CHICAGO | Paul Massat was too excited to notice icicles hanging from his chin or no feeling in both feet Monday night.
He was at bone-numbing Soldier Field to watch the Bears biggest game this season, a must-win test against the Cowboys, played in single-digit temperatures.
Thornton Fractional South's defensive backs/wide receivers coach hit the jackpot with six tickets to the game that he didn't buy, win, or find in a Christmas stocking.
He got them from good friend and former teammate at Eastern Illinois University — Cowboys' quarterback Tony Romo.
To the avid fan, that's like Jay Cutler buying you dinner and offering to drive.
Massat played slot receiver his senior year at EIU when Romo was a sophomore. They were quite a combination in 2001, a poor man's Cutler-Marshall tandem.
"I would've been the No. 1 receiver had I not gotten hurt," Massat said. "I had 30 some catches before I blew my knee out.
"Our free safety was our holder and he blew his knee out. I was the backup holder and against Illinois State, I blew my knee out. It was one of those freak plays."
Aren't they all?
"We still keep in touch ... texts, emails ... I was invited to Tony's wedding about two years ago," Massat said. "Tony is a good guy. His sophomore year, he put up great stats but, no, you didn't see (NFL stardom) at all."
Romo went on to become the EIU and Ohio Valley Conference career record holder for season (34) and career touchdown passes (85).
The records he doesn't own at EIU belong to the guy who preceded him — current New Orleans Saints coach Sean Payton.
"Tony was the classic football story. First guy at practice. Last to leave. He wasn't drafted but he just worked hard and waited for it to pay off," Massat said.
Romo signed with Dallas as a free agent and held on placekicks his first two years. Today, he is one of the highest-paid athletes in pro sports.
Watching Romo take on the Bears Monday night brought back memories of those EIU days for Massat, who refuses to wear their relationship on his sleeve the way many would.
"It's not my style," he said.
College football is constantly evolving, its players getting faster, stronger and more talented every season. Massat briefly walked that fine line of stardom at EIU.
The 6-foot, 185-pounder had close to 120 career receptions for the Panthers, good for sixth-place in the record book. But the game's evolution soon knocked him much farther down that list.
Erik Lara, a slot receiver at EIU, has 105 receptions this season and had 136 in 2012.
The current stats on QB Jimmy Garoppolo are just plain sick: 4,729 yards, 51 touchdowns, 9 interceptions. THIS season!
Tony Romo is one of the NFL's top five quarterbacks, though life in Dallas has been an enduring soap opera for him.
One playoff win and his 11-15 career record in December, prior to Monday's game, has made him an easy target.
"He's the quarterback of America's Team, so he's going to be criticized hard and often," Massat said. "And he can take it."
Romo has no other choice.
Not when you sign a six-year, $108 million contract and your net worth in 2013, including endorsements, is $70 million.