Eastern Illinois NFL stars return to Charleston

Eastern Illinois NFL stars return to Charleston

CHARLESTON – Tony Romo laughed when Sean Payton described a trick he would use to manipulate the washing machine to get free clothes, and Payton mocked Romo when he talked about how he almost changed positions early in his college career.

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From left, former Eastern Illinois players Jimmy Garoppolo, Tony Romo, Sean Payton and Mike Shanahan during EIU’s Night with Champions.


Payton and Romo joined fellow former Eastern Illinois players Mike Shanahan and Jimmy Garoppolo as they all returned to Charleston and poked fun at each other while reminiscing about glory days gone by for an Evening With Champions event at the Groninger Eastern Illinois University Arena on Saturday night.

“I’ll always have a bond with Jimmy, simply because he beat all of Sean’s records,” Romo joked. “This is the kind of thing we do. We’re close to each other, so it’s fun. It’s enjoyable. And it’s unique.”


Former Eastern Illinois quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo speaks during EIU’s Night with Champions.


It was the first time the group was all together in one room. Garoppolo just signed with the Los Angeles Rams after joining the league in 2014 and playing for New England, San Francisco and Las Vegas. Payton led the New Orleans Saints to the Super Bowl in 2010 and is now coach of the Denver Broncos. Shanahan is retired after being a two-time Super Bowl coach with the Broncos, while Romo is a broadcaster for CBS after a 14-year playing career with the Dallas Cowboys.

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“It’s been a while, man, but it’s good to be home,” Garoppolo said.

The four met and pursued their careers. Romo played for Payton in the NFL while he was an assistant in Dallas. All of them have created the name and tradition of Eastern Illinois.


Former Eastern Illinois player Sean Payton speaks during EIU’s Night with Champions.


“When I first got here, I said, ‘This is where Coach Shanahan went,'” Payton said. “And then, years later, I’m in Dallas, and Tony comes out and then Jimmy comes out and there have been a lot of other great players that played on a lot of our teams that aren’t here that certainly would be just as deserving.” be here, but it has a little niche. That’s great. “There’s a sense of pride that we all have.”

The event sold out two days after it went on sale, and those fans filled Groninger Arena to hear the four talk about their time at Eastern and the professional success that grew from each of their time in Charleston in what was a fundraising for athletics. department. Photos were taken with the four, as well as a question and answer session with the former Panthers stars.


Former Eastern Illinois player Mike Shanahan speaks during EIU’s Night with Champions.


“Eastern doesn’t get the four of us together very often, if ever, so it’s something we’re trying to take advantage of: have a fun time tonight, raise some money for Eastern,” Garoppolo said. “They’re already headed in the right direction, but to continue to build on that foundation, that’s really what we’re here for.”

The four also reminisced about their times at Eastern together over the weekend on campus. Garoppolo checked his old house and others checked the bedrooms or restaurants they used to frequent.

“There are a couple of new buildings here and there, but Charleston is still Charleston at heart, and I love that,” Garoppolo said.

The money raised will help the athletic department and the football program that had a resurgent season (8-3 record) in Chris Wilkerson’s second season at the helm. The quartet had rave reviews for the Panthers coach on Saturday.

“Coach (Wilkerson) is a really cool guy; I got to know him a little bit,” Garoppolo said. “I’ve heard wonderful things about him. Meeting him in person confirmed everything I heard.”


Former Eastern Illinois quarterback Tony Romo speaks during EIU’s Night with Champions.


Romo played while Wilkerson was an assistant at Eastern and saw firsthand how he was able to build relationships with players.

“He was here training the staff when I was here, and to say the players gravitated toward him is an understatement,” Romo said. “He was a coach that people liked. He had the pulse of the team…he is different from the rest and I think we are very lucky to have him.”

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