Williams' career ended with punch

Updated: March 1, 2005, 12:01 AM ET
Associated Press

OAKLAND, Calif. -- Former Raiders linebacker Bill Romanowski ended Marcus Williams' NFL career two years ago when he ripped off his teammate's helmet and punched the second-year tight end in the face during a practice drill.

Romanowski's long history of bad behavior on the field has landed him in a courtroom, where Williams is suing the linebacker.

Williams is seeking damages of $3.8 million for alleged battery, negligence and intentional infliction of emotional distress. The blow he took Aug. 24, 2003, broke a bone around his left eye and also injured his brain. His football career ended at age 27.

Romanowski, known for fanatical behavior during his 16 NFL seasons, apologized publicly several days after the altercation.

"I hold myself accountable," Romanowski said afterward. "It was a classless move by me."

Williams wasn't satisfied and filed the civil lawsuit. The case, which begins Tuesday in Alameda County Superior Court and could last several weeks, will focus on the consequences of Romanowksi's actions on Williams' career.

Potential witnesses include Romanowski's former teammates, Jerry Rice and Ronnie Lott, former Raiders coach Bill Callahan, and Williams' agent, Lee Kolligian.

Cases in which professional sports teammates sue each other are rare.

"I did not find a situation where one teammate has injured another teammate during a practice in this way," said Williams' attorney, James Brosnahan, after the original complaint was filed. "And for good reason. Teammates have to treat each other with respect."

The Raiders have long been known as the bad boys of the NFL, and they seemed to start spinning out of control following the fight between Romanowski and Williams. The team was coming off an embarrassing 48-21 Super Bowl loss and headed into a lousy 4-12 season, the worst collapse in NFL history for a team that had just played for the title.

Running back Tyrone Wheatley said few players saw the altercation because it happened when the linebackers and tight ends were together for a drill.

"I think because of the type of season 2003 was, and that was part of it, it makes it just that much more of a spectacle," Wheatley told The AP in a telephone interview Monday. "If we were doing well and everything went fine and dandy, we wouldn't hear too much about this. It would fly under the radar. Because 2003 was such a weird year, with statements made and everything, we're hearing about it."

Romanowski, released by the Raiders last March after failing a physical, has a long history of scrapes with opponents and others. One of his more well-publicized incidents came in December 1997, when he spit in the face of San Francisco 49ers receiver J.J. Stokes while playing for the Denver Broncos in a nationally televised game.

Romanowski was fined $7,500 by the NFL -- one of several fines for his behavior during his career.

Romanowski was called a racist for that episode. He also has been called a headhunter for his vicious helmet-to-helmet hit in 1997 on Kerry Collins, who now quarterbacks the Raiders. Romanowski was fined $42,500 in 1999 alone. He's been accused of illegally obtaining prescription diet drugs and using steroids.

For years, Romanowski, 38, has been an advocate of performance-enhancing substances, even carrying a briefcase of supplements into the locker room.

Williams played in 13 games as an undrafted free agent as a rookie during the team's Super Bowl season. He was used primarily on special teams but was trying to earn a regular position before the injury.


Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press