Romberg Is Center of Levity for Miami

Times Staff Writer

Miami might have won 34 consecutive games without senior Brett Romberg at center, but what fun would that have been?

Although he's not the statistical star of Miami's amazing run, he is the streak's conscience, curator, protector and gag writer -- he'll be playing in the Phoenix area all week, folks.

"I like talking to the media," Romberg said Tuesday. "I got a lot to say."

Romberg has managed to balance being the program's ballast and resident court jester, serving snaps to his quarterback and snappy one-liners to the rest of us.

Romberg on the droll personality of his coach, Larry Coker: "He's like Ken Dorsey but, like, 120 years older."

Romberg is what every big family needs -- a guy who says what needs to be said around the dinner table but always in a manner that unites instead of divides.

With Romberg you get a wedge buster and an icebreaker.

Where did Miami find this guy?

In Canada, of all the outpost places, although he says, "it's not like I was stuck in the woods and had to take a dogsled to school."

He is the polar (cap) opposite of the slick, sleek, Miami image.

Romberg is jar-headed, 290 pounds, not particularly handsome and he parts his blond hair down the middle, just like Moe.

His dad worked for Chrysler back home in Windsor, Ontario, but Brett was never cut out for blue-collar life. He once took a job at the car plant, but quit after a week.

His job was to install rear wiper motors on minivans.

"It was monotonous," he said. "I was about ready to kill myself."

Romberg could not guarantee the quality of work.

"If there's a recall, you'll know why."

When he arrived in Miami, he knew there was no turning back to the land of maple leaves and moose hunters.

"The women, the beach, the nightlife, you can't match that anywhere in the country," he said of Miami.

One of the less flattering early images of Romberg is of him tanning himself on the practice field, wearing only his jock strap.

Butch Davis, the former Hurricane coach, sometimes wanted to file deportation papers on Romberg.

"He really didn't know what he was recruiting," Romberg said of his former coach. "He honestly thought I was crazy. He didn't know what to think of me, this Canadian guy laying around in his underwear."

Davis left to coach the Cleveland Browns after the 2000 season but Romberg has remained at the heart, the literal center, of the Hurricane winning streak.

Friday, Romberg will play his last game as a Hurricane when Miami meets Ohio State for the national title in the Fiesta Bowl, and he's determined to squeeze every ounce of pleasure out of his experience.

"There's no way in hell we're going to go out without another national championship," Romberg said. "We thought we were untouchable from the beginning and we still feel that way."

No one appreciates more what Miami has done than Romberg. He was one of the few Hurricanes who played in the school's last loss, at Washington in September 2000.

"It was the first game I probably played a full game," Romberg said of that defeat. "I was going against [nose tackle] Larry Tripplet, now with the Indianapolis Colts. He taught us a lesson. It was a rough game, terrible weather, cold, cloudy, misty, it was Seattle. That five-hour plane ride home was rough."

Romberg made sure it never happened again.

There have been close calls on the road to 34 in a row -- last year against Boston College and Virginia Tech, this year against Florida State -- with Romberg always there to navigate the tough turns.

"If somebody's going to tell the coach something, it's me," he said.

The streak almost ended Oct. 12, when Florida State missed a possible game-winning field goal to let Miami escape with a 28-27 win.

"I thought that was the one," Romberg said. "I was biting my nails on the sideline. I was more furious than anything. I took it personal. We sat with the team afterward and I was like there was no way in hell it should have come down to that field goal, and if we would have lost, it would have been put on our shoulders, my shoulders especially."

After Miami had struggled against West Virginia on Oct. 26, Romberg called a meeting and lashed out at his teammates.

"Somebody needed to stand up and say something, and what better person than myself?" he said. "I'll say anything to anybody."

Romberg has also been a strange, yet buffer roommate to his clean-cut senior quarterback, Ken Dorsey.

The two players could not be any more different. Dorsey, for instance, loves to play video games.

"I can't stand video games," Romberg said, adding, "I'm probably not going to get a PlayStation 2 contract out of this."

Romberg described visits from Dorsey's mother as syrupy scenes straight out of "Leave It to Beaver."

"He's a total drag," Romberg said of Dorsey. "Every day he wakes up, eats scrambled eggs on the couch with his cat and watches 'SportsCenter.' "

Romberg, meantime, is usually cooking up trouble.

He, for instance, monitors the "Hall of Shame" board in the Miami locker room, which posts compromising or embarrassing photos taken of Hurricane players out on the town.

Romberg: "If a guy is hugging up to a 250-pound girl, you're going to see it the next day."

The pairing of Dorsey and Romberg, though, has helped loosen up Dorsey while keeping Romberg tethered.

"If I had a crazy quarterback for a roommate, I don't think I'd be playing football anymore," Romberg said. "Kenny has tried to tone me down."

Romberg has been there for Dorsey, too. Like earlier this year, when Dorsey tried to become a rah-rah leader, when it just wasn't in his personality. Romberg could tell Dorsey to knock it off and not hurt his feelings.

Dorsey says Romberg's sense of humor keeps the offensive line in check.

"He's the perfect fit for that group, not only talent-wise but personality-wise," Dorsey said. "I think that's why they're good. It's because they don't get uptight. They're always very loose, always enjoying themselves. But when it's time to focus, they get work done. That's what impresses me the most about them."

The clock is winding down on Romberg's career, and it's hard to imagine a college player combining so many wins with so many laughs.

"If I was in Canada right now, I don't know what I would be doing, but I wouldn't be doing interviews for national TV, " Romberg assessed.

Mr. DeMille, he may be ready for his close-up.

"I actually wouldn't mind seeing my ugly mug on TV," Romberg said.

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