IRVING, Texas -- Their friendship, about a decade old, began on a shuttle bus as Jason Witten and Tony Romo traveled from the airport to the Dallas Cowboys' Valley Ranch training facility in hopes of fulfilling their lifelong quests to be in the NFL.
Their relationship was forged on the practice field under the glare of Bill Parcells, who challenged them nonstop mentally and physically, and at Witten's house, where he and his wife, Michelle, and Romo, their favorite third wheel, spent many evenings watching "The Bachelor" and "American Idol."
And it has been solidified during long conversations about the bitter disappointments and frustrations of trying to make America's Team a winner again. These days, Romo and Witten, the longest-tenured teammates on the Cowboys, discuss the joys of fatherhood and ridding themselves of a legacy neither wants.
"Most of our careers, we've been taught the same way," Witten said. "I can be honest with him, and he can be honest with me. If he doesn't like a route, he can tell me.
"Any time you can have honest communication, it allows you to be in search of perfection. We've had a lot of smiles and success and happy times together, and unfortunately had a lot of tough days together. I believe we've been built tougher and stronger because of those experiences."
If the Cowboys figure out a way to lose Sunday at Seattle, it won't be because the team overlooked the Seahawks.
Romo and Witten won't let that happen. Not this season.
Last season, Romo returned to a game against the San Francisco 49ers with a broken rib and punctured lung. Witten played last week less than a month after suffering a lacerated spleen.
"It just shows the commitment level this guy has to play the game," Romo said of Witten. "It shows how much he loves football, how much he loves to be out here competing, and I'm lucky to have a guy like him in our locker room.
"I can't say enough about the respect he's earned from everybody for his attitude through this whole process. He's the best teammate."
And that's among the reasons they bonded quickly. They're the same guy. Two dudes compelled to succeed.
"Jason and me had similar ideals and thought processes about what we wanted to do in the game on and off the field, and it allowed us to connect -- and he's the first guy I saw on the shuttle from the airport when I got here," Romo said.
"We both believe in Jesus, and when I was younger, he was married that first year so I hung out with him and his wife. You get really close with some people, and I got close with him and his wife."
When they weren't watching TV together, they were discussing the nuances of running routes and how to attack certain coverages. Witten, the first-round talent who dropped into the third round, and Romo, the undrafted free agent, shared their dreams about earning their places among the NFL's elite.
"When you move to a new town, you have a tight inner circle because there's not a whole lot of people around and you're so busy," Witten said. "He was somebody I could trust, and the relationship grew from there."
Coach Jason Garrett uses both as examples of how to be a professional athlete, from the way they participate in meetings to their practice habits to their in-season and offseason conditioning.
"We're both perfectionists," Witten said. "We demand we get it right. The way you prepare and the way you think is the key."
After all the personal accolades each has earned and the millions they've made, winning is the only motivator left. Witten and Romo are both on the backside of their careers in a city where winning reigns.
For once, Romo and Witten want to play on a team that maximizes its potential from the start of the season until the end.
They understand one playoff win since their arrival in 2003 is not good enough.
"You grow up together, but what you remember the most is wanting to win a championship," Witten said. "Working together for a goal, having adversity, and, hopefully, ultimately overcoming it and doing it with people you care about is what's important."