Bill Romanowski: The Terrifyingly Dirty Savage of the NFL

  • Bill Romanowski won four Super Bowls and made two Pro Bowls in the NFL
  • “Romo” is best known for being one of the dirtiest players ever
  • Scandals include spitting on a player and breaking a player’s jaw and another’s eye socket 
  • Romanowski was also accused, but never convicted during the BALCO scandal
Bill Romanowski
Bill Romanowski is one of the most vicious and dirty players to ever play professional sports. [Image:]

Who is Bill Romanowski?

Many NFL fans wouldn’t recognize the name Bill Romanowski if they were to see or hear it in passing. And even those who did probably aren’t aware of the antics and controversy that the once-great linebacker got himself into.

brawling with teammates, allegedly threatening to end opponents’ careers

Imagine a player surviving the unrelenting speculation and criticism of the social media era while brawling with teammates, allegedly threatening to end opponents’ careers, and using steroids to fuel two Pro Bowl appearances and four Super Bowl championships.

This is the story of Bill Romanowski: the hard-hitting, unforgiving menace of the NFL.

Bill Romanowski: the early years

Born in the town of Vernon, Connecticut on April 2, 1966, Bill Romanowski was pushed into sports from an early age by his father, a standout baseball player. “Romo” developed his game from a young age and was picked for his school’s varsity football team as a freshman.

However, standing at 6 feet, 170 pounds, the man who went on to become a thumping linebacker knew that he needed to add weight to his frame. He spent the next two years bulking up and putting on his “man body” while playing with an unmatched fire on the field.

“He had an outstanding work ethic and played every down as if it were the last down in a championship game,” said Tom Dunn, Romanowski’s former high school coach. “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.”

That passion was put to the test during Romanowski’s senior year. He had a fever and was seriously ill at the time of one of his games, but he played through it and finished with double-digit tackles. He was at that point one of the most sought-after recruits in America and ultimately committed to Boston College over Notre Dame.

Making a name

At Boston College, Romanowski expected a long, tough road. His only hope was to make the traveling team and spend some time on special teams, but it wasn’t long before he saw regular snaps at linebacker, and by the end of BC’s 10-2 season, he was the full-time starter.

He announced his arrival on the national scene during the Eagles’ Cotton Bowl matchup against the Houston Cougars when he racked up 13 tackles (11 solo) in a 45-28 win. 

selected 80th overall in the third round of the 1988 NFL Draft

Romo’s next few years at BC were up and down, but even in a 5-6 senior campaign, he amassed a then-program-record 156 tackles. His efforts were ultimately enough to see him selected 80th overall in the third round of the 1988 NFL Draft by the San Francisco 49ers.

He entered the NFL with a similar mentality as he did in college of hoping to make an impact where he could. Even he probably never would have expected that impact would be swiping an interception in the Super Bowl as the Niners won the world championship 20-16 over the Cincinnati Bengals, or winning the whole thing the next year, too, in a 55-10 blowout over the Denver Broncos.

Romo’s professional career couldn’t have started off any better. But it wasn’t until he suited up for the Broncos (after a one-year pit stop with the Philadelphia Eagles) that he would make two Pro Bowls and win two more Super Bowls and his career would really take off.

Stark controversy 

Romanowski stayed with the Broncos from 1996-2001 and then played one year with the Oakland Raiders in 2002-03 before finally stepping away from the game.

A great career, but not one that should be remembered in history on its surface. No, the way he played the game and the situations that he got himself into is why his story is so fascinating.

After his retirement, ESPN named Romanowski as the fifth-dirtiest player in the history of professional sports. That’s where the story takes off.

kicking Arizona Cardinals fullback Larry Centers in the head

Remember the pit stop with the Eagles? Well, he was ultimately traded so that Philly could sign all of its draft picks, which they could not have done because of the salary cap with him on the roster. But in hindsight, they could have cited him kicking Arizona Cardinals fullback Larry Centers in the head as a valid reason.

A couple of years later as a member of the Broncos, Romanowski broke an unspoken rule of “taking it easy” during the preseason when he went helmet-to-helmet with and broke the jaw of Carolina Panthers quarterback Kerry Collins. Later in that same season, he spit in the face of 49ers wideout J.J. Stokes.

Two years later and while still playing in Denver, Romanowski made three illegal hits on and then punched Kansas City Chiefs tight end Tony Gonzalez, which led to him being fined $42,500. That same season, he launched a football into an undesirable region of New York Jets linebacker Bryan Cox’s body.

Ex-Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Cris Carter also admitted to putting a bounty on Romo after he claims he told him during the pregame that “I’m gonna end your career, Carter.”

Overwhelming controversy

Romanowski’s career ended on the sourest of notes in 2003. During a scrimmage, he got into a fight with teammate Marcus Williams and delivered a nasty blow to his face that crushed his eye socket. Williams was forced to medically retire from the NFL and sued Romanowski, who he said was inflicted with “roid rage,” for $3.4m. 

Romanowski was accused of being racist on account of his run-ins with Center, Stokes, and Williams. Those claims came up again after he referred to Carolina Panthers QB Cam Newton as “boy” after Newton was very short with the media in a post-Super Bowl loss press conference. 

Romo and his wife were investigated for prescription drug fraud as part of the BALCO scandal, which involved professional athletes using steroids. 

fessed to using steroids and human growth hormone

Barry Bonds, Jason Giambi, and Marion Jones were all victims of the scandal going public. The Romanowskis were never charged with a crime, but Bill fessed to using steroids and human growth hormone supplied by Victor Conte, the owner of BALCO, during a 2005 interview on 60 Minutes.

Romanowski later sent a 30-slide presentation to the Broncos as to why he should be their head coach when the job opened up in 2009, but they did not grant him a formal interview. He has made several television appearances, including with former teammate Shannon Sharpe on Undisputed, but is still recognized as one of the most controversial and outright dirty players to ever touch the gridiron.

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