June 27 was a celebration for Chris Hanna.
Over the last few years, the El Pasoan has been working tirelessly on his first documentary, “Now or Never: A Tony Romo Story.”
What began as a senior project at Santa Fe University of Art and Design turned into a 94-minute film that explores the quarterback’s roots, including his hometown of Burlington, Wisconsin.
Hanna spent the last two years at Romo’s annual football camp for kids and he interviewed family, friends, former teammates and coaches of the longtime Dallas Cowboy.
What made last week so special for Hanna was that he screened the film at the Plaza Theater 4 Cinema in downtown Burlington in front of Romo and all of his family and close friends.
Hanna invited me to join him and his associate producer, Rebecca Garcia, in Burlington.
It was an opportunity I could not pass up.
The day started with a trip to Burlington High School, which was where Romo’s football camp was held. Hanna was interviewed by radio station WBSD and general manager Tom Gilding. The station actually broadcasts inside of Burlington High School. Gilding is a longtime educator who taught Romo more than 20 years ago.
After the radio interview, we toured the high school and saw pictures of the Burlington legend from his basketball, golf and football days. They also have a terrific shadowbox, which includes Romo’s jerseys and helmets from Burlington High, Eastern Illinois University and the Dallas Cowboys.
In Romo’s words
After the tour, we went to the football field to get ready for Romo’s free two-hour skills camp.
It was only for kids grades three through five, but more than 200 children from around the area arrived to learn from Romo and his group of coaches.
Prior to the camp, Romo met with the local media and talked about the documentary, which would be screened later that night.
“Chris and the team have been here for a few years now and anytime a person does something on you and your family, you feel humbled and honored,” Romo said. “I’m excited for people to see his work and how talented he is. It’s a reflective movie for me. I don’t like watching myself very often, but I think it is nostalgic in a lot of ways to bring back a lot of memories and just important times in your life that help shape you.”
Later that evening, the film was screened at the first-run, four-screen movie house that originally opened in 1927 with a single screen.
‘Small town kid’
“Now or Never: A Tony Romo Story” was shown to a packed theater. The crowd enjoyed the film, especially the scenes which focused on Romo’s early days growing up in the small Wisconsin town.
It included interviews with Romo’s father, Ramiro, who described his son’s legacy as “small town kid who overachieved way beyond anyone’s imagination.”
The documentary also profiles his grandparents, who spoke only in Spanish and were a big hit at the Burlington screening. His grandmother and grandfather both grew up in Mexico and later moved to Burlington where they met for the first time and fell in love.
Hanna will now focus his attention on film festivals around the country, including El Paso and next month’s Plaza Classic Film Festival, where it will be shown at 3:30 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 4 at the Philanthropy Theater. Romo’s grandparents might attend the El Paso screening.
Hanna said he is excited about the film’s future and he hopes that Netflix, Amazon or ESPN will ultimately purchase the distribution rights.
The documentary is a terrific look back at the origin of one of the NFL’s most popular players of the last decade and is a must-see, especially with the large Dallas Cowboys fanbase in the El Paso area.
For me, the trip to Romo’s hometown was memorable, because in Burlington, the quarterback is just “Tony,” a guy who can escape the celebrity life and return to the small likeable Wisconsin town that he will always call home.
Since 1997, Steve Kaplowitz has hosted “Sportstalk” from 4 to 7 p.m. weekdays on 600 ESPN El Paso. You can email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.