Gold Helmet winners: Joe Romig, the 1950s

Patrick Saunders
The Denver Post

LAFAYETTE — Joe Romig's earliest memories spring from a small farm outside the town of Elsberry, Mo.

"We were very poor," recalled the future Rhodes Scholar. "I can remember when they would pull the plow with horses, and having no electric lights. I have that background as a kid."

In that kid was passion bubbling close to the surface, a fierce drive that would one day make him a Colorado legend.

"The story goes that my grandmother sent me out to feed the chickens," Romig, now 72, said with a wry smile. "So I went in there and the feeder had collapsed. I burst into a torrent of swear words — where I got them, I don't know — but my grandmother came out clucking like a grandmother will, saying, 'Joe, God wouldn't like to hear that.' And I apparently said, 'Well, then God can feed his own blankety-blank chickens.' There was a bit of intensity, you might say. And it was the same in the classroom."

And on the football field.

"It wasn't too hard to discern that Joe was something special," said Tom Hancock, who coached Romig at Lakewood High School. "He was exceptionally smart, and the guy was really, really strong. He had a physical strength that you just couldn't believe."

More than that, Romig had an intellectual drive and curiosity that would take him far beyond that chicken pen in Missouri.

"Joe rarely attended an assembly in high school," Hancock said. "Why? Because he took that hour and he would find a quiet room and go study. He was different, no doubt about it."

In 1957, Romig, a senior fullback for Lakewood, was honored by The Denver Post as Colorado's outstanding football player, scholar and citizen. Since 1962, the award has been known as the Gold Helmet Award, but when Romig was honored 56 years ago, he was presented with a bronzed football shoe, co-sponsored by the Thom McAn shoe company.

"I still have it in my office at home," he said. "I'm very proud of it, but I've got to be honest: Having a gold helmet would have been nice."

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