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Original Issue

Concussions Slow Romo Romanowski to Retire?

Raiders linebacker Bill Romanowski doesn't know--or won't
say--how many concussions he's had in his 16-year NFL career, but
he did tell SI last week that he suffered a concussion or got
dizzy and nauseous from hits in his first three games and an
exhibition game this season as well as in the Super Bowl last
January. The most recent of those incidents, after he got popped
by Broncos running back Clinton Portis in the first quarter of
the Sept. 22 Monday nighter, has Romanowski thinking retirement.

"I have a dull ache in my head," he said in a phone interview
from his home in the Bay Area. "Each of these last few incidents,
I get hit and then things get very scrambled. I get disoriented.
Maybe five, 10, 15 seconds. And when I start to try to work out
now, those symptoms come back." Last week Romanowski tried to jog
at the Raiders' practice facility in Alameda, Calif., but he said
he got dizzy and his head started pounding after he took a few
steps. "When I went for tests with some concussion specialists in
Pittsburgh [in late September], one of the doctors told me it was
like he was listening to Merril Hoge, Harry Carson or Steve Young."

Romanowski, who has sat out Oakland's last two games, will be
reevaluated by the team of Pittsburgh doctors--the same ones who
examined former NFL players Hoge, Carson and Young--later this
month before deciding what to do. But already last week
Romanowski, who has won four Super Bowl rings, sounded like a man
moving quickly toward calling it quits after playing in 243
consecutive NFL games. "I'm not ready to make any sort of
announcement," he said. "But I know this: I can walk away from
this game--if I do--proud that I gave everything I had on every
play to be the best I could be."

Says Hoge, the former Steelers and Bears running back who retired
in 1994 at the age of 29 after a series of concussions, "Even
though no one works out or takes care of himself like Bill,
there's no training regimen that can fix a brain injury."

On the flight to Pittsburgh for his examination, Romanowski sat
next to Brent Jones, the former 49ers tight end, who was working
the Sept. 28 Steelers-Titans game for CBS. Jones, who had eight
concussions in his 12-year career, told Romanowski about Young's
concussions, which forced Young to retire. "You don't know which
concussion is going to put you over the line," says Jones. "And I
said, 'What more can you accomplish?' But when you're such a
competitor, like Steve was, or like Bill is, you can't see beyond
the next game."

"Here's what it comes down to," Romanowski said. "As a football
player you're trained to lie to yourself. You're trained to say,
no matter how you feel, 'I'm fine. I'm the iron man.' There have
been a few times I've said that to myself. I felt one of these in
the Super Bowl, but I didn't say anything. I couldn't say
anything. I just fought through it."

COLOR PHOTO: DILIP VISHWANAT/TSN/ICON SMI Romanowski's concussions may end the career of a remarkablydurable player.