Melancholy is an emotion Joe Sanford expects to linger this Saturday.
That’s when the former coach of McDowell’s football and track and field programs will be inducted with the 2023 class for the school’s athletic hall of fame.
The hall's latest members were announced before Aug. 22, the day Jim Romaniszyn died at age 71. Sanford’s former Edinboro University football teammate and McDowell coaching colleague was himself enshrined in three athletic halls of fame, including the Metropolitan Erie Sports Hall of Fame in 1996.
Sharon Romaniszyn confirmed the death of her brother-in-law, a former Cleveland Browns and New England Patriots linebacker, to the Erie Times-News. The Titusville resident said Linda Romaniszyn has a memorial service planned for her late husband in Port Orange, Florida, where the couple had lived since the mid-1980s.
That service is scheduled for Sunday, the day after McDowell’s latest hall of fame ceremony.
Thus, the reason why Sanford laments he won't attend.
“Jim was a great individual,” he said, “and he’ll remain a great individual. No. 48 will be with me for the rest of my life.”
Sanford mentioned No. 48 because it was the jersey that Romaniszyn wore during his college football career at Edinboro, then Edinboro State, in the early 1970s. The Titusville graduate accepted handoffs from Sanford, who was the starting quarterback for 1970 team that went a then-record 9-0 for its regular season.
Those Fighting Scots were recipients of the Lambert Bowl trophy, which was formerly given to the best NAIA Division III program in the eastern United States.
Denny Creehan was another player for the 1970 Scots. The 1971 graduate also coached his alma mater’s football program from 1979-84.
“Jim was a teammate, but more importantly a great friend,” Creehan said of Romaniszyn in a post on gofightingscots.com. “In our (1970) season, he moved from wide receiver to running back and we never missed a beat. Off the field, we could always count on Jim for a laugh.”
Romaniszyn’s versatility on the field was strong enough to warrant the attention of NFL scouts and personnel. He remains Edinboro’s lone NFL selection since Cleveland chose him in the 13th round of its 1973 draft.
The Times-News interviewed Romaniszyn as part of a January 2021 article surrounding the AFC wild card playoff game between the rival Browns and Pittsburgh Steelers. He said being drafted from small-time roots like Titusville and Edinboro initially came out of nowhere to him.
“I was pretty surprised,” Romaniszyn said. “Elated, but pretty surprised. I was in Edinboro’s (McComb) Fieldhouse running laps for basketball practice when (Steelers president) Dan Rooney showed up and (gave) me a quick interview. It was the first indication that maybe I had a chance of being drafted somewhere.”
“I never heard from the Browns, but I suspected scouts from other teams showed up to watch me practice.”
Cleveland drafted Romaniszyn as a running back but converted him to linebacker during training camp. Although he was a reserve for coach Nick Skorich, he saw action in all 14 of the Browns’ regular season games over their next two seasons.
Romaniszyn missed the NFL’s 1975 season because of injuries, then returned to the league with the Patriots. He started two games for the AFC wild card team, which lost 24-21 in a 1976 divisional playoff to an Oakland Raiders team whose roster included Tech Memorial graduate and soon-to-be Super Bowl MVP Fred Biletnikoff.
“You can’t imagine as a fan what it’s like being on (an NFL) team,” he said. “You don’t get the size perspective on TV. You don’t get the speed perspective. I was running 4.6 (40-yard dashes) in camp, and there were linemen who could run faster than that.”
Romaniszyn didn’t see action during New England's loss to Oakland. It was the last game for his football career.
‘An amazing individual’
Romaniszyn switched from playing sports to coaching them upon return to northwestern Pennsylvania. The highlight was when he was in charge of McDowell’s boys basketball program from 1979-82.
The Trojans advanced to the semifinals of the PIAA Class 3A tournament in his first season and were District 10 champions for the next two.
Romaniszyn resumed coaching after his family moved to Port Orange, a Daytona Beach suburb, several years later. Port Orange’s boys basketball team went 124-40 during his tenure, which ended with his retirement.
Although Romaniszyn occasionally returned to the area to visit family and friends, he couldn't make it back for Edinboro’s 2022 homecoming weekend. Several players with the Scots’ 1970 Lambert Bowl team, including Sanford, were gathered atop one of the parade floats.
That’s when Sanford said he last spoke with Romaniszyn.
“Jim couldn’t make it,” he said, “but when we rode through town, we had him on speakerphone on the float. All his (former) teammates got the chance to speak to him. That was pretty neat, but I wish he could have been there.”
“He certainly was an amazing individual.”
This article originally appeared on Erie Times-News: Jim Romaniszyn, a 1996 Metro Erie Sports Hall of Famer, dies at age 71