'Out of Bounds': The Incredible Life of Ricky Williams
UT to unveil statue of Williams April 1
By Mark Fagan, 4:20AM, Sat. Mar. 31, 2012
When Ricky Williams announced his retirement, the NFL and its fans lost one of the sport's most fascinating figures from the past decade in a half. An athlete who performed at the highest level on the field, he will be remembered for his eccentric lifestyle off the field as much as his record-breaking, highly successful college and pro careers.
This Sunday, April 1, at 1:30pm as part of the Texas Football Spring Jamboree a statue of Williams will be unveiled. Mack Brown, Wane McGarity, and Brent Musburger are among the A-list names honoring him. The event is free to the public and 10,000 Williams posters will be handed out following the orange-white scrimmage. A fitting tribute for this Central Texas legend.
As much as I disdain the local catchphrase "keep it weird," it seems all to fitting a description for the San Diego-born Williams who solidified his legend in Austin with four phenomenal years (1995-'98) as the running back for the Texas Longhorns where he became the NCAA career rushing leader with 6,279 yards (beat soon after by Ron Dayne) and won the Heisman Trophy, both in 1998.
He made an immediately splash in the NFL when Mike Ditka and the New Orleans Saints sold the farm to trade up and pick the dreadlocked Williams fifth overall in the 1999 draft. A move immortalized, somewhat infamously, by Williams posing in a wedding dress alongside his "groom," Ditka, on the cover of ESPN the Magazine. Hard to imagine many other elite athletes Like Kobe, LeBron, Jeter, or Tom Brady doing the same.
Williams chose rap mogul Master P as his agent and signed a largely incentive-laden contract which was looked upon as a poor business decision by most, including myself. Master P would later be fired as his agent and Ditka would be let go by the Saints after not leading them to a championship.
Williams was criticized and ridiculed for doing post-game interviews while wearing his helmet (and visor) on. This was later revealed by Williams to have occurred as a result of his suffering from social anxiety disorder. A condition rarely, if ever, acknowledged publicly by an elite athlete and not a well-known condition at all at the time. This further separated Williams from the NFL rank and file but made him more of a sympathetic character to fans like myself.
Williams' out-of-the-ordinary behavior is documented in the excellent ESPN 30 for 30 film Run Ricky Run. I had this to say about RRR in April of 2010, "Williams allows directors Sean Pamphilon and Royce Toni full access to his life in the years following his decision to walk away from professional football and his hefty contract. Viewed by many as a player who chose marijuana over football, Williams comes across as a man searching for truth and inner peace while also alienating himself from family and friends as well as dealing with social anxiety disorder."
After limited success in his three years in New Orleans (two thousand-yard seasons and the Saints' first-ever playoff win) Williams was traded to the Miami Dolphins in 2002. He continued to play well but failed several drug tests during this period because of his use of marijuana. Much to the utter distaste of Dolphins's fans, Williams announced in 2004 his (first) retirement from the NFL rather than facing a four-game suspension.
He became somewhat of a recluse during this period, living out of a tent in Australia and studying holistic medicine in California. Much of Run Ricky Run was filmed during this period.
Williams regained his love of football and returned to the game and the Dolphins in 2005 after serving a four-game suspension for drug use. He had a solid season (743 yards, six TDs) but was again suspended for all of 2006 for violating the league's substance-abuse policy.
He returned for a game in 2007, was injured, and rushed for 659 yards and four TDs in 2008 in a back-up role. After Ronnie Brown was injured in 2009 Williams regained the starting job and ran for his fifth and final 1,000-yard season with 1,121 yards.
He played one more year in Miami and then finished out his career in 2011 in honorable fashion as a back-up to Ray Rice in Baltimore, just barely eking into the 10,000-yard club with 10,009. Final career stat line: 147 games played, 10,009 yards on 2431 carries for a 4.1 average yard per carry, and 66 TDs.
Thanks Ricky, for entertaining us on the field and following you own path off the field. A true Longhorn legend.