By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
SAN ANTONIO—Yesterday a backup quarterback. Tonight the lead singer.
Don Meredith serenaded a nation with "Turn Out the Lights," Troy Aikman recorded the forgettable "Oklahoma Nights" and we can only assume Roger Staubach hummed some Pat Boone tune while saving babies from burning buildings. But Tony Romo? Never has a quarterback of America's Team stage-dived into such a violent musical scene.
It is Friday, June 15, and the impact of Romo's appearance at the Metal Skool concert in Dallas' Palladium Ballroom depends on your Dallas Cowboys allegiance. To those of us here to tap our toes to cheesy '80s rock and witness the team's latest icon playing head-banger, Romo is maximizing his exposure by embracing the numerous publicity opportunities offered the quarterback of the NFL's most popular team. To those possessing Washington Redskins pennants and zero sense of humor, Romo is staining his image by associating with a tacky, vulgar rock band that makes punch lines out of incest, pedophilia, devil worship and made-up stories about the quarterback's supposed drug use.
"I'm glad this dude makes so much fucking money!" Metal Skool frontman Michael Starr jokes in introducing "special guest host" Romo to 300 or so apeshit fans. "Because, damn, he can snort through a shitload of cocaine!"
With that, Romo, wearing jeans, a white Pink Floyd T-shirt, silver dog-tag necklace and his contagious smile, hops onstage to join the glam metal parody band he fell in love with at a Hollywood Key Club show back in February. You remember the goofy, light-hearted YouTube sensation featuring Romo singing Journey's "Don't Stop Believing" with assists from alcohol and, of all people, Saved by the Bell's Mr. Belding. ("One of the funnest nights I've ever had," Romo says.)
Tonight, however, Romo isn't sharing the spotlight. He's singing. Smiling. Playfully "throwin' the goat"—flashing the Hook 'em Horns-like gesture that at this bash is more about satire than Satan. And, well, acting the part of a metalhead about to rock out with his cock out. And accordingly, the hottest, weirdest band since Spinal Tap is setting the stage, laying its big hair, bad language and cult following at the quarterback's feet.
After former Queer as Folk star Hal Sparks finishes a Skid Row ballad, Romo—holding the microphone upside down as if bleeding the last drop of ketchup from a bottle—belts out "Don't Stop Believing" (his and Tony Soprano's fave) and Twisted Sister's "We're Not Gonna Take It," his Q rating rocketing and his humble, small-town back story dissolving a little more with each impassioned, only slightly off-key note.
Encapsulating the radical rise of an undrafted free agent suddenly splitting time between Pro Bowl and rock star, Starr screams, "Tony Romo is the shit!"
Tom Landry must be so proud.
And, if he's attempting to keep tabs on Romo, so dizzy.
Because instead of diving into solitary hibernation and clicking the proverbial corner lamp on and off, Romo was quick to erase the pain of his catastrophic bobbled snap that ended the Cowboys' season in Seattle on January 6. With his Metal Skool cameos, holding sorta-maybe girlfriend Carrie Underwood's purse at the Country Music Awards, as well as judging Miss Universe, trying to qualify for the U.S. Open golf tournament, angling for a new contract, appearing on a KLLI 105.3-FM late-night radio talk show called "Big Dick's Wild Ass Circus," throwing a pass to Hall of Fame receiver Jerry Rice on the 17th tee of a Lake Tahoe celebrity golf tournament in which he finished 11th, keeping alive his link to Jessica Simpson by hanging out with her father, Joe, making monthly appearances at Ghostbar and weekly inclusions on the celebrity-powered TMZ.com and...
"Whatever 'it' is," teammate Terrell Owens says, "Romo's got 'it.'"
Romo wasn't built in a day, but his star has risen overnight.
Seems the only hot spots the 27-year-old missed were ESPN's insipid "Who's Now?" debate and the bawdy burlesque show at Hollywood's Aqua Lounge, featuring none other than new Cowboys head coach Wade Phillips' daughter, Tracy.
"I heard coach had a cute daughter," Romo told Big Dick Hunter during a June call-in. "But I haven't caught her act."
Imagine if the Cowboys hadn't told him to chill.
Imagine if he wasn't obsessed with becoming a better football player.
"Assuming I didn't do anything but party all off-season is just wrong," Romo says after the Cowboys' first training camp practice at The Alamodome July 25. "You see those five or six events on TV, but it's just six nights in six months. I go to Mexico for Memorial Day, and it's news. But the cameras weren't there when I went back home to Wisconsin or all those days I was at Valley Ranch busting my butt trying to get better. I've heard the criticism, and I'll roll with it. At the end of the day, my teammates know where I was...working, right beside them."