserved so much.

Now Romo’s shining behind the cameras, close up, teaming up with Jim Nantz and telling like it is, sometimes before the play even takes shape.

Funny thing is Romo later during the game apparently upset former Cowboys cornerback Deion Sanders with a comment he made about a missed tackle in the game, a la Sanders.

Sorry, Deion, but Romo called that one right, too.

Again, thank you, 9.

Manuel Moreno Jr.: mmjtenicon@aol.com.

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