Former NFL linebacker Bill Romanowski was known for a lot of things during his 16-year career.
He was a winner as a four-time Super Bowl champion (he appeared in five title games).
He was dependable, appearing in 243 consecutive games.
He was quick and deadly, as evidenced by over 1,100 career tackles and nearly 40 sacks.
— Alex Leak (@freakaleak1209) February 26, 2021
However, Romanowski was also an alleged dirty player and cheap-shot artist.
He was accused of being racist by opponents and teammates alike.
Romanowski had a bit of a rage issue as well.
Then, there were the substances he put in his body that raised several questions.
Without a doubt, Romanowski was a player that brought excitement as well as consternation to the football field.
His polarizing behavior was both an asset and a liability for the teams he played for (and himself personally).
This is the story of Bill Romanowski.
Early Life and College Choice
William Thomas Romanowski was born on April 2, 1966 in Rockville, Connecticut.
Because of the influence of his father (a former baseball standout) Romanowski was into sports.
After playing youth sports, he eventually suited up for the Rockville High School football team as a freshman.
When he reported to the varsity squad as a sophomore, Romanowski was little more than six feet tall and 170 pounds.
Since he envisioned a future full of football, Romanowski realized he needed to bulk up.
“…he filled out in his last two years,” said Romanowski’s high school coach, Tom Dunn. “He had an outstanding work ethic and played every down as if it were the last down in a championship game. At times, we had to try to tone him down a bit so that he wouldn’t expend all of his energy before the game was over.”
During those final two years in high school, Romanowski developed into an all-state linebacker who also saw time as an offensive lineman, tight end, fullback and punter.
Whenever he took the field, Romanowski’s opponents had to keep their eyes peeled.
One wrong step, and he could de-clete the poor ball carrier.
Romanowski was also dedicated to his teammates and played through anything.
Before a game in his senior year, Romanowski, nursing a serious fever and infection, played through the misery and compiled double-digit tackles.
By then, colleges from all over the nation were clamoring for his services.
Romanowski narrowed his list to Boston College and Notre Dame.
He eventually chose to play closer to home and committed to Boston College.
Many don't know that Bill Romanowski was a Boston College Eagle 🦅 pic.twitter.com/i0IwX02vc2
— CFB Home (@CFBHome) May 19, 2021
Immediate Impact as an Eagle
After arriving in Boston during the summer of 1984, Romanowski did not expect to play in his freshman year.
As pre-season practice came to a close, head coach Jack Bicknell knew he needed to get his new linebacker somewhere on the field.
“My goal coming in was to make the travelling team, maybe play special teams, and try to work my way up,” Romanowski said in 1985. “I thought there was no way I would play linebacker my freshman year, next thing I knew I was on a plane headed for Alabama to play on special teams.”
As the ‘84 season progressed, Romanowski received more playing time at linebacker.
By the time the Eagles 10-2 season ended, he was entrenched as a starter.
Boston College faced the Houston Cougars in the Cotton Bowl Classic after the season and Romanowski put on a show.
BILL ROMANOWSKI, #⃣5⃣3⃣
Linebacker – Boston College
1⃣9⃣8⃣5⃣ Cotton Bowl Classic
— Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic (@CottonBowlGame) February 19, 2020
Showing the range that would mark his career, Romanowski tracked and hunted the opposing ball carriers with a vengeance.
In the Eagles 45-28 blowout victory, he piled up 13 total tackles, 11 of which were solo tackles.
Those 11 unassisted tackles set a Cotton Bowl record and Romanowski became the Classic’s first true freshman to earn Felix McKnight Outstanding Defensive Player honors.
“The attitude on the field was different that day than at any other time during the season, we were all playing together pulling for each other,” said Romanowski in 1985.
The Eagles crashed down to earth in 1985 with a 4-8 record.
However, they bounced back the following year, going 9-3 during the 1986 season.
In the 1986 Hall of Fame Bowl, Boston College outlasted the Georgia Bulldogs for a 27-24 victory.
Meanwhile, Romanowski was dedicated to improving himself on the field and took his role as a college athlete seriously.
“While my friends were out until four or five in the morning, my self-imposed curfews were designed to ensure eight hours of sleep, minimum,” he wrote in his autobiography.
During Romanowski’s senior season in 1987, the Eagles nosedived again, finishing the year 5-6.
However, that wasn’t a deterrent for Romanowski.
Bill Romanowski is back on the gridiron tomorrow night for the Cotton Bowl!
— BC Football (@BCFootball) May 13, 2020
That season, he racked up a program record 156 tackles (101 were solo) and two interceptions.
Romanowski earned the George “Bulger” Lowe Award as New England’s top college football player.
He was no slouch in the classroom either.
Romanowski’s ‘B’ average in his studies led to him being a recipient of the Thomas F. Scanlan Memorial Award as BC’s top football scholar-athlete.
Romanowski would be Inducted into the Boston College Varsity Club Athletic Hall of Fame in 2011.
Romanowski Wins Two Super Bowls as a 49er
In 1987, the San Francisco 49ers finished the year 13-2 (strike-shortened season) and looked poised to win another championship.
Instead, the Vikings came to town and proceeded to upset the Niners 36-24.
To avoid another humiliating repeat in 1988, San Francisco went defense with their first three picks of the ‘88 draft.
With the 80th overall selection in the third round, the 49ers drafted Romanowski.
Things couldn’t have worked out better for him.
— Niners Nation (@NinersNation) November 27, 2015
In addition to the stars the Niners had on both sides of the ball, Romanowski was joining a linebacker group that included Charles Haley, Rikki Ellison and Keena Turner.
Although the 1988 season was up-and-down for San Fran, the Niners eventually finished with a 10-6 record.
After dispatching Minnesota and Chicago in the first two rounds of the postseason by a combined 62-12, it was on to Super Bowl XXIII.
As San Fran battled Cincinnati in a tight contest, Romanowski picked off Bengals quarterback Boomer Esiason in the third quarter.
That pick helped turn the momentum in the 49ers’ favor and eventually led to a 20-16 victory.
Remarkably, the team returned to the title game in Romanowski’s second season.
After losing only two games during the regular season, the Niners whipped Minnesota and the Rams in the Divisional round and NFC title game, respectively.
The Denver Broncos did little to slow down the 49er assault and fell victim to a 55-10 thrashing.
In three postseason games, the Niners outscored their opponents by a combined 126-26.
In his first two years in the NFL, Romanowski had 106 total tackles, one interception, one sack, four forced fumbles and three fumble recoveries.
He was also a two-time Super Bowl champion.
The 1990 49ers were determined to three-peat as Super Bowl champions.
Their goal was nearly met as they cruised through the regular season and into the playoffs before meeting the New York Giants.
In a vicious, physical battle, Niners quarterback Joe Montana was knocked out of the NFC Championship game and the Giants prevailed 15-13.
After missing the postseason in ‘91, the Niners came up short again in the 1992 playoffs, losing to the Cowboys by ten in the NFC Championship game.
1993 was a near repeat of ‘92.
— Dave 🚽 (@DavidGuidera) November 2, 2018
San Francisco returned to the NFC title game before losing again to Dallas 38-21.
Romanowski was a stalwart during this period.
He started every game and had more than 75 total tackles each season including ‘93 when his total was 104.
He also tallied six total sacks, an interception, three forced fumbles and four fumble recoveries.
After 1993 concluded, Romanowski was not re-signed by San Fran and the Philadelphia Eagles quickly snatched him up.
For the next two years, Romanowski was installed as a starter for the Eagles.
A losing record in 1994 was followed by a 10-6 record in 1995.
During the season, Romanowski was ejected from a game against the Cardinals when he kicked Arizona fullback Larry Centers in the head after a play.
He was also fined $4,500 for the incident.
The Eagles made the playoffs and outscored the Lions 58-37 in the Wild Card round and then fell to the Cowboys in the Divisional round.
Once the season concluded, Romanowski was shown the door yet again and he was signed days later by Denver.
Despite his Behavior, Romanowski Returns to the Super Bowl with Denver
As the mid-90s dawned in Denver, the Broncos found their talent woefully thin.
A playoff appearance in 1993 begat two straight seasons of middling football.
In an effort to reverse the trend, the Broncos brought in Romanowski along with a number of other free agents in 1996.
The moves paid off as Denver only lost three games before getting upset by Jacksonville in the Divisional Playoffs.
Romanowski was voted to his first Pro Bowl after posting 77 tackles, three interceptions, three sacks and three fumble recoveries.
Possibly insane Classic Denver Broncos – Bill Romanowski… would make a great movie villian with poses like this. pic.twitter.com/0llkugr855
— Seth Poho (@sethpoho) January 24, 2016
In 1997, the team returned to the postseason after a 12-4 regular season.
As the Broncos were pursuing their goal of a championship, Romanowski found himself in the news for the wrong reasons.
During a preseason game against Carolina, he lost his cool and was fined $20,000 for breaking the jaw of Panthers quarterback Kerry Collins on a helmet-to-helmet hit.
In Week 16, a shouting match between Romanowski and 49ers receiver JJ Stokes led to the linebacker spitting in Stokes’ face.
The incident became an immediate hot button topic around the league.
NFL official Gene Washington reviewed the matter and fined Romanowski $7,500.
Numerous NFL players, including fellow Broncos Shannon Sharpe and Willie Green, didn’t think the fine was steep enough.
In fact, both players believed the fine was a slap in the face for black players, an accusation that ruffled Washington’s feathers.
“I’m disappointed to know my decision was viewed by some players as being a minor punishment and that it would have been more severe if a black player spit on a white player,” said Washington.
Sharpe then attempted to clarify his original statement.
“This was never personal. `Romo’ is my teammate,” Sharpe said. “It’s never been a racial issue (between teammates). I made it crystal clear that it wasn’t a racial issue and that I didn’t think Romo was a racist.”
Realizing he was clearly in the wrong, Romanowski took to the airwaves to apologize for his actions.
“What I did was wrong, and I hold myself accountable for my actions,” Romanowski said. “I have to live with it – I have to live with it the rest of my life,” he said.
With the spitting incident (somewhat) behind them, Denver continued their quest for a Super Bowl appearance.
After dispatching Jacksonville, Kansas City and Pittsburgh in the playoffs, the Broncos faced Green Bay in Super Bowl XXXII.
In a thrilling game that wasn’t decided until the final minutes, Denver upset the favored Packers 31-24.
Despite his poor behavior that season, Romanowski had a third Super Bowl ring.
Another Ring in ‘98
With the Collins and Stokes incidents behind him, Romanowski tried to stay on the straight and narrow in 1998.
“I sometimes get caught up in the heat of battle,” Romanowski said later that year, “but I’m not a dirty player.”
That season, he posted 72 tackles, 7.5 sacks, two picks, two forced fumbles and three fumble recoveries.
Romanowski was voted to his second Pro Bowl after the season.
As Romanowski excelled, so did Denver.
Bill Romanowski versus the #Raiders
Bill Romanowski versus the Broncos. pic.twitter.com/1hf558i67n
— AFL Godfather🏴☠️👓🏈 (@NFLMAVERICK) October 12, 2021
The Broncos took a 14-2 record into the playoffs and beat Miami and the Jets in the first two rounds.
In Super Bowl XXXIII, Denver eliminated Atlanta fairly easily 34-19.
After 11 years in the NFL, Romanowski was now the proud owner of four Super Bowl rings.
During the next three years, the Broncos would only return to the playoffs once, after the 2000 season.
Romanowski started every game and had an average of 70 tackles each year.
He also collected 10.5 sacks combined in 2000 and 2001.
Unfortunately, in 1999, Romanowski was also fined for illegal hits and a punch thrown at Chiefs tight end Tony Gonzalez and throwing a football at the groin area of Jets linebacker Bryan Cox.
The total fines levied against Romanowski by the league totaled $42,500.
Throughout his time in Denver, Romanowski was a ‘committed’ player who prepared thoroughly for each opponent.
“Romo gets so geeked up on game days, you can’t even talk to him,” then Broncos teammate David Diaz-Infante once told Sports Illustrated.
“Romo” also knew how to get under the skin of those charged with defending him.
“He’s like the crafty catcher who’s asking you about your girlfriend as soon as you step into the batter’s box,” said then Denver defensive coordinator Greg Robinson.
It was around this time in his career when Romo’s commitment to his long-term health was made public.
In interviews, he would detail what he did to prepare his body to withstand the rigors of the NFL.
Bill Romanowski Denver Broncos hard-hitting linebacker pic.twitter.com/WYIpVaKTqF
— Luis mendez (@broncoslouis58) January 16, 2019
For instance, there was the mysterious suitcase that Romanowski carried with him.
A closer look in the case revealed an assortment of substances to soothe aching muscles and relieve nagging injuries.
Romanowski was also known to spend upwards of $100,000 a year on vitamins, minerals, nutritional supplements and special training.
He also experimented with treatments such as hyperbaric chambers and deep tissue massage.
Practices and workouts were no time to slack off for Romanowski either.
“No matter how hard I worked, I didn’t feel I was working hard enough. No matter how hard I trained, I wasn’t training hard enough,” he wrote in his autobiography. “Whatever I was doing, it wasn’t enough.”
Despite his hard work and dedication to football, Romanowski was eventually released by Denver after the 2001 season.
Although he had played 14 years, Romanowski insisted that he wasn’t finished and predicted he would be picked up by a franchise in need of his services.
5th Super Bowl Appearance, Marcus Williams Incident
He was correct.
A week after his release, the Raiders were the fourth team to employ Romanowski.
Given his questionable game and practice demeanor, Romanowski couldn’t have been more thrilled to be signed by the silver and black.
“It’s like it was meant to be, me and the Raiders, eventually,” Romanowski said. “They make you feel like you belong. It’s a team that doesn’t look at things like chronological age, and just looks to see if you’re a football player. I wanted to go out with a winner and winning is what Oakland is all about.”
As if on cue, the Raiders and Romanowski did win.
2002 ~ Oakland Raiders vs. Denver Broncos ~ Bill Romanowski pic.twitter.com/hLU80iDwIT
— Jose Carlos Fajardo (@jcfphotog) January 28, 2021
In 2002, his first year with the club, Oakland went 11-5 and defeated the Jets and Titans in the playoffs.
Romanowski was in the NFL title game for a fifth time as the Raiders faced the Buccaneers in Super Bowl XXXVII.
A fifth ring was not to be, however.
Behind a masterful game plan by former Oakland coach Jon Gruden, Tampa Bay dominated the Raiders 48-21.
The following year, Oakland imploded.
During the midst of a disappointing 4-12 record, Romanowski was a national talking point yet again.
In the middle of a team scrimmage, Romanowski and backup tight end Marcus Williams were embroiled in a war of words.
Romanowski then grabbed Williams’ helmet, tore it off his head, and delivered a punch.
The blow crushed Williams’ eye socket and he was forced to retire from the game.
Back in 2003 Bill Romanowski tore the helmet off of his teammate Marcus Williams and beat him in the face fracturing his eye socket, breaking his nose and knocking out his teeth ending Williams career. Five years before that he spit in JJ Stokes FACE and was only fined 7,500 pic.twitter.com/A6C9R4PpAA
— Shareef Aleem (@Reefman44Aleem) November 16, 2019
Wiliams sued Romanowski for $3.4 million. Instead, he was awarded $340,000 for lost wages and medical expenses.
After a year in which he only saw action in three games, (collecting 20 tackles and two sacks), Romanowski retired.
In 16 seasons, Romanowski accumulated 1,118 total tackles, 39.5 sacks, 18 interceptions including one pick-six, 18 fumble recoveries and 16 forced fumbles.
Romanowski has attacked retirement just as hard as he attacked his playing career.
Two years after leaving the game, he appeared in the movies The Longest Yard and Shooting Gallery.
Kevin Nash and Bill Romanowski in The Longest Yard (2005) pic.twitter.com/32WD8xYmtH
— Frame Found (@framefound) May 28, 2021
That same year, he wrote an autobiography titled Romo My Life on the Edge: Living Dreams and Slaying Dragons.
Almost too predictably, Romanowski was a part of the BALCO Scandal that rocked the sports world in the early 2000s.
In a 60 Minutes interview in 2005, he admitted to using steroids and human growth hormone that he received from Victor Conte, BALCO’s owner.
Not to be deterred in his pursuit of good health and life longevity, in 2006 Romanowski founded Nutrition53, a nutritional supplement company.
In 2009, he applied for the open head coach position with the Broncos.
However, even armed with a 30-page presentation on why he should be hired, the team ultimately went with Josh McDaniels.
Racism allegations resurfaced after Romanowski called Carolina quarterback Cam Newton “boy” in a tweet after the Panthers lost Super Bowl 50.
He later apologized.
For the next several years, Romanowski continued to have bit parts in movies such as Benchwarmers, Get Smart, Jack and Jill and Blended.
Still going strong at the age of 55, Romanowski is married to his wife, Julie, and has two kids, Dalton and Alexandra.
He has vowed to always look for success in his life.
“There will always be my next dream,” he said in 2011. “And I will always be in pursuit.”