Growing up, Tony Romo was convinced he had a gift.
``My ability to see things very quickly,'' is how Romo explained it recently. ``I could see it, and react very fast.''
Being a quick study is valuable in every business, but in few does it pay greater dividends than the job of NFL quarterback. Especially when you come up unheralded and unproven, with precious little room for error, the way Dallas' emerging superstar did.
At the snap of the ball, large men bent on mayhem are collapsing the pocket from every side tick by tick. Down the field, swifter ones are closing down every option step by step. Indecision usually results in hard knocks. Improvisation can buy you an interception, a concussion or a seat back on the bench. On most plays, the window for decision-making has closed before you get to the end of this sentence.
That's why the learning curve for quarterbacks never proceeds along a smooth arc. Romo's hasn't, either, but it already bears an uncanny resemblance to one of the best passers ever, the same guy who led the Green Bay Packers into Cowboys Stadium on Thursday night in the most anticipated NFC matchup of the season.
All week long, though, despite that gift for sizing up most situations in a heartbeat, Romo pretended he didn't see any room for comparison.
``You really shouldn't say, 'This is the next Brett Favre,' or anything like that because he's done so much for that team and this league,'' Romo said.
``He's just on another level. You just go out and play the game as good as you can. If you're trying to be Brett Favre, you're fighting an uphill battle your entire career, believe me.''
Funny thing about that, though. Not all of Romo's teammates believe him.
To make his case, Dallas receiver Jason Witten said to look beyond the obvious comparisons - quick mind, rocket arm and the way both inspire confidence in tough situations - and focus on the small things. Impressive as Romo's imitation of Favre is on the field, he apparently does an even better impersonation in the locker room.
Consider that the two men are 11 years apart; as Witten noted, Romo couldn't do Favre's world-weary shrug, pigeon-toed shuffle and soft drawl letter-perfect without studying the man very closely.
``The truth is that he loved him growing up,'' Witten told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. ``He's done a good job of understating it and relaxing. He's downplaying it, but that's his hero.''
Downplaying it? Romo grew up in football-mad Wisconsin, but when the subject came up this week, he insisted he paid more attention to basketball and Michael Jordan's exploits than football and Favre.
And even then, Romo claimed he ranked John Elway and Joe Montana ahead of the hometown hero. He recalled watching Green Bay play Denver in the Super Bowl and ``rooting for the Broncos. I guess I was something of an outcast in my neighborhood.''
Favre promised not to take offense.
``I am sure he's about tired of answering these questions,'' he said.
``He's his own player. When I see him play, though, it reminds me of myself. Making something out of nothing. He's much faster than I was. ... He has the same mentality I did. There's never a bad play.''
The book on becoming an NFL quarterback doesn't include a chapter on learning how to play against the guy who was your hero growing up. Romo does many of the same things the same way Favre does and, so far, he's produced some of the same stunning results.
Witten's favorite example came two months ago against the Rams, when the snap from center sailed over Romo's head. A play that began at the 50-yard line just began to get interesting when Romo quit stumbling and got his hands around the ball at the 17.
``As I'm watching this play, I'm like, 'Tony, just fall on the ball and let's punt,''' Witten said. ``His mind's thinking, 'I'm picking this thing up, and I'm going to throw it for a touchdown.'''
Darned if Romo almost didn't. Glancing off a few defenders and making others miss, he ran 70 yards for an official gain of 4 yards. His explanation afterward was even better than the scramble.
``Us dumb ones,'' Romo recalled, ``we pick it up and run around.''
Favre would have, too.
``I'd like to think I could do that,'' the Packers quarterback said after catching the highlight. ``I still believe I could or at one time was able to.''
Sounds like Favre has found a worthy successor whether Romo wants to believe it or not.
---
Jim Litke is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at jlitkeap.org

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