NEW YORK -- This is Tony Romo's new world: 19th floor of CBS' headquarters in Manhattan, sitting at a round table next to broadcast partner Jim Nantz.
He's wearing a grey sport jacket. His hands are resting comfortably on his knees. His back, so often a source of agony during his 13 years as the quarterback of the Dallas Cowboys, is hunched only slightly as he leans in to a question about the difference between his old job and his new job as an NFL game analyst for CBS.
Basically every question he's asked now takes on a similar form -- you used to be the most prolific passer in Cowboys history, now you do this. Why is that? Each time, he gets a little better at answering it.
"You're always trying to get better," Romo said. "In six more weeks, I'll be better than I am now. I'm anxious to get started."
During the moments on Wednesday when he's asked about the action on the field, Romo is a network president's dream. He perks up. He flawlessly diagnoses one offense, which, almost certainly, will now run more bootlegs on first downs to buoy their rookie quarterback. He talks about Tom Brady's calmness, which is a product of Julian Edelman almost always about to be open. He jokes about the Jets, who "can be less bad [than people think]." This will be his sweet spot, when the gig stops being about him and what he's walked away from.
Until that time, the most high-profile career transition for an athlete in modern history will be a game of bumper bowling -- smooth periods in the booth when he gets to be America's best friend followed by the occasional clanging reminder of his recent past on top of the game and inside the locker room. The questions pointed at Tony Romo the former football player are many. Will he ever come back? But seriously, what if a team was 7-0 and their starting quarterback got injured and he knew the system so well? Can he fairly analyze the Cowboys? What about recent teammate Ezekiel Elliott?
"Well, first off, I don't condone domestic violence, I think that we all agree that that's just something that needs to -- the NFL's policy has now gotten stronger as it should be," Romo said when asked about his opinion on Elliott's six-game suspension for violating the league's personal conduct policy. Elliott is appealing the ruling. "But without knowing all the facts in that case, unless you're privy to all the information -- I haven't been. You just don't know how all of that [is going to go]. I think they have [appeal arbitrator] Harold Henderson now doing that. I'll be anxious to see how he comes to a conclusion. Like everything, there's always a lot of differing opinions on it but it's mostly just about the facts."
Nantz interjects several times during Romo's meeting with various reporters and writers from both the NFL and television industries. It's clear he's taken Romo on as a sort of personal project, mentioning multiple times how many practice games Romo has done by himself (5) and with Nantz (3) in preparation for his first season in perhaps the most visible broadcasting job in America.
Nantz is projecting Romo's improvement; worrying about how Tony will do for his season-opening game on Sept. 10 now that he has the benefit of a full week of meetings and network research. Will he try to fit too much information in? He speaks like a coach or, more accurately, the combination of coach and parent.
"If I had to earmark a game, as a guy who is trying to mentor Tony, who is a great student, it's the first time he's going to do a Cowboy game," Nantz said. "It's November the fifth, Kansas City at Dallas. And I'll tell you what -- for a multitude of reasons -- first off, again, we're going to get reps with live bullets. Live television. We're going to get into that flow starting Sept. 10. Starting Week 4, we're going to begin a prime-time package in addition to what we do on Sundays ... our Thursday package in prime time is going to take us to the Thursday before the Dallas game. November the second, Bills at the Jets. By that time, he's going to have a much larger understanding of the business than he does now. And he understands a lot."
Nantz says he was struck by Romo's knowledge of broadcasting and the personalities in the booth beyond the obvious names like John Madden and Pat Summerall. It was almost as if, Nantz says, Romo had his eye on the booth even though his focus was always on the field.
"It's been different time wise," Romo said about preparing for the season as a television color commentator instead of an NFL quarterback. "There's still a level of excitement -- you're committed to a new craft you want to be good at. I understand where I'm at coming in, the fifth analyst in CBS history. You're following one of the greats in Phil Simms. That's something you want to come in and do a good job with, because everyone before me has been at a very high standard -- a high level."
Maybe that's the one thing that makes Romo's transition all the more intriguing. It's clear how seriously he has taken the change -- so much so that it would be nearly impossible to turn around and go back. He has the confidence of someone who has just graduated flight school but has yet to fly. In the absence of a sure thing, everyone is banking on Romo's ability to drive himself and outwork his contemporaries.
One piece of advice provided by Phil Simms, the analyst Romo is replacing, seemed to stand out above the rest Romo has received. It also seems to perfectly sum up his situation right now
"I asked [Phil] a few times, one of the questions I had was did it ever get old? Did you feel like in year nine or seven or 11 when you felt like, OK," Romo said. "Because when you play football you feel like every game is your first game, even though you know the game better you get the same feeling when you step on the field. And Phil said it never gets old. You'll always be excited. The butterflies will always be there. The rush. The adrenaline. It's a great thing. It's a great job.
"It got me even more amped up. I genuinely feel lucky to be in this position."