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Football: Romo's grandparents revel in his first game as Cowboys' starting QB

Web Posted: 11/02/2006 09:21 PM CST

David Flores
Express-News Staff Writer

Tony Romo's paternal grandparents sat in front of their TV alone Sunday night, holding hands.

Ramiro and Felicita Romo knew watching their grandson make his debut as the Dallas Cowboys' starting quarterback would be emotional, and they wanted to share the moment in solitude.

"There were some tears," Felicita Romo said. "No, a lot of tears."

It was a like a sueño, a dream, for the Romos, who lived in San Antonio for three years before moving to the East Texas town of Crockett in 1989.

But the image of No. 9 walking up to the line of scrimmage to take his first snap confirmed what they had known for days: Their nieto, grandson, was quarterbacking the team with the star on the helmet.

"I thought of how far we've come, not only as a family, but as a people," Ramiro, 73, said in Spanish this week via phone. "I remembered the hard times in Mexico and how I struggled when I first got here. It's like coming from zero to where we are today. All of that went through my mind."

Felicita left Tony a phone message, as she has done throughout his football career, on Sunday before he helped lead the Cowboys to a 35-14 victory over the Carolina Panthers.

"Tony is a very spiritual person," Felicita, 72, said. "I always leave him a scripture on his message machine before a game. Tony always has been very close to us. He's always been very attentive, loving."

Cowboys fans clamoring to learn more about the team's new starting quarterback, who was christened Antonio Ramiro Romo, may be surprised to learn his paternal grandparents have deep ties to San Antonio and South Texas.

Ramiro Romo Sr. was born in Musquis, Coahuila, Mexico, in 1933, but moved to San Antonio when he was a teenager. He spent about five years in the city before going to live with a brother in Racine, Wis., where he met his future wife.

Ramiro Romo's only living sibling, sister Socorro Valdez, lives in San Antonio, as do numerous nephews and nieces.

Felicita Rios Romo was born in Robstown in 1934 and moved to Racine with her family when she was 12. Felicita is called "Phyllis" by most of her friends in Crockett.

Married for 51 years, the Romos lived in San Antonio, where they owned two restaurants on the South Side, from 1986 until they moved to Crockett in 1989.

"We still have a lot of family and many friends in San Antonio," Felicita said.

Crockett is about 110 miles north of Houston and 160 miles south of Dallas. The grandparents go to every Cowboys home game.

The Romos, who were married in Wisconsin in 1955 and lived in the state until 1980, are bilingual. They also have an adopted son, Mustafa John, 39, who lives in Appleton, Wis.

That a Mexican immigrant would someday have a grandson quarterbacking one of the most glamorous teams in pro sports, Ramiro and Felicita said, is a testament to the power of the American dream.

"I've always said this is a country of opportunities," Ramiro said. "If you don't get a job or an education, it's because you don't want to."

His parents' humble background, Ramiro Romo Jr. said, has made Tony's success more gratifying.

"Only in America," he said.

Although Tony speaks very little Spanish — he can sing "La Bamba" with his grandfather accompanying him on the guitar — his abuelos and father said he takes pride in his ethnicity.

"That's a topic we've talked about a number of times," Ramiro Jr. said. "I've told Tony that there are some bad people out there who sometimes judge you, or get a certain perspective of you, by your name. But you shouldn't be ashamed of who you are.

"Tony is fiercely proud of being an Hispanic and carrying the Romo name. I've always told him, 'Be who you are and be proud of it.'"

Tony, 26, was born in San Diego when his father was in the Navy but grew up in Burlington, Wis.

"I told my son and my nieto never to try to hide their culture, to be proud of who they are," Ramiro Sr. said. "I'm proud to say that they've never run away from being Hispanic."

Tony's parents — his mother is named Joan — live in Burlington, Wis., where their son was a standout athlete at Burlington High School before going on Eastern Illinois.

"Whatever the sport that was in season, that's the one he was going to play," Ramiro Jr. said. "He just loved sports and always has been very competitive. He's also a religious man and is very humble."

Ramiro Jr., 49, was born in Racine and played basketball and soccer at St. Bonaventure High School. He and his wife settled in Burlington after he was discharged from the Navy in 1982. The couple also has two older daughters.

Tony, the youngest of the three children, always has done a good job of keeping his priorities in order, his father said.

"Even with all the attention he's getting now, and being the Cowboys' quarterback is like playing for the New York Yankees, family and friends are very important to him," Ramiro Jr. said.

In Crockett, Ramiro Sr. recalled the advice he gave his grandson when he turned pro.

"I told him, 'Don't ever get lost and be careful with the temptations of prestige and money. Remember who you are.'"