Split Personality

Split Personality

John Branch

Broncos linebacker Bill Romanowski is an array of contradictions, gentle one moment and angry the next

THE VOICE THAT SLIPS through Bill Romanowski’s lips is almost startling in its meekness. The opposite of his rambunctious on-field persona, it is quiet and controlled, polite and well-mannered, higher-pitched than expected. However, Romanowski’s steely eyes skew the effect, as does a barely detectable thread of madness in his voice. Think Jack Nicholson with a small shot of helium.

Revered in Denver, despised in 30 other NFL cities, the Broncos’ strongside linebacker is in the 13th season of an amazingly consistent and productive career in which he has had at least 76 tackles each year since 1990. The two-time Pro Bowler has four Super Bowl tings, two apiece with the San Francisco 49ers and Denver, and his teams have missed the playoffs only three times in his career.

But it’s impossible to quantify what Romanowski means to the Broncos. He delivers a much-needed nasty edge to an otherwise nondescript Denver defense, although nastiness can be a matter of perspective. Romanowski routinely is dubbed one of the league’s dirtiest players, and he has done much to enhance that reputation. Three times in 1999, for instance, the NFL slapped a fine on him for various forms of unsportsmanlike conduct.

Romanowski seems to thrive on his juiced-up “Romocop” image. He almost always carries a black duffel bag, and inside, right on top, sits a tackle box-like tray filled with all sizes and shapes of pills, a mobile GNC outlet. He doesn’t hide it, often leaving the duffel unzipped, even in the midst of drug-related allegations. Romanowski’s wife, doctor, and two friends became wrapped up in a prescription-fraud case during the past year, allegedly feeding quantities of the diet drug/stimulant Phentermine to the linebacker. In August, Romanowski himself was indicted on similar charges. It’s not an issue of whether he took the drug–Phentermine is not banned by the NFL, though it is banned by most other sports–but how he got it.

Nevertheless, the 34-year-old Romanowski keeps charging forward. He entered the 2000 season having never missed a game since his career began in 1988, and he had started all but one game since 1990. What’s more, he doesn’t blink at the suggestion that he might still be playing football 10 years from now.

FOOTBALL DIGEST sat down with Romanowski recently, and he gave us a rundown of his controversial career.

FOOTBALL DIGEST: How old do you feel?

BILL ROMANOWSKI: I feel like I’m about 24, maybe 25. This is the best I’ve felt since I’ve been in the NFL–absolutely. I took my training to a new level this year, in the way I take care of myself. I’ve got a lot of different people that I hire to take care of my body.

FD: How many people make up Team Romo?

BR: Team Romo is about 12 deep. I have a new high-performance trainer, Tim Adams, and we’ve done a lot of great work. I have a guy from Canada, Mark Lindsay, come in and work on me three times throughout the offseason. He’s probably one of the best in the world at high-performance, active-release [massage] techniques. I have chiropractors, an acupuncturist, massage therapists, nutritionists–you name it. Each guy brings something different to the table that’s very valuable in taking care of your body.

FD: You get everything analyzed on a regular basis, including your urine and your stool. What’s that all about?

BR: I get my hormones analyzed. When I say hormones, I’m talking adrenal hormones, human-growth hormones. To keep your hormones in balance, you have to make sure your zinc levels are up. I do get my urine and stool analyzed, the whole works.

FD: Isn’t that a little much?

BR: It’s all about taking care of yourself. [Retired British sprinter] Linford Christie ran a 10-flat in the 100 at age 40. Age really isn’t a factor as long as you take care of yourself.

FD: Do you see yourself playing for several more years?

BR: Absolutely. It really comes down to playing as long as I’m hungry. If you’re passionate about the game–which I am–and if you’re having fun, you can do this for a long time. But you have to take care of yourself.

FD: Looking back on your career so far, what gives you the most pride?

BR: I’ve been fortunate to play in and win four Super Bowls. I’m really proud of that.

FD: You’re loved in Denver, despised elsewhere. Is that OK with you?

BR: Absolutely. I seem to get the loudest boos in opposing stadiums, so I must be doing something right. They wouldn’t boo players if they were bad players and they didn’t know who they were.

FD: Are you a dirty player?

BR: I don’t think so. I consider myself a guy who goes 110% on every play. It’s a tough game. It’s not a friendly little game of flag football. You’re trying to rip people’s heads off out there, and they’re trying to do the same to you.

FD: Do you regret anything you’ve done on the field?

BR: Yeah. Yeah. Spitting in J.J. Stokes’ face [during a 1997 “Monday Night Football” game against the 49ers in San Francisco]–I shouldn’t have done it. Other than that, I can’t think of anything.

FD: Do the words “aggressive” and “dirty” essentially mean the same thing, depending on your perspective?

BR: You can say that. It depends on which side you’re on.

FD: If you were a running back hitting a hole, who would you least like to slam into?

BR: [Broncos middle linebacker] Al Wilson. He’s an explosive hitter. He’s a better hitter than I am.

FD: As for your off-field problems concerning prescription fraud, what’s the real story?

BR: I’m not talking about it.

FD: You have been criticized in the media for remaining silent on the issue while your wife, doctor, and a couple friends have gone through the ordeal.

BR: I’m not going to talk about it.

FD: Will you talk about it when everything is settled?

BR: Maybe once it’s over with, I’ll talk about it.

FD: People might be surprised to know that you’re a big Scrabble freak. Are you the ultimate Scrabble player?

BR: I like to call myself the ultimate Scrabble player. There’s really nobody on this team who can beat me. Trevor Pryce can give me a close game; Ed McCaffrey won’t play me because he hates to lose. And then there’s Tom Rouen–he may have a bad football game because he’s all worked up about getting beat in Scrabble.

FD: Have you ever lost in Scrabble?

BR: I actually made one bad play out of 20 or 25 games with Trevor. And he got me–once–because I made a bad play. You’ve just got to know how to put them in there.

FD: What did Pryce do?

BR: He ran up and down the aisle of the plane for about a half-hour, jumping, yelling, and screaming.

FD: The Broncos won consecutive Super Bowls, then went 6-10 in a nightmarish 1999 season. With a year of hindsight, what do you think happened?

BR: The loss of John Elway was a lot more than people expected. Then injuries, then two really short offseasons. It was a combination of those things. We put ourselves in a hole [at 0-4] that was tough to get out of. It wasn’t like we were getting blown out–we just didn’t have enough. It’s a game of inches. And it just didn’t feel good out there.

FD: Last year didn’t “feel” right?

BR: No, it didn’t. It really didn’t, and I can’t put my finger on one thing. I think it was just a culmination of lots of things. You can feel it when it’s right

FD: This may sound a little premature to a guy who sounds ready to play another 10 years, but how do you want to be remembered?

BR: As a guy on the field who got absolutely everything out of what he had. When a guy lines up against me, he knows it’s going to be a long day.

COPYRIGHT 2000 Century Publishing

COPYRIGHT 2000 Gale Group