It must have been his plebe year at the Naval Academy, Roger Staubach recalled, and trainer Red Romo was pontificating on the importance of conditioning and nutrition.
"He went on and on, and finally was almost in tears because he believed so much in what he was telling us," Staubach said. "This is such a serious guy, yet with such a great sense of humor. It's a good balance."
Last night, former Navy athletes of all ages, stripes and accomplishments came to the academy's Alumni Hall to praise and roast Romo on his 76th birthday. In the throng of 450 were 10 former academy superintendents and commandants, and the likes of David Robinson, recent College Football Hall of Fame inductee Bob Reifsnyder and Staubach.
After 41 years as Navy's trainer, and 10 before that at Columbia and Colgate, Romo is retiring.
"There's a lot of love in this room," said Staubach, the emcee, as he surveyed the crowd. "I never saw anybody who cared as much as Red. He's as well-loved as anyone who's ever been at the academy."
Said Tom Lynch, a former superintendent and the center on Staubach's teams: "What we respected about Red was he treated everybody the same -- Staubach, superintendents, injured players. He played no favorites."
Predictably, Romo arrived in his patented slacks decorated with ducks -- although he could just as well have picked from his wide collection a pair with lobsters, clams, whales, sailboats or anchors.
"I love ducks," he explained. "It's better to wear ducks than shoot them."
The stories flowed. In 1967, when he was a running back on the plebe team, deputy director of athletics Perry Martini lost a nail when a Penn State player stepped on his finger.
"Red pushed it back on and said, 'Don't worry, kid, it'll heal in six weeks,' " Martini said.
Thirty years later, displaying the misshapen nail that looks like two nails on the same finger, Martini said smiling, "I keep asking Red, 'When will the six weeks start?' "
Some of the stories were apocryphal. A longtime favorite was the players' claim that Romo would ask them to fake an injury during the Army-Navy game so he could trot onto the field and be shown on TV.
But a story told by Romo's son Rusty was not contrived. During a nationally televised Navy-Notre Dame game, the Mids' Michael O'Shaughnessy got hurt on the Notre Dame side of the field.
A TV sound cone picked up Romo's breathless comment: 'For Pete's sake, Shaughnessy, next time you get hurt, do it on our side of the field. It's a 50-yard run over here."
Romo came to the academy in 1956 at the urging of Columbia football coach Lou Little, who didn't want to lose his trainer but wanted him to capitalize on the opportunity.
"He said, 'Go, Red. The Navy job is the highest in your profession,' " Romo said. "I know now what Lou meant. The academy has been my life. I may be retired, but I'll always be here with these teams."
Soon after Romo arrived 41 years ago, football coach Eddie Erdelatz gave him a baseball cap. The Navy blue and gold are faded and the mesh is frayed, stained with perspiration, never cleaned, but he continues to wear it every day during the football season.
The cap is packed away now, as it is after every Army-Navy game to extend its life, but Romo will bring it out once football season starts. He will never retire it.
Pub Date: 5/10/97