He hooked up with Remi Korchemny, a former speed coach for the Soviet track team, who deconstructed his stride and then put it back together. "I was amazed at the gains I made in strength and speed," says Romanowski, who went on to have two fine seasons with the Eagles. In November 1995, after a Philadelphia win over a Denver team that would finish the season ranked 15th in the league in total defense and 23rd against the run, Romanowski ran into Shanahan on the field at Veterans Stadium. "You're playing great," Shanahan told Romo, who was soon to be a free agent. "Let's talk after the season."
At the time the Broncos were weak at linebacker, recalls Shanahan, a detail-sweating, micromanaging type who, according to one Denver executive, "wants to control everything but the bounce of the ball." Shanahan values reliability, discipline and character. Signing Romanowski, a so-so pass rusher whose strengths are stuffing the run, blowing up screens and smothering tight ends in pass coverage, was a no-brainer.
With Romo installed at strongside linebacker, Denver's defense in '96 improved to fourth overall and first against the run, and Romanowski was selected to his first Pro Bowl. Another milestone followed six months later, when he missed an exhibition game. The previous spring Romanowski had undergone surgery to repair a tendon in his right knee. Despite exhaustive Romo-esque rehabbing, the joint began to bother him in training camp. Dissatisfied with the answers he was getting from the team's trainers, he consulted Greg Roskopf, a biomechanics expert from Fresno, Calif., who was under contract with the organization. Roskopf noticed that Romo lacked normal range of motion in—don't laugh—his right big toe.
It turned out that this seemingly minor podiatric problem was forcing Romanowski to favor the inside of his right foot, thus straining the outside of the knee. Roskopf worked some flexibility back into the toe, and the knee felt better. Romo was sold. Roskopf has been on call ever since. "We're so ingrained to treat symptoms," Roskopf said recently as he kneaded Romo's left buttock, in which he had detected some tightness. "Sometimes we fail to look at the root cause of injuries."
Said Romanowski, prone on a table, "Before I met Greg, I was a biomechanical wreck." He's in a massage room at the Golden, Colo., offices of Experimental & Applied Sciences (EAS), which makes many of the nutritional supplements that Romanowski ingests daily. Romo is so convincing an evangelist for EAS that he says he has converted three quarters of the Broncos to the company's products. He has also turned some of his teammates on to Roskopf and Huntington, his high-performance coach. Huntington is presiding over this afternoon's weight-training session, which is being enlivened by the drawled smack of Denver's backup quarterback, Bubby Brister. Romanowski is working on the machine with which Brister just finished, an evil-looking apparatus called the Shuttle MVP. During his set Brister got the needle up to 90. "What'd the birthday boy do?" he inquires about Romo, who turns 32 this day. "Did he get 90?"
"Eighty-eight," Romanowski replies.
"Well, get 90, or no beer for you tonight!" says Brister, conveniently ignoring the fact that Romanowski was working against roughly twice the resistance he had. Brister, who's 35 and in just his second week of Romanowski's regimen—four times a week on the track, six times a week in the weight room, for an average of six hours a day—is sore but excited about the strides he has already made in speed and strength. "Romo's on to something," he says. "I might just play till I'm 40."
"It's easy to work with Bill," says Huntington, who has coached Wayne Gretzky and Mike Powell, among others. "You've got to hold him back. After the Super Bowl I told him to take a month off. After three weeks he couldn't take it anymore."
The widely held notion around Denver, where Romanowski is far more popular than he was in Philly or the Bay Area, is that he's a throwback player, a link to a bygone era—a notion he does nothing to discourage. Rather than express regret over breaking the jaw of Carolina Panthers quarterback Kerry Collins with a helmet-to-head hit in a preseason game last August, for which the league fined him $20,000, Romo waxed nostalgic about it during the playoffs. In the days of Nitschke and Butkus, he said, "everything went. They didn't get fined $20,000 for hitting a quarterback hard. They got a pat on the back."
Throwback? Yes and no. Something tells us none of the 1967 Packers flew to California four times a year to make sure their minerals were in balance or spent in the neighborhood of $100,000 annually, as Romanowski does, on pills and powders and to pay his battalion of helpers.