The final gun sounded. The last game ended. When the stadium lights dimmed for the last time, the light that vanished seemed to take parts of Brett Romberg with it.
Gone were the privileges and the accolades, the headlines and notoriety. No longer were there teammates to lean on or to chum with. Planes and hotels were not always fun, but they had been part of his life and now they were also gone.
Brett Romberg’s existence had suddenly become very still.
His name no longer appeared on the University of Miami roster and was no longer heard among the banter of filled stadiums. Famous sportscasters no longer spoke of his greatness because, after all, that was last season and this was a new year. The national championship he had won at Miami was “then”, this was “now”. It would be years before he would be inducted into the Miami Sports Hall of Fame and once again hear his name in popular conversation.
A nine-year career in the NFL helped. He played his last game in 2011 and, once and for all, was required to face the question: Now what?
For Brett Romberg, as with so many, the answer was still. Life had become tranquil. Silent, as if dead. It was not something he had ever planned for because it was not something that he had ever imagined.
In our interview with Brett this morning, he put it this way. “I found myself in a lonely, lonely place.”
He began to comprehend that his situation was not simple.
“I had come to a point where I realized that I was ten years removed from college and all of my college friends had their own lives. Most of them had found themselves; found their purposes. But, when you play football for so long and you come to the end of it and you realize that you haven’t found yourself, it can be really hard to deal with.”
His teammates and friends at Miami University had gone on to their own lives and when he was reunited with them, they almost seemed foreign.
“I mean, it was like I was sitting at home and I realized that I had nothing in common with the people around me.”
He had some ideas of what he wanted to do and he had a pretty nice bank account, but he felt estranged from the things of daily life, at least as most people lived it. He surprised me when he chuckled. “I eventually discovered that playing golf and washing your car can only take you so far.”
He told me that his story is not uncommon. Many players become accustomed to the lifestyle of privilege and fame and all that comes with it and they charge blindly to the edge of retirement without realizing that for some, it is a sudden and perilous cliff. And for those unprepared, the hard rocks of everyday life await below. Few see it coming. Most don’t have a plan.
“So many get into drugs and alcohol and other things,” he said. “The NFL is taking steps to help. And, they need to because it is really, really bad.”
It was bad for Brett Romberg.
But, Brett escaped.
Like a fairy tale with a beautiful princess, Brett Romberg escaped—-with a kiss.
He told it to me this way. “You have to know, I have often been called a cold-hearted ____ (fill in the blank). [I] still am thought of that way by a lot of people. But, things have changed. I’ve changed a lot. We started a family. Then we had a daughter; a little girl. That daughter . . . “
It took a couple of seconds before he continued.
“That daughter was the most heart-warming thing imaginable and I am obsessed with her. She changed the focus and energy of my life to show me what is really important. Now, I know what is important and I learned it when that little girl was born. Every day I kiss her. I’ll bet I kiss her 7,000 times a day. I can’t kiss her enough.”
And when his second child was born eight months ago, he was as excited as he was with his first.
It would have been enough for his own children to change his trajectory, but Brett tells yet another story, this time of someone else’s child who seized his heart and started him on yet another path.
“I’ve been okay with the idea of going on (dieing),” he explained. “Death is part of life. But, that all changed when I saw kids . . . (pause) . . .when I saw kids in a children’s hospital and to me, there was nothing at all right about that.”
His voice was forceful, as if he couldn’t be emphatic enough of the passion he was feeling in his heart for those children in need.
“I just never thought that children should have to live with cancer and death all around them. And this one day . . . this one day, I was suppose to visit a little girl in a hospital. She hadn’t been out of bed for three days. Her family hadn’t been home for just as long. They were crying. When I got there, that little girl jumped out of that bed and ran to me and hugged me and wanted my autograph. My autograph!” he exclaimed.
“I asked myself, who am I? Why should I be so special to that little girl? It was only about what I had done in football and not who I was. It affected me. It really affected me!”
And that is when he began imagining a way that he might help those in desperate situations to escape, even if for just one day, to a football game. With that idea, South Florida has come to know Romberg’s Rally to help those in poverty or life-threatening situations. “Those who are trapped in their little rooms and never get out. We’re going to get them out!”
He continued. “I’ve lived this good life and the recurring question became, why do I deserve all of this? I just think if you’ve lived a good life, then its time to do something for someone else.”
Today, Brett Romberg’s life is not lonely. In fact, its busier than ever. He hosts the highest-rated morning sports talk radio show in South Florida (Zaslow, Roms & Amber) on Sports Talk 790 AM The Ticket, and he provides in-game commentary for Conference USA television broadcasts by beIN SPORTS.
“It’s very busy, but it’s a matter of balancing my schedule. We’re building a house, we now have two kids, I travel. I have the radio show and the television broadcasts. It’s a lot, but it’s good because I’ve come to terms with life and those things that are most important.”
A lesson taught by a fairy tale princess who could not yet even speak. A lesson not from someone who had accomplished anything but rather for who she was, the very same ambition that Brett has for himself.
“I kiss my little daughter all of the time” he laughed. “I do that because I know the day is coming when she will say, ‘Ew daddy! Don’t do that!’ So, I’m getting all of my kisses in now!”
When the day of a white dress and confetti and rattling tin cans on a bumper comes to take his daughter away and the lights of her bedroom dim for the last time, Brett Romberg’s soul will be at peace and not vanish with the light.
Instead, he will smile and say, “Yeah. Yeah. This is what it’s all about.”