The man who quarterbacked Eastern Illinois football to some of its best seasons this century and gave the Panthers some brand recognition with a long NFL career is up for official recognition as one of college football’s all-time greats.
Tony Romo is making his first appearance on the ballot for induction into the College Football Hall of Fame in 2020. He’s joined by three other former Panthers, Pete Catan, John Jurkovic and Ted Petersen, all of whom have previously appeared on the ballot.
Before a 14-year career with the Dallas Cowboys launched him into celebrity status, Romo was EIU’s starting quarterback from 2000-02. He led the Panthers to FCS playoff appearances in each of his three years as a starter, won the Ohio Valley Conference Offensive Player of the Year in his final two seasons and as a senior, became the school’s first Walter Payton Award winner, which goes to the top player in the FCS (then Division I-AA). He threw for 3,165 yards and 34 touchdowns as EIU went 8-4.
Romo left EIU as its career leader in touchdown passes (85) and passing yards (8,212). EIU retired his No. 17 jersey in 2009.
Catan was a first-team All-American defensive end for EIU in 1979 and 1980 and played on EIU’s 1978 Division II national championship team. He held the school record for sacks in a game (six), season (21) and career (47). As a senior in 1980, EIU was the Division II runner-up. Catan played in the Canadian Football League and the USFL after his college career.
Jurkovic played defensive end for EIU from 1986-89 and was a first-team All-American in his final two seasons. He is a two-time winner of the Gateway Conference Defensive Player of the Year award, the first player in the league’s history to repeat as the winner. He helped EIU win the conference title in 1986 and was a member of two EIU playoff teams that advanced to the I-AA playoff quarterfinals. He left EIU as the Gateway’s all-time sack leader (27).
Jurkovic played nine NFL seasons and was a second-team All-Pro with the Jacksonville Jaguars in 1996.
Petersen, a center at EIU from 1973-76, was a first-team All-American as a senior. He blocked for Nate Anderson, EIU’s first 1,000-yard rusher. He became the Panthers’ highest-drafted player in program history at the time when the Pittsburgh Steelers took him in the fourth round with the 93rd pick. Petersen played in the NFL for 10 years and won two Super Bowls with the Steelers.
All told, the 2020 ballot includes 81 players and coaches from FBS schools. There are 101 players and 33 coaches from non-FBS levels.
The 2020 inductees will be announced in January.