Raiders Equipment Manager Bobby Romanski
Adjacent to the Oakland Raiders locker room, nestled cozily in between the dozens of shoulder pads, hundreds of jerseys, and likely thousands of socks, is Bobby Romanski's desk, and for the most part, it very much looks like what you would expect an NFL equipment manager's desk to look like.
There are the commemorative footballs, the stacks of order forms, and even a few Silver and Black helmets from yesteryear, but squarely in the middle of a shelf, right at eye level, something stands out – a white racing helmet.
Romanski looks up at the helmet, points and says with a smile, "inspiration."
You see, not only is Romanski the Raiders equipment manager, he's an artist, and a pretty accomplished one at that.
It began 30 years ago, when Romanski's brother got an airbrushing kit for his 13th birthday; however, the kit just sat, dormant and collecting dust until one day when young Bobby picked it up, and just like that, a life-long passion was born.
"One day I just grabbed it and started playing with it, and all of a sudden I just fell in love with it," Romanski explains.
The Raiders equipment manager is a self-proclaimed racing junkie – cars, truck, motorcycles, it doesn't matter – if it has an engine, Romanski likes to watch it race. So back when the Raiders were based in Los Angeles, and he had the chance to airbrush some custom helmets for a handful of racers, he jumped at the opportunity.
And for a while, that's how his schedule worked out – football during the season, and then cultivating his passion during the offseason – but then just about a decade ago, his two worlds collided on a pair of football cleats, as he began painting unique cleats for members of the Raiders.
"A couple of players had some shoes that came in from other teams– we had seen some pretty cool stuff, and I said, 'well, I can do that. That's easy,'" Romanski said. "When [former Raider] Michael Huff was here I did a few pairs for him on and off. There's a lot of rules with the league, and you can't really throw flashy colors on it, so I kind of did it subtly with some blacks and some grays, and some whites, so you can't really tell."
While Romanski the artist had found a new medium in painting cleats, he never really did it on a consistent basis – mostly painting his creations during the offseason – until this year, following the arrival of linebacker Daren Bates.
The Raiders signed the former St. Louis Ram in March, and once he touched down in Oakland, Bates was looking to continue his tradition of having his cleats painted before each game.
"Bobby came up to me before the first game against the [New Orleans] Saints, and asked me if I wanted my cleats painted," Bates said. "He said he knew somebody, or he could do it himself, and I'd rather it be done by somebody in-house. He showed me his work, and we've been going since then."
An exclusive look at the Oakland Raiders receiving their custom cleats that will be worn this weekend for the My Cause, My Cleats initiative.
Each Wednesday, Bates stops by the equipment room and brainstorms with Romanski, and their weekly meetings have provided both artist and athlete with a little insight into the other's world.
"When we have our little meetings, he shows me all his other work," Bates explains. "I've actually seen his other work on his desk, so I'm able to go through and have a little conversation about all his other stuff he does in his free time other than just painting cleats. It's cool to know somebody outside of just football."
Even now, with over a dozen Romanski originals in his collection, Bates is still impressed with what the Raiders equipment manager presents to him before each game.
"Every week I'd probably say I'm always amazed," said Bates. "But there has probably been two or three weeks this year, there has been some cleats that Bob has done that I've been like, 'wow, how did you did that?'"
Word of Romanski's artistic talent spread like a terribly-kept secret, and with the advent of the NFL's My Cause, My Cleats initiative this season, Romanski once again found another outlet for his artistic skill when several members of the Raiders front office asked him to design six unique cleats to help commemorate the campaign.
So once again, Romanski got to work, creating six, one-of-a-kind cleats and while each pair represents a worthy cause – ranging from child abuse to diabetes awareness – one of the pairs of cleats holds a little extra significance to him.
"My wife has had terminal cancer for 11 years now, and she's just a fighter," said Romanski. "She doesn't let it get her down. You wouldn't even know it if you saw her, but she just goes every other Monday, gets her chemo, and comes home and just keeps going. She doesn't stop, and so I looked up their logo and how they do it, and I painted a shoe for her, and it turned out pretty nice. I had it in on the work bench here for about three or four days, and everybody liked that one more than anything else."
Not only that, but Romanski's creations will also be featured on the cover of the Raiders Gameday Magazine for their Week 13 matchup with the Buffalo Bills at the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum.
The Raiders have 23 players participating in the My Cause, My Cleats campaign, including rookie running back DeAndre Washington, who will actually be wearing a pair of custom Romanski cleats as he shows his support for childhood education Sunday afternoon when the Raiders take on the Bills.
"I told him kind of what I wanted, the cause I wanted, and he started throwing out all kinds of ideas," Washington said. "It was kind of easy, because I didn't know exactly how I wanted them to be decorated, but he had so many ideas, so it definitely made the process a lot easier… I trust him, and like I said, he showed me the cleats yesterday; it was amazing. I can't wait to [wear] them on Sunday."
An exclusive look at some of the cleats designed and created by Raiders Equipment Manager Bobby Romanski for the My Cause, My Cleats initiative.
Romanski admits that he would have liked to have painted all 23 pairs of cleats himself, but let's not forget, he paints his creations on top of performing all his regular duties as the equipment manager for the Silver and Black.
But that willingness and want to do more is what makes Romanski special, and it is what has endeared him to so many people within the Raiders organization, including Head Coach Jack Del Rio.
"Bob Romanski – I say to him all the time – he's the best in the business," Del Rio said. "He's got a sense of doing, and getting, whatever the coaches or players need, and being ahead of the game. He works his tail off, and he's just a really good person, and then on top of that, he's got some real skill. He's got some talent as an artist, and he can do some incredible drawings and paintings."
Del Rio is right when he speaks about Romanski's talent, but interestingly enough, the artist oftentimes doesn't hold onto his creation after he's done, instead, he sees them on the field, but then usually never again.
That's quite aright with Romanski though.
"I've got pictures," he says. "That's all I need is pictures, and I'm good."
Don't let Romanski's humble nature fool you though; he's better than good, not just at his current job that he's held for a better part of 20 years, but at his art as well.
So what would the artist's ultimate goal be? Well, true to form, it would just sharing his art with the world, and watching others enjoy the fruits of his labor.
"That would be the ultimate goal for me, all of a sudden you look out there and every single one of the guys is wearing a pair of shoes that I painted," said Romanski. "That would be awesome."
It would be awesome, but he wouldn't want to hold onto the cleats; he'd have his pictures, and that would be good.