Justin Simmons was in trouble.
In 2016, the Broncos safety was a rookie when members of the No Fly Zone — then consisting of Aqib Talib, Chris Harris Jr., Darian Stewart and T.J. Ward — gave the youngin’ in the room an initiation.
First, they told Simmons not to cut his hair. Then, after Simmons grew out his hair to the point he had a mini Jackson Five afro, he had to get it cut in the same design as a Cincinnati Bengals helmet.
“It was like the black stripe was bald, and the orange stripe was my hair. Every other line (was) puff, bald, puff, bald,” Simmons told The Denver Post. “It was bad.”
Simmons had to sport the look for one week of practice. Once that time was up, he needed someone who could help get things back in order. So he reached out to Louie Romero, a local barber who had just started cutting hair for the Broncos at the training facility.
Simmons went to Romero’s shop and asked him to “salvage” the situation.
From that moment, the two hit it off. Simmons became one of Romero’s most consistent clients while developing a close friendship to the point where their families know each other.
While their friendship has grown, so have their respective careers. Simmons, a Pro Bowl selection in 2020, has become one of the top safeties in the NFL. Romero has been cutting hair for the Broncos for the past eight years and recently expanded to members of the Denver Nuggets, including point guard Jamal Murray.
“Clients become friends (and) friends become family. It’s more than just football (and) a haircut,” Romero, 38, told The Post.
Louie Romero lines up Denver Broncos safety Justin Simmons at FADE Barber Shop in Arvada on Wednesday, Nov. 8, 2023. (Photo by AAron Ontiveroz/The Denver Post)
Best ability is availability
Romero’s friendship with Simmons and the opportunity to cut hair for the Broncos happened by chance.
During Denver’s Super Bowl 50 run in 2015-16, he was just getting started in the barber game when former Broncos strength and conditioning coach Luke Richesson went to him for haircuts. Eventually, Romero’s name began to travel through Broncos HQ.
In the offseason ahead of the 2016 season, former quarterback Mark Sanchez, who had just signed with the Broncos, stopped by Romero and his brother Joey’s shop, Crisp, in Lakewood, for a haircut. Romero later branched out and started his own shop in Arvada called Fade.
Sanchez, who was released by the team after training camp, asked Romero to cut the entire offensive line as a way to build chemistry. Sanchez paid in advance, and Romero came to the Broncos facility for the job.
He hasn’t left since.
“Once you find consistency (with someone), you stick with it, and I think that’s how I’ve been able to keep my foot in the door for eight seasons,” Romero said.
Whenever the team calls, he packs up his equipment, hops in his truck and drives over to Dove Valley. Broncos vice president of player development Ray Jackson is Romero’s point of contact. Romero’s not on the team’s payroll, but he goes up to the facility at least twice a week, and players pay him individually for a cut.
If a player needs him at the last minute, he goes to their house. Romero recalled going to former Denver edge rusher Von Miller’s house at 11 p.m. once because the eight-time Pro Bowler needed an emergency cut after he lost a bet with his cousin.
“He calls me like, ‘I’ll double the pay. I just need you to show up. I don’t care what time it is,’” Romero recalled.
When quarterback Russell Wilson arrived in Denver after being traded from the Seattle Seahawks, he was looking for a barber in the area. Players referred Wilson to Romero, and he messaged him through Instagram.
As a lifelong Broncos fan who grew up five minutes from Empower Field at Mile High, Romero said it was hard not to be a fanboy when he arrived at Wilson’s house. Romero met Wilson, his kids and his wife, Ciara, who told him, “We don’t shake hands. I’m from Georgia,” then hugged him.
“It’s still a surreal, pinch-me moment to be able to cut Russ and Von Miller’s hair,” Romero said. “(I’ve been) watching Broncos games for as long as I can remember. I still call it Mile High Stadium. I’m old school.”
Louie Romero organizes his tools before cutting Denver Broncos safety Justin Simmons at FADE Barber Shop in Arvada on Wednesday, Nov. 8, 2023. (Photo by AAron Ontiveroz/The Denver Post)
Those sorts of “pinch-me” moments run in the family.
For about five years, Joey, 42, has had Colorado Rockies players like outfielder Charlie Blackmon and starting pitcher Kyle Freeland stop by his shop in Lakewood.
Iide an apartment, cutting Colorado prep legend and then-Stanford star Christian McCaffrey’s hair the night before the 2017 NFL Draft, he almost lost his mind when former Broncos wide receiver Ed McCaffrey, Christian’s father, walked inside.
“Holy (bleep) that’s Ed McCaffrey. And Christian (said), ‘Yeah, I know. That’s my dad,’” Joey said. “I’m like ‘Dude, no offense, but that’s Ed McCaffrey. I watched your dad win Super Bowls.’”
Louie Romero holds a mirror for Denver Broncos safety Justin Simmons at FADE Barber Shop in Arvada on Wednesday, Nov. 8, 2023. (Photo by AAron Ontiveroz/The Denver Post)
Hair care is in Romero’s blood. In addition to Joey being a barber, their grandfather cut hair for his neighbors out of his garage. Even though Romero’s oldest brother, Manny, 48, isn’t a barber, he helps run the business side of Fade, making sure bills get paid and the lease is up to date.
Through his grandfather and his dad taking him to a barbershop as a kid, Romero learned the value of relationships. For Romero, the barbershop is the original social networking site. He sees it as a place where someone can meet new people, get advice and take a break from the world for 30 to 40 minutes. It’s where he learned how to treat people with respect, and that has translated into his career.
The moment a player sits in the chair, their status is thrown out the window. He tries to avoid talking about sports and focus more on the well-being of their families and lives.
“We become that confidant, and that’s the great part about it,” Joey said.
The two brothers credit their success to the snowball effect. Louie has been able to obtain high-profile clients through social media and word of mouth. He cuts hair for musical acts that come through Denver, such as rappers RZA, from the Wu-Tang Clan, and Machine Gun Kelly.
During the Nuggets’ 2022-23 season, he was cutting John Gault, the team’s player development associate. That led to him being asked to come to Ball Arena to give haircuts to Christian Braun, Collin Gillespie, Vlatko Cancar and Murray.
Romero cut Murray’s hair at the Nuggets star’s house ahead of Game 5 of the Western Conference quarterfinals against the Minnesota Timberwolves. Murray scored 35 points in a series-clinching win, and after the game, Romero was invited to celebrate.
“I got a call from a mutual friend after (the game) who said ‘Hey man, we are out and about,’” Romero said. “’I’ve been hanging with Jamal all day, and now I’m here enjoying a glass of wine.’ It’s one of those nice moments, even if it’s for an hour or two, where you can decompress and live in the moment.”
Denver Broncos safety Justin Simmons signs the wall at FADE Barber Shop in Arvada on Wednesday, Nov. 8, 2023. (Photo by AAron Ontiveroz/The Denver Post)
“We have a connection”
Inside Romero’s shop, there’s a wall near the entrance that former and current Broncos players have signed.
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However, his friendship with Simmons is a true testament to his growth as a barber. They give Christmas gifts to each other’s kids, occasionally have dinner and have attended a Nuggets game together.
Last spring Romero’s 6-year-old, Vincent, a huge fan of Simmons, wanted the star safety to attend his flag football game. Simmons didn’t hesitate. While Vincent was on the sidelines, Romero told his son, “You got one of your biggest fans coming to watch you play.” Vincent turned around and saw Simmons walking toward the field, causing all the kids to rush toward him for pictures. Romero said he would cherish that moment forever.
“I think over time, when you start seeing people consistently, you develop a relationship with them,” Simmons said. “Then you start operating more than just friends … kind of like family. It started with haircuts, then getting to know his family, and he’s been a blessing to my family.”
On a rainy Wednesday afternoon, Simmons stopped by Romero’s shop for a haircut before attending the Nuggets game against the Golden State Warriors later that evening. While Romero cut his hair into a low fade, the two talked about familiar topics — sneakers, their families and common friends — as they had so many times before. The monstrous rookie cut that first brought them together has long since been swept away, but the bond it created has endured.
“We all come from the same place, whether you are an athlete or a regular guy cutting hair. We have a connection some way or another,” Romero said.
Denver Post photographer AAron Ontiveroz contributed to this report.