<
>

Tony Romo has grown as a leader

IRVING, Texas -- Tony Romo turned 32 on Saturday. He's a new dad, and he's about to enter his 10th season with the Dallas Cowboys and his seventh as the team's starting quarterback.

If the end of his career is coming, Romo isn't saying.

"I haven't thought about not playing the game," said Romo, who is signed through 2013. "The game is why you wake up so many mornings just [thinking], 'How can I get better at football today?' That's really the No. 1 thing that kind of goes about in your brain, and then you go out and do that.

"For me, I don't know, 15 more years maybe."

For about 30 minutes Tuesday at the Cowboys' Valley Ranch facility, Romo answered questions about changes on the offensive line, draft possibilities and his newborn son, Hawkins.

But as it always seems to do with Romo, the line of questioning inevitably turned to Super Bowls.

Last season, Romo said the Cowboys will win a Super Bowl on his watch. This offseason, Roger Staubach and Troy Aikman have said the Romo-led Cowboys will win a Super Bowl. Owner and general manager Jerry Jones certainly believes it will happen, too.

"I think it's frustrating whenever you don't accomplish your goal each season, and obviously that's to win the Super Bowl," Romo said. "So that part of it, obviously, sits there and you want to accomplish that.

"The thing I can control is how hard I work, how much better I'm getting every single year, and am I bringing these guys along to make them as good as they can be? Because that's part of my job, and I think that's part of what it takes to win a Super Bowl."

Romo's leadership style has been knocked for years, from the ridiculous (wearing his hat backwards) to the sublime (he's achieved more than he ever thought he would as an undrafted quarterback).

As he has grown into the position, Romo has grown as a leader.

"I think when you're young, you just want to play football and get better and be able to be good enough to be out there," Romo said. "And then, all of a sudden [it's], 'How can I be a good quarterback?'

"Then you realize over time, it literally comes down to winning. It's just about that. How do you do that? You got to have the entire football team committed to one objective and one goal, and that's to win. Put egos aside and put that on the back burner and you just commit to trying to do whatever it takes to win football games.

"I think part of that for me is to get these guys committed and doing everything they have to do in the offseason, and I think they're doing that right now."

This is no longer a locker room that looks at him somewhat sideways, thanks in part to his rapid rise to fame in 2006 and the Terrell Owens mess in 2008. (Romo declined to answer a question about Owens' recent comments that the QB played a role in the wide receiver's dismissal.)

This is a locker room that views Romo as the guy who organized the offseason practices at Southlake's Dragon Stadium during last year's lockout. This locker room sees him as the guy who played through a broken rib and a series of pain-killing injections for six weeks. This is a locker room that sees him as the guy who played with a swollen throwing hand in the winner-take-all season finale on the road versus the New York Giants in January.

This is a locker room that sees Romo running sprints and throwing passes with teammates at Valley Ranch -- a full month before the offseason conditioning program begins. This is a locker room that is watching him throw footballs into a net, while working on different drops and arm angles.

Romo is coming off his best season. He threw for 4,184 yards in 2011 with 31 touchdowns and 10 interceptions, but the Cowboys finished 8-8 and missed the playoffs for the third time in four seasons.

"The moment I feel like I'm [regressing], I'll probably stop playing football just because it would be very hard to know that I'm not as good as you once were," Romo said. "The exciting part for me is to know that I'm getting better every year."