The Broncos did. Having played themselves out of a first-round bye with the losses to the Steelers and the 49ers, they proceeded to run the table in the playoffs and finished off their streak with a Super Bowl defeat of the Green Bay Packers. Romo, singed by fallout from the Stokes incident, kept his mouth shut and played football.
Or so he might have been expected to do. But mere he was in the AFC Championship Game against Pittsburgh, calling Kordell Stewart a "dumb s—-" after the Steelers' young quarterback, facing second-and-goal on the Denver five with Pittsburgh trailing 24-14 in the third quarter, forced a pass into the end zone that was intercepted by Broncos middle linebacker Allen Aldridge.
"He's like the crafty catcher who's asking you about your girlfriend as soon as you step into the batter's box," Denver defensive coordinator Greg Robinson says of Romanowski. At the Super Bowl, Romo made a point of looking up fellow Boston College alumnus Mark Chmura, now the Packers' Pro Bowl tight end, and telling him, "You're the biggest idiot that ever came out of Boston College. I'm insulted that we could have gone to the same school."
Chmura's reaction? "He said, 'Romanowski, I'm gonna kill you,' " Romo recalls with a grin. "That's when I knew I'd gotten into his head."
Not that you'll find a Mensa membership card in Romanowski's wallet. Says Julie when a visitor compliments Dalton's vocabulary, "Thank god he got my brains." She's kidding, we think, as was the former Boston College player who says, "If Chmura is the dumbest guy to come through BC, it's because he beat Romo in a photo finish."
Romanowski was at least smart enough to fill the five-week interval between Spitgate and the Super Bowl with earnest apologies for the former. The acts of contrition paid off. By the time the title game rolled around, public opinion had shifted. Yes, he was a jerk, but he was the kind of jerk you wanted on your team. Gone, for the most part, was the vilification that followed his great expectoration, a particularly inspired example of which appeared under the byline of San Francisco Chronicle columnist Tim Keown, who wrote that without football, Romanowski would be "sitting on the steps of a trailer somewhere, whittling away and trying to figure out how his overalls got stuck in that tree. He'd be saving up for some naked-lady mud flaps."
Without football Romanowski would more likely be milking cows on his family's dairy farm in Vernon, Conn. At BC, where he was a four-year starter, he amused teammates with his stories of life on the farm. One of his favorites: Despite the fairly complex network of chutes and retractable gates through which the cows had to pass before milking, "there was this one cow, Number 48, that was always first," says Romo.
Listening to him tell the story, you realize that Number 53 relates to Number 48. Like the cow, he is determined to be first, regardless of whom he offends. When Jerry Rice came his way on a reverse during training camp in 1989, Romo, then in his second season with the 49ers, fought off a block and, he recalls with a grin, "knocked the crap out of" the future Hall of Fame wideout. For this blatant breach of an unwritten rule—no one hits Number 80 in practice—Romanowski immediately found himself in a fistfight with the offensive line. "When I take the practice field," he says, "I give it everything I have."
This gung-ho attitude led Romo, in subsequent training camps, into more run-ins with Rice, whom Broncos coach Mike Shanahan calls the one NFL player whose off-season regimen is a match for Romanowski's. Despite their rocky relationship, Rice and Romo have quite a bit in common—including, according to recent reports, an affinity for deep-tissue massage.
Romanowski's trade to the Philadelphia Eagles on draft day in 1994 was accompanied by whispers from 49ers executives that he had lost a step. Romo agreed. "Watching myself on film," he says, "it seemed like I wasn't running as fast as I did when I was younger."