A Raider by nature, Romanowski finds fit

Rebel with 49ers, Broncos, linebacker brings intensity back to Oakland defense

Super Bowl Xxxvii

January 22, 2003|By Jamison Hensley | Jamison Hensley,SUN STAFF

SAN DIEGO - Bill Roman- owski has played in Oakland for one year, but the linebacker has been a Raider in spirit his entire career.

He's the league bad boy, the player who the football world outside the Black Hole loves to hate.

Some call him a cheap-shot artist, taking out players with questionable hits. Others reluctantly call him a winner, pointing to his four Super Bowl rings.

Collectively, he's an old-school Raider, defining all that's loved and loathed about the silver and black.

In a season when the new - yet older - Raiders have gained a kinder and gentler off-the-field image, the 36-year-old maverick mouthpiece set the record straight just five minutes into yesterday's Super Bowl media day.

"Tampa Bay is the enemy," said Romanowski, who sat with his arms crossed through the one-hour session. "I hate everybody that's not a Raider."

It took him 15 years and a slight in Denver for him to find his way to the organization that carried the same outlaw image and renegade attitude.

Ten months ago, Romanowski was told by Broncos coach Mike Shanahan that the team wanted to move Ian Gold to his outside linebacker spot.

Romanowski made two phone calls. The first was to his agent instructing him to request his release. The second was to Raiders owner Al Davis.

Told that Davis was in a meeting, Romanowski left a message, saying, "I would like to help you win another Super Bowl."

Ten minutes later, Davis' secretary called back with a response. "Mr. Davis thinks you'd look good in silver and black."

That's when the raider became a Raider.

"I think this year I was meant to be a Raider," Romanowski said. "It's been a nice fit. People say my style of play fits the reputation of what a Raiders player is all about. Not only am I one of the most hated players in the league; now, I'm on one of the most hated teams."

His presence can be seen in Oakland's third-ranked run defense. He finished second among the Raiders with 90 tackles and had four sacks.

On Sunday, Romanowski will be initiating helmet-to-helmet collisions with Tampa Bay Buccaneers running back Mike Alstott and looking to knock out quarterback Brad Johnson.

Many of his teammates believe his biggest impact was bringing this nastiness back to the Raiders.

That attitude surfaced immediately. On the first day of training camp, Romanowski was disciplined for drilling running back Madre Hill, and as usual, not showing a bit of remorse afterward.

He was later fined in an exhibition game for ripping off the helmet of Tennessee Titans running back Eddie George. But nothing compares to 1997, when Romanowski (then a Bronco) spit in the face of San Francisco's J.J. Stokes in view of the nation on Monday Night Football.

"He's a madman out there, a crazy guy," said receiver Jerry Rice, a teammate of Romanowski's for seven seasons in San Francisco who also went head-to-head against him several times. "He's always going to try to hit someone and make a statement. They have to look out for him and they have to respect him.

"I knew what Bill brought to the game. At the time we needed that type of intensity."

That maniacal dedication has made him one of the league's iron men.

He has played in 224 straight games, which is tied for the fifth-longest among active players. That streak has come at a cost. He has shelled out $150,000 to $200,000 in supplements, massage therapy, a personal chiropractor.

But that has been his price for winning.

Romanowski is playing in his fifth Super Bowl and has never lost in the sport's ultimate game, winning NFL titles with both San Francisco and Denver. Should Oakland defeat the Buccaneers on Sunday, Romanowski will join Charles Haley as the only players with a fistful of title rings.

"The Raider mystique is all about winning and I believed that I could help this team win," Romanowski said. "I just knew that I was going to show up and do what I've done over the years to help this team win a championship. That's where we are now."

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