Born: May 27, 1924
Died: September 16, 2009
Stephen R. Romanik was born May 27, 1924 in Millville. One of eight children who helped to work the family farm. He took the bus to school in the mornings and walked the three miles home most days. By the time he reached high school, he was a strapping, athletic six-footer who was unafraid of hard work and physical contact. Steve starred for Millville Senior High School as a single-wing tailback.
Steve graduated in 1942 and played a year of freshman football at the University of Delaware before being drafted by the Army. He served in Europe for more than three years and starred for the 407th Infantry Raiders in division football competition. It wasn’t all fun and games, however: He also fought in the Battle of the Bulge and in the subsequent Rhineland campaign as the Allies pushed toward Berlin.
Steve was 22 and in great shape, so his brothers encouraged him to return to college football. He enrolled at Villanova on a partial scholarship and played defensive back for coach Jordan Oliver’s varsity in 1947 and 1948. In 1949, Jim Leonard took over the team and anointed Steve his starting quarterback. He was named the Maxwell Club’s Player of the Week after beating Penn State 27–6. The Wildcats finished the year ranked #13 nationally with a 9–1 record. Their only loss was to Tulsa, 21–19, in a game when their kicker shanked three extra points. Steve was a 1949 All-East pick and earned honorable-mention All-America recognition. After graduation, Steve was the second man in during the North-South All-Star Game and led the North to a comeback victory in Miami on Christmas Day.
The Chicago Bears selected Steve with their third pick in the 1950 draft. He joined a club with three future Hall of Fame quarterbacks: Sid Luckman, Johnny Lujack and George Blanda. A broken finger sidelined Steve his rookie year, but he split Chicago’s passing duties with Lujack in 1951 and Blanda in 1952—leading the club with 772 yards in ’52, fourth-best in the NFL. In 1953, Steve headed South to the Chicago Cardinals courtesy of an October trade for safety SJ Whitman. He roomed with Charley Trippi, the only player on the club older than Steve.
Steve switched off with Jim Root as the starting QB, but the Cards were a dreadful team, finishing 1–11–1. Their lone victory came against the Bears in the season’s final game. The Cardinals “improved” by one win in 1954 and Steve spent most of the season watching rookie Lamar McHan—who threw a league-high 22 INTs—from the bench. Both of Steve’s knees were shot at this point and even though the Cards sent him a contract that spring, he decided to retire at age 31.
Steve returned to Millville after his football career and worked in real estate, insurance and law enforcement (as an undersheriff) before becoming a city commissioner. His experience administrating captured German towns during WWII gave him valuable experience. Steve also officiated football games in South Jersey. He passed away at 85.