Veteran Romo still on the job, training 74 and going strong: As athletic trainer, Red Romo has become a fixture at the Naval Academy. And he has no thoughts of retiring.

November 26, 1995|By Doug Brown | Doug Brown,SUN STAFF

The baseball cap rests on a shelf in Navy trainer Red Romo's office. The Navy blue and gold are faded and the mesh is frayed. Discolored and stained with perspiration, it has never been cleaned, although Romo wears it every day during the football season.

Given to Romo by football coach Eddie Erdelatz in 1956, the treasured cap is entering its 40th season.

So is Romo. Fortieth at Navy, 50th overall, counting two at Colgate and eight at Columbia.

Romo has worn the cap while treating some of Navy's greatest athletes, the Roger Staubachs and Joe Bellinos. It has been on his head for wins over Army, Notre Dame, Maryland and Penn State, and for two Cotton Bowls, an Orange, a Holiday, a Liberty and a Garden State. Romo and the cap are serving their ninth coach, Charlie Weatherbie.

To extend its life, Romo wears the cap only during the football season now. Each December, after the Army-Navy game, he packs the cap with paper and stores it in a closet.

Romo has no intention of retiring the cap or, at 74, retiring himself. There is too much of Leon "Red" Romo in Naval Academy athletics and too much of the academy in Red Romo. The training room, The Romo Training Room, is a prominent part of the new football complex.

"He's a healer, father confessor and mother and father to the kids," said athletic director Jack Lengyel.

"He'd be worth his weight in gold even if he never taped an ankle or gave a pill," retired AD Bo Coppedge said. "He has a tremendous impact on the kids, keeping them in line, encouraging or yelling at them."

Romo never seriously entertained the idea of leaving Navy, although he could have. He could have gone to the New York Jets with coach Weeb Ewbank in the 1960s. His only regret is that he never got to be in the pantyhose commercials with Joe Namath.

4 "I could have been in the other leg," Romo said.

Romo is more than a trainer. He is an institution and a character. To amuse the players, he wears trousers decorated with whales (four pairs, different colors), lobsters, crabs, sailboats, anchors and ducks.

"It's better to wear ducks than shoot them," Romo said.

Romo doesn't baby the players or make a big deal of an injury. He tells them not to worry; let's see what it looks like tomorrow.

In 1967, when he was a running back on the plebe team, deputy director of athletics Perry Martini lost a nail when a Penn State player stepped on his finger.

"Red pushed it back on and said, 'Don't worry, kid, it'll heal in six weeks,' " Martini said.

Twenty-eight years later, studying the misshaped nail that looks like two nails on the same finger, Martini said smiling, "I keep asking Red, 'When will the six weeks start?' "

Romo is serious about his job and won't tolerate interference from coaches. When assistant athletic director Dave Smalley was men's basketball coach, he told the players after an opening win in a tournament at North Carolina State that practice would be at 10 the next morning.

He neglected to tell Romo, however. When the trainer arrived late and saw Smalley and his assistant taping ankles, he was miffed.

"This is my job," Romo said sharply, "and I'd appreciate it if you'd tell me what time practice starts from now on."

In the early 1970s Romo designed what became known as the "Romo Strap." Used by hundreds of colleges and high schools, the cervical strap is snapped onto the helmet and shoulder pads and reduces the possibility of neck injuries by keeping a player's head from snapping too far forward or backward.

Romo also oversees the players' diet. Hard, brittle toast only; otherwise, players fill up on bread and rolls.

"I've had ex-players' wives call me years later and ask how to make oven-dried toast," Romo said.

And no A-1 Sauce. Too spicy, especially when half a bottle is poured on one steak, as some players are wont to do. There is a standing hazing prank pulled by veterans on first-year players: Go ask Red for A-1 sauce.

Romo digs into his pocket for a couple of bucks and growls at the rookie, "Here, there's a supermarket a mile down the road, go get a bottle yourself."

Assistant trainer Dee Jones recalls that two years ago in Louisville, Romo and then-coach George Chaump got into a heated argument in the team dining room over a menu item. In an effort to prove his point, Romo stormed through a door that he thought led to the kitchen.

The door locked behind him and he found himself in the alley outside the hotel in a torrential rain. When he walked around to the front door and returned to the dining room, drenched, Romo found Chaump laughing uproariously. Romo broke out in laughter himself.

Romo makes most travel arrangements, including room assignments and the religious services schedule. During a trip to Atlanta, the priest had forgotten to bring wine to the service, and Romo volunteered to get some from the hotel bar.

"I walked into the room and said jokingly, 'Father, next time don't drink the whole goblet before you serve it,' " Romo said. "I didn't realize the service had started and everyone was in meditation."

A few years ago, the baseball team was playing at Villanova, which didn't have dugouts, only benches along the baselines. While explaining the signals, coach Joe Duff said that when Romo went over to straighten the bats, the suicide squeeze was on.

Navy loaded the bases in the fourth inning and Duff nudged Romo to fix the bats. The runner on third raced for home, the batter put the bunt down and Navy had the lead.

"An inning later, I noticed the bats were scattered around, so I went out over to straighten them," Romo said. "Just as I bent over, I remembered we had a runner on third. You can guess what happened: The runner was out coming home and Joe screamed at me."

It's a good thing Navy won, Romo said, "or Joe would have made me walk home."

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