Ricky Williams on his greatest accomplishment on the football field
“I guess that I survived, really. Football is a rough game… I’m not talking about physical death, but a lot of people don’t really survive with all their limbs moving and with their heads okay, so… Especially when you see what is going on with Tony Dorsett. I am happy to have my health and to have had such a nice career.”
Every now and then, this silver and blue blood has a burnt orange tint. On Friday, April 25, while covering the United Way football clinic sponsored by Nissan and the Heisman Trust, we managed to get a few moments with Texas Longhorns legend Ricky Williams.
Greatest college player ever?
In the final game of the 1998 season, Williams was just 11 yards shy of Tony Dorsett’s all-time NCAA rushing record. He broke the record in dramatic fashion on a 60-yard touchdown scamper against rival Texas A&M. Williams led the Longhorns to victory and wrote himself into history, finishing his stellar career with 6,279 rushing yards. Additionally, he remains one of only eight running backs in NCAA history to rush for more than 2,000 yards in a season.
After the record-breaking game, Texas coach Mack Brown said, “It’s been a special year because of Ricky Williams. He is the best player I have ever seen. I think he is one of the best, if not the best, college football player ever.”
Ditka puts it all on Red, um, Burnt Orange
NFL Draft Day, 1999. Iron Mike Ditka has been brought to New Orleans to lead the woeful Saints to football glory. Ditka wanted Ricky Williams and was willing to do anything, it seemed, to get him. What transpired is remembered by some as one of the worst draft day decisions of all time.
A little history …
At the winter meetings following the 1998 season, the then-Saints coach uttered, “A horse, a horse, my kingdom for a horse!” … or something to that effect.
Ditka made no bones about the fact that he would part with the Saints’ entire draft (picks in Rounds one, three, four, five, six and seven) for an opportunity to select the University of Texas’ Heisman Trophy-winning back. Like a lot of people at the time, Ditka believed Williams to be a rare talent — the second coming of Earl Campbell, only much quicker.
The Redskins were in a position to oblige. With Ditka already having thrown his cards on the table, general manager Charlie Casserly asked for more and got it — a first- and third-round pick in 2000.
Seems obscene, doesn’t it? Eight picks (including two each in the first and third round) for the No. 5 pick. To add insult to injury, a majority of NFL general managers believed Miami’s Edgerrin James, and not Williams, was the top-ranked running back on the board. Still, Ditka paid no attention. The trade went through, the Saints picked Williams, and Ditka closed down shop early.
The Saints’ media ate it up, and for once there was genuine excitement in New Orleans over its football team. But a 3-13 finish — which turned that 2000 first-rounder into the No. 2 overall pick — angered fans and the Saints’ brass, and Ditka was pushed out of town.
That trade lives in NFL infamy, and to this day hangs like a steel chain from Ditka’s neck. It’s a trade that has been chalked up to: Desperate times lead to desperate measures.
Ricky Williams achieves NFL greatness
Despite Ditka’s being fired from New Orleans after the risky trade for Williams did not produce an immediate winner, Williams enjoyed a measure of success in the Crescent City. He had a couple of thousand-yard rushing seasons with the Saints before he was traded to the Miami Dolphins.
Williams is remembered as a colorful controversial character. He served a season-long NFL suspension for failing drug tests. He took an early retirement from the game in 2004 and went off to study “Ayurveda,” an ancient Indian system of holistic medicine.” He played in the CFL during his season-long suspension, but ultimately returned to Miami, where he resumed his NFL career and put up more than respectable numbers.
In 2002, Williams set the Dolphins’ franchise singe-season rushing record with 1,853 yards rushing. He scored 16 rushing touchdowns that season, which was also a franchise record. Williams finished his NFL career with the Baltimore Ravens. He amassed 10,009 career rushing yards, becoming just the 26th player in NFL history to surpass that mile marker.
Ricky Williams, a man apart
Williams, always seen as quirky and a bit off-beat with his penchant for marijuana use and his seeming awkwardness in public, is an interesting study. Some want to dismiss him as just another doper. That, however, is a gross misunderstanding of a very complex, introspective man. Williams was diagnosed with a social anxiety disorder, for which he sought and received help.
Williams has never been one to give the standard coach-speak answers to questions. He is nothing if not reflective, genuine, and willing to risk being misjudged in the interest of an honest answer. I already believed that about him before I met him. This interview confirmed that belief…
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