April 05, 2017

(STATS) - The images of Tony Romo were still vivid for Bob Spoo while the former Eastern Illinois coach walked down memory lane following the Dallas Cowboys quarterback's retirement announcement Monday.

It was easy to remember the spectacular career of perhaps his greatest player, especially a senior season in which Romo won the 2002 Walter Payton Award as the outstanding player in the FCS.

But Spoo most remembers how Romo made teammates around him better. During that senior season, the Panthers won a share of the Ohio Valley Conference title and advanced to the playoffs behind their gutty signal caller.

"He was a tremendously hard worker," Spoo, who retired in 2011, said in an interview on NFL Network. "Here's a guy that you talk about a gym rat, staying after practice, those types of things and the commitment he made to make himself better, proving to everybody that he had this stuff, was what it was all about. He had that and he's showed that (since then).

"Unfortunately, as we all know now, the injuries thing has come into his life. That's too bad because I think at some point, barring those injuries, he would have been a Super Bowl winner himself."

Romo, 36, ended his 13-year Cowboys career as one of the greatest quarterbacks in the team's rich history. He will become the lead football analyst for CBS, pairing with Jim Nantz.

Romo arrived in the NFL in 2003 as an undrafted free agent from an Eastern Illinois program that has supplied the NFL quite well with some of its former quarterbacks, including New Orleans Saints coach Sean Payton and New England Patriots backup Jimmy Garoppolo, who broke some of Romo's school records and won the 2013 Payton Award.

But the 8,212 passing yards, 85 touchdowns and three straight OVC offensive player of the year awards don't tell the whole story of Romo's EIU career.

"Just an outstanding individual in all ways," Spoo said. "I just can't say enough about Tony. I'm very pleased to hear that he'd be making that move (to broadcasting).

"He's going to be great in that booth just like he was great on the field. I'm sure knowing the competitiveness of Tony, though, it was a tough decision. But I think it was the right one."

Eastern Illinois retired Romo's No. 17 in 2009.

"The time I had here was an unbelievable time in my life," he said that day in Charleston, "(that) helped shape me in a lot of ways to become the person that I am today."

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