For 16 years, Bill Romanowski ruled the football field. Coaches loved him for the heart and soul he gave to the game. He was rewarded with two Pro Bowl appearances and four Super Bowl rings, but it all came at a heavy price: dozens of concussions that have led to dizzy spells, memory lapses and questionable choices that undermined his integrity. Would he do it all over again? In “Romo: My Life on the Edge — Living Dreams and Slaying Dragons,” Romanowski describes his NFL career and how he would do things differently. He visited “Today” to discuss his book. Here's an excerpt:
Chapter One: My Body's Like an Army
As a little boy, I was keenly aware of how my parents struggled with managing our family finances. There were too many nights when I would be sitting at the kitchen table, trying to make myself invisible as they wrestled with making ends meet. Even when I went to bed, I could hear them through the walls, worrying about how they were going to come up with the money to keep my four siblings, and our family, afloat. Maybe a second mortgage, maybe Mom would take on second jobs. Whatever it took to not only pay the bills, but also to put their five children through college.
Dad suffered a stroke while he was at work. When I got home from school that day, Mom told me that Daddy was in the hospital with a brain aneurysm. Being nine years old, I didn't know what that meant. It wasn't hard to figure out once we went to visit him.
Doctors had shaved the hair off half his head, and he had a huge scar where they opened his scalp to go into his brain. It scared me and my mom. Even though Dad recovered well, I saw how afraid Mom was at the prospect of losing him. We all have our memories, and the scary ones seem to stay with us longer and follow us into adulthood.
One night some years later, probably around eighth or ninth grade, I remember being hit with the revelation that I could actually do something about my family's financial troubles and save my parents from at least a portion of their constant worries. I could earn a college scholarship. I didn't know whether I could make it baseball, basketball, or football. I didn't know whether I was actually good enough. But I knew if I made it my goal and worked hard enough at it, something positive would result. And if sports weren't enough, then I'd simply enlist in the military, like my dad did during the Korean War, and use the G.I. Bill to pay for my tuition.
Dreaming, I found, was the easier part. What was tougher was figuring out how to make it happen. I didn't have a road map to get from here to there. For whatever reasons, I didn't feel as if I had anyone to guide me. And I kept my intentions to myself. Looking back, I was afraid to share my dream out loud because I felt insecure about who I was and what I was capable of.
Sports were my logical ticket. I had my older brothers’ rolemodeling, but they also enjoyed hunting and fishing with Dad while I seemed more consumed with sports, or limited to that single passion. I wasn't sure what to do with that passion until I had an epiphany that would transform me forever. Instantly, I felt aligned with a purpose.
Even today, I remember picking up the October 4, 1982, issue of Sports Illustrated and reading an eight-page article on the then–University of Georgia running back Herschel Walker titled, “My Body's Like an Army.” Funny thing is, we didn't even have a subscription to the magazine. One of my friends, John Steed, did, and I stumbled across it by accident one day at his house. When I recently reread it, I realized not only did I remember the details, but I could feel the same excitement that I felt all that time ago.
When he was twelve, Herschel went to Tom Jordan, the local track-and-field coach in Wrightsville, Georgia, and asked him how he could get bigger, stronger and faster. Jordan gave him a simple game plan: push-ups, sit-ups, and sprints.
“During that first year Walker had done these exercises every day, unless rain kept him from sprinting along the road leading from his house down to the highway,” the reporter wrote. “Jordan had never said how much to do, just to do those three things regularly. To Herschel, ‘regularly’ meant every single day, and by the end of that critical first year, he had done more than 100,000 push-ups, more than 100,000 sit-ups and had sprinted nearly half a million yards.
“He almost always did his push-ups and sit-ups in the evening, while he was either studying or watching television or, more usually, both. During every commercial break he would pump out a quick 25 push-ups and 25 sit-ups or would alternate the push-ups and sit-ups, doing 50 push-ups during one break, then 50 sit-ups during the next, until he had accumulated approximately 300 of each.” Isn't that a great way to make use of that annoying commercial time?
This was inspiring stuff. Soon after, a little voice started speaking to me: Here's somebody who succeeded in football and here's how he did it. Here's what he did to get stronger. Here's what he did to get faster. Here's what he did to become the best possible athlete.
I wasn't startled by this voice. It was almost as if I was waiting for it, and it would come to me regularly throughout my life at times when I needed to hear it most — I came to think of it as my guardian angel. That first time it was comforting me, reassuring me, yet challenging me to do what it was telling me — or I would have to account to myself if I didn't. Here I was looking for a direction, seeking a road map, and now something spiritual, almost mystical, was taking over. Wherever this voice was coming from, I had to follow it to the letter. And between the article and the voice, I had my very first prescription: Push-ups, sit-ups, and sprints. Every day ....
Excerpted from “Romo: My Life on the Edge — Living Dreams and Slaying Dragons,” by Bill Romanowski. Copyright © 2005 by Bill Romanowski. Published by . All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt can be used without permission of the publisher.