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Remembering Dirtbag Bill Romanowski (Note: Not Dead)

Writer's Note: Hi, I'm Dope Ropes. I'm a nerd from the South Side of Chicago with historical NFL gambling success who began blogging my picks and weird-ass analysis on an independent site four years ago, just trying to have fun while making money for my friends (including Carl). A couple years ago, I left insane voicemails on Red Line Radio and Carl eventually brought me on as a Barstool Chicago intern to write NFL gambling blogs throughout last season. Currently, quarantine is overlapping with paternity leave from my real job, so I'm taking the opportunity to write about what I love for a company and fan base that I love. Follow on Twitter @DopeRopesChi 

Carl recently gave me some feedback that I should switch my Barstool avatar from my real face to "some NFL QB from the 90's" because nobody knows who the fuck I am. Accurate statement and great feedback. I thought about NFL greats that I truly admire, but where's the fun in that?

Gimme Bill Romanowski. He was one of the most feared linebackers over his 16-year career (1988-2003), but he was also one of the biggest scumbags to ever play the game. Kicking heads, spitting in faces, breaking fingers in the pile, punching opponents in the face, punching teammates in the face... you get it. For these reasons, media outlets typically avoid any discussion of this man today.

But again, I'm from the South Side of Chicago, so I'm no stranger to scumbags. From ages 13-15, my Friday nights were spent at public parks watching the toughest kid from one school fight the toughest kid from another school while we drank the grossest alcoholic concoctions (i.e gin and Gatorade) until the cops showed up and we hopped 10x more fences than any cop could ever dream of hopping. Just good, clean entertainment. Hand me some popcorn and bring on the carnage - I am one with the scumbags.

I wanted to brush up on my research of Bill Romanowski, but since the NFL has buried his interviews like the Deacon Jones "head slap" video...

I needed to access my Sean McVay-like memory to recall an episode of 60 Minutes from the mid-2000's that profiled Romanowski. Here are the key takeaways from the Romanowski interview (I'm slapping a big "allegedly" over all of this in case my memory fails me):

 #1) The hit on Kerry Collins

The interviewer asked Bill about this hit from 1997. I remember it. Romanowski disfigured Kerry Collins' face and blood gushed out of Collins' mouth so heavily that it appeared as dark as chocolate syrup. It looked fake.

In the interview, with no hesitation and a twinkle in his eye, Romanowski responded, "It was the greatest hit of my life." 

You wanna know the most absurd part about this? It was a fucking PRESEASON game!!! No days off, I suppose. 

Not only did Romanowski not receive a suspension for this, but he was fined only $20,000. For the life of me, I don't know how he financially recovered from being fined the price of a midsize sedan.

#2) The tackle box full of supplements

Bill Romanowski had a literal tackle box full of pills, like a fisherman who wants to power clean and jerk his boat onto the water. He personally gutted over 100 pills per day, and he had a mini tackle box for his young son to slam roughly 50 pills per day. Cute. And by "cute" I mean "one of the more disturbing things I've seen in my life."

#3) Sitting on John Elway's lap

After suffering a severe concussion, Romanowski didn't want anyone to notice so he ran to the sidelines as quickly as possible to grab a seat. He later learned that he had sat on John Elway's lap instead of the bench. Funny, right? Just a good ol' fashioned knee-slapper of head trauma.

Ok, so that covers the 60 Minutes special. Let's dive into another fun fact.

Bill Romanowski played in 243 consecutive games, which is Top-10 all-time across all positions. For context, Phillip Rivers has played in 225 consecutive games, and that streak dates back to when he only had one child. This Romanowski stat is astounding for several reasons:

  1. The obvious - he was playing a physical position in a violent game with a high frequency of collisions. How did he not miss any games due to injury? He had an iron will and, well… drugs… lots of drugs.
  2. He had 20 documented concussions. It felt like he tackled exclusively with the crown of his helmet. Just used his skull as a battering ram. I think N64's NFL Blitz based its gameplay on Romanowski's tackling technique. But did Romanowski miss any games due to concussion? Fuck no. "Get back in there, son!" Today's NFL concussion protocol has more to go, but it has come a looong way.
  3. He was a disgustingly dirty player who should have been suspended a billion times. He tried to injure opposing players, and he told you he was trying injure opposing players. As a gambling man, I can tell you that even the best defensive players are worth only 1-2 points in the spread because of limited opportunities to touch the ball, but when a defender threatens to take out a high-value position like QB (can be worth as high as 7-10 points), that's an entirely different value proposition. Reckless players like this get suspended out of a career (Vontaze Burfict), but Romanowski got slapped on the wrist.
  4. He was on ALL of the substances. He never got caught because he was taking shit that the NFL hadn't even heard of. This guy was a fucking MD in beating the system and cultivating mass.

Romanowski was a piece of shit in many ways that we should all wholeheartedly condemn (grotesque hatred, cheap violence, and alleged racism), but it's undeniable that his maniacal approach made him a valued asset in the NFL for over a decade (4 Super Bowl wins and 2 Pro Bowls). He got the most out of himself and gave everything that he had - anything less, and he wouldn't have built a livelihood through football. Even though he took the game to extremely dark places, it clearly did not impact his ability to stay on the field and it didn't detract from a winning culture, so how much can you fault him? And at least the guy limited his violence to other football players, which is more than you can say about some currently-active NFL players.

Most of us are very different from Bill Romanowski, but many of us can identify with him on one thing - he operated entirely out of fear. He was perpetually afraid of others perceiving him as a zero. He was scared of not being good enough, fast enough, or tough enough, so he dialed it up to ELEVEN at all times. It's pretty simple psychology: he made others afraid of him before they discovered how afraid he was of them.

Fear manifests in very different, fucked-up ways. Throughout my childhood, I had chronic panic attacks from anxiety and insomnia from obsessive-compulsive disorder, centering around the fear of not being good enough. I've improved through years of therapy, but for that reason, I always hesitate to label someone as "crazy."

With that said, I still think this motherfucker was pretty crazy.

Watching Romanowski as a kid, I viewed him as a real-life version of a villain from an 80's action movie mixed with a WWE heel. I feared him, and that was the point. I don't like Bill Romanowski, but I like that he existed in the NFL. He is a symbol of a bygone era that deserves to remain in the past, and he serves as a contrasting example to demonstrate the NFL's progression in cleaning up the game. He's a flawed human, and because of that I find him infinitely more interesting than some of today's NFL stars who neatly manicure their image and omit their imperfections through a team of PR professionals.

Bill, for better or worse, you're my avatar now.