IRVING, Texas -- Add Tony Romo to the list of Dallas Cowboys franchise quarterbacks, right after Don Meredith, Roger Staubach and Troy Aikman.
Having already inched his way toward such elite company by winning 12 of his first 17 starts, often in spectacular fashion, Romo's spot in the team's hierarchy was secured Tuesday with the signing of a six-year, $67 million contract of which $30 million is guaranteed.
"He's the man for the 2000s," team owner Jerry Jones said. "I wouldn't have done this if I didn't think he gives us a chance to win Super Bowls."
Romo is signed through 2013, which means he'll be the face of the franchise when it moves into a $1 billion, 100,000-seat stadium in 2009.
"The best feeling by far is to know the organization, the Jones family and our coaches and everyone say, 'Hey, you're our guy,'" Romo said. "That means everything, more than the money ever could. I'm just excited to be here for a long time."
Romo replaced Drew Bledsoe at halftime of a Monday night game against the New York Giants last October. His first start came the following game, on Oct. 29, 2006; a year to the day later, he agreed to a contract that gives him the third-highest annual salary for an NFL quarterback, behind only Peyton Manning and Carson Palmer.
"I don't think that I've made it," Romo said. "Off the field, you live a more comfortable life. ... What did I set out to do? Money? That was never the intent. The next step is always on the field."
Jones has been searching for a quarterback he could rely on since Aikman's career ended in 2000. He went through eight starters, including second-round flop Quincy Carter and baseball refugees Drew Henson and Chad Hutchinson, before coach Bill Parcells turned to Romo. He was the most unlikely option: an undrafted guy from a Division I-AA school who'd been on the payroll for 52 games without even throwing a pass.
With a 5-1 start to his career, Romo-mania ensued. It's still going strong, too. Dallas is 6-1 and tied for tops in the NFC with Romo leading the conference in yards passing and touchdowns.
Now, he's the NFC's top-paid quarterback, too.
"It is a feel-good story. To me, it's a continuing great story," coach Wade Phillips said. "The best part of the story is he's a great person, a great guy to be around. He doesn't have an ego bigger than the team. The great ones I've been around -- the John Elways, the Jim Kellys -- it's the same way. It's appreciated by the coach."
Another amazing part of Romo's rapid rise is the fame he's built outside of football. It started with supposed interest from actress Jessica Simpson, then grew with him dating country singer Carrie Underwood. He's back in the gossip magazines this week for an encounter with Britney Spears over the weekend. No wonder "Entertainment Tonight" dispatched a reporter to cover the news conference Tuesday.
While Dandy Don would be proud, Jones offered a warning: "I tell you this, Tony, sometimes, they can smell fresh cash."
Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press