Ricky Williams: Highlights of Former Miami Dolphins RB
In my 28 years of life on this planet—with 24 of those years as a Dolphins fan—there are plenty of players I can say I've been blessed to watch play for my favorite team.
Watching Jason Taylor and Zack Thomas play on defense was a sight to behold, as was the coverage in the secondary of Patrick Surtain and Sam Madison.
Bryan Cox was entertaining, as were the Marks brothers at wide receiver, watching Richmond Webb protect the blind side and of course I'd be remiss if I didn't mention that I got to see the greatest pure passer in his prime for most of my childhood.
But the most interesting Dolphin of them all that I have seen has been running back Erick Lynne Williams Jr. Or as we know him, Ricky Williams.
Ricky Williams announced his retirement from football on Tuesday after playing for 11 seasons, seven of them with the Miami Dolphins. When Miami made the trade for Ricky during the 2002 offseason, I thought we had punched our ticket to the Super Bowl. But while the Dolphins would only reach the playoffs once in Williams' seven seasons in Miami, and despite a retirement in 2004 and a year-long suspension in 2006, I can say that the Ricky Williams-era in Miami was certainly interesting and always entertaining.
Let's take a look at some of what made Williams' time in Miami as interesting and why.
2002: Miami Acquires Ricky Williams from New Orleans
The Miami Dolphins were entering Year Three of the Post-Marino era in 2002.
In the first two years after Marino retired, the Dolphins went 23-12. They earned an AFC East championship in 2000 behind a stout defense led by Zack Thomas, Jason Taylor, Sam Madison and Patrick Surtain.
However, the Dolphins needed some bang for their buck on offense.
In the two seasons after Marino's retirement, Miami would finish 26th and 21st respectively on offense, which carried a run-first philosophy. The only problem was the lack of a consistent running back. While Lamar Smith did a decent job carrying the load (and even single-handedly won a playoff game against Indianapolis in 2000 where the Colts were favored), he wasn't a game-breaker that could push Miami over the edge.
Meanwhile, in New Orleans, there was concern about Ricky Williams—specifically his health. He had missed parts of his first three seasons with the New Orleans Saints due to injuries. While he rushed for a total of 3,129 yards and nine touchdowns with the Saints, it still looked like the team had lost the large gamble they had made when they traded up to acquire the former Heisman Trophy winner in the 1999 draft.
New Orleans would trade Williams to Miami in exchange for four draft picks—including two first-rounders—on March 8th, 2002. Many had thought that the Dolphins had themselves gambled to make the trade; Ricky was not only injury prone, but also "had his issues."
While with the Saints, he was known for conducting his interviews while wearing his helmet, and for not interacting too much with teammates.
He was later diagnosed with Social Anxiety Disorder and clinical depression.
The Saints would later draft Duece McAllister to replace Williams at running back, while Miami thought they had their final piece of the puzzle.
2002-2003: Ricky Shines in Miami
With Ricky Williams in tow, the Dolphins thought that they had their final piece to the Super Bowl puzzle.
Ricky would have the best season of his career in his first year as a Dolphin, rushing for 1,853 yards and 16 touchdowns on 383 attempts. He lead the league in rushing yards and rushing attempts that season and also made an appearance in what would turn out to be his first and only Pro Bowl.
He would also catch 47 passes for 363 yards and a touchdown that season. Odds are, had the Dolphins made it into the postseason, he would've likely won the NFL's MVP award.
However, this was not to be.
The Dolphins would finish 9-7 that year, missing the postseason, despite the fact that they needed one victory in their final two games to clinch the AFC East, and had already beaten top AFC teams like the eventual AFC Champion Oakland Raiders.
The next season, Ricky would again post good numbers. However, they were neither Pro Bowl nor All-Pro caliber. Ricky ran for 1,372 yards and nine touchdowns along with catching 50 passes for 351 yards and one touchdown.
He would lead the league in rushing attempts for the second consecutive season, but also for the second consecutive season, Miami would find themselves on the outside looking into the playoffs—this time with a 10-6 record.
All the blame shouldn't be on Ricky Williams for Miami missing the postseason both years. Ricky's job was to be a workhorse running back, and that he was. Inconsistency at quarterback (Miami had three starting quarterbacks in 2002 and 2003 combined), as well as a habit of blowing late-game leads would doom the 'Phins.
2004: Retirement and Backlash
Prior to the start of Dolphins training camp in July, Ricky Williams shocked the NFL when he announced his retirement from football.
It was thought that Williams retired due to testing positive for marijuana a third time, thus meaning he'd be suspended for four games and fined $650,000.
After retiring, Williams would be sued by the Miami Dolphins for the sum of $8.6 million of his signing bonus. The Dolphins would wind up winning that lawsuit.
During the 2004 season, Williams was the subject of a Mike Wallace interview on 60 Minutes where he had this to say as to why he decided to retire:
All right, Williams said. Here's what happened, OK? The thing that I had the most trouble with was that after—after you fail your, your third test then it becomes public knowledge that, that you failed the test. And that's the one thing that I couldn't deal with at the time: People knowing that I smoke marijuana.
Williams would later claim that that retirement was "the most positive thing" he had ever done in his life. That year, while away from football, he studied aryuveda, a form of holistic medicine, at a college in Grass Valley, California.
This would be the subject of an ESPN 30 For 30 Documentary called "Run Ricky Run," which was directed by Sean Pamphilon and Royce Toni.
Many fans in South Florida and throughout the country were outraged by Williams' decision, calling it selfish. The Dolphins would finish the season 4-12 and head coach Dave Wannstedt would resign midway through the 2004 season.
I actually theorized another part of the reason why Williams retired was because being the focal point of the Dolphins offense, he was expected to carry the biggest load. This is evidenced by the fact that he led the NFL in carries in his first two seasons as a Dolphin, and felt that in 2004 his efforts would be for naught.
But he would come back in 2005 under new Dolphins head coach Nick Saban.
2005: Return to Football, Return to Miami
Ricky Williams would return to the Dolphins on July 24th, 2005 after paying back the Dolphins a part of his signing bonus. He would miss the first four games of the regular season due to the positive drug test; however, at his press conference announcing his return, he apologized to his teammates.
Williams would play his first NFL game since 2003 on October 16th, 2005 against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. In his first game, he would rush for eight yards on five carries and would also have six catches for 22 yards in a 27-13 Dolphins loss.
Williams would pick up steam through the rest of the season—he ended with 743 yards on 168 attempts scoring six touchdowns while splitting carries with Auburn rookie Ronnie Brown.
Ricky's best game came on Christmas Eve against the Tennessee Titans. With Ronnie Brown injured, Ricky would carry the ball 26 times for 172 yards and a touchdown in a 24-10 Dolphins victory.
Miami finished the season at 9-7 and were poised for an even better 2006 behind the backfield of Ricky and Ronnie. All that was needed was a quarterback, (we're not going to get into that), and it seemed like the Dolphins would be ready to contend.
Thanks to Ricky's own mistake, he wouldn't be a part of the Dolphins 2006 season (which might have been a good thing for him in the long run).
2006-2007: Banishment to Canada and a Season Ends Before It Can Start
On February 26th, 2006, the NFL announced that Ricky Williams had failed his fourth drug test. Two months later, the league would suspend Williams for the 2006 season. It was suggested by some within the league that Williams didn't test positive for marijuana (via SportingNews.com), but instead the positive came from an herb related to his holistic medicine studies.
Ricky Williams would then sign with the Toronto Argonauts of the Canadian Football League for the 2006 season. But that season would be marred by injury: Williams would break a bone in his left arm on July 22nd of that year (the CFL begins their season in June).
Williams would miss two months of action, but he finished the season with 526 yards and two touchdowns on 109 attempts.
In 2007 Williams appealed to the league for reinstatement. His request was granted by Roger Goodell in October of that year and Williams would return to the Dolphins.
He would make his debut in a Monday Night game against the Pittsburgh Steelers in Pittsburgh on November 26, 2007.
He had six carries for 15 yards before Steelers LB Lawrence Timmons would accidentally step on Williams, thus tearing his pectoral muscle. The next day, Williams announced he would be out for the rest of the 2007 season, and his return to Miami for 2008 was in question. The team would fire their head coach Cam Cameron after a 1-15 season, bringing in Bill Parcells as their head of football operations, general manager Jeff Ireland and head coach Tony Sparano.
Ricky would return to the Dolphins in 2008, and have one of the best late-career stretches.
2008-2011: Ricky's Renaissance in Miami and the End of a Career
Ricky Williams would again attempt a comeback with the Miami Dolphins in 2008, but this time it had stuck.
In 2008, Ricky was an important part of the Dolphins offense—he rushed for 659 yards and four touchdowns on 160 attempts and was a key part of the wildcat formation alongside Ronnie Brown. He was also proficient at catching passes out of the backfield.
He had 29 catches for 219 yards and a touchdown.
Behind the backfield of Ricky and Ronnie and led by Chad Pennington, the Miami Dolphins would win their first AFC East Championship since 2000 that season by going 11-5. They would host the Baltimore Ravens in the playoffs—Ricky's first NFL playoff game—which resulted in a 27-9 loss.
That afternoon, Williams would have four rushes for 17 yards and one catch for eight yards.
In 2009, Williams would be thrust into the Dolphins starting running back role for the first time since 2005 after Ronnie Brown suffered a lisfranc fracture in Week 10 against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Williams would finish the season with 1,121 yards on and 11 touchdowns on 241 attempts while catching the ball 35 times for 264 yards and two touchdowns. He became the running back with the longest gap between 1,000-yard seasons in NFL history at six years.
But the Dolphins would finish 7-9 and miss the playoffs in 2009.
In 2010, Williams and the Dolphins would again have big expectations after acquiring wide receiver Brandon Marshall during the offseason. Williams produced to the tune of 673 yards and two touchdowns on 159 carries, while also having 19 receptions for 141 yards and a touchdown.
Again, the Dolphins would finish the season at 7-9 and were on the outside looking in.
A free agent in 2011, Williams would then sign with the Baltimore Ravens, where he backed up running back Ray Rice. Playing in all 16 games, Ricky would have 444 yards and two touchdowns on 108 carries while catching the ball 13 times for 83 yards.
The Ravens would go onto the AFC Championship game where they lost to the New England Patriots, which would turn out to be Ricky's final game in the NFL.
Summing It All Up: Is Ricky Williams a Hall of Famer?
Ricky's career ends with him at 10,009 yards on 66 touchdowns along with 342 catches for 2,606 yards and eight touchdowns. He finished second to Larry Csonka for most career rushing yards as a Miami Dolphin, and was their best running back since Csonka (cut to many Dolphins fans stating that if only the 'Phins could've had him in the 90s, Marino would have had his ring).
While the numbers are great by any stretch, they're not quite Hall of Fame great.
All time he ranks 26th in rushing yards and 43rd in rushing touchdowns. According to Pro-football-reference.com, his overall career is similar to that of Garrison Hearst, Robert Smith and Sam "Bam" Cunningham—none of those players are currently enshrined in Canton.
Another reason why Williams will likely not get the call from Canton is the controversy surrounding him throughout his career due to his first retirement and multiple suspensions due to drug use.
But while he might not deserve enshrinement in Canton, he does deserve to be honored by the Miami Dolphins by being enshrined in their ring of honor. I wouldn't retire his jersey number—that should be an honor reserved for Hall of Famers. (Sorry, but with the only retired numbers belonging to Hall of Famers Bob Griese, Larry Csonka and Dan Marino, the bar is set pretty high.)
Williams will always be remembered not just among Dolphins fans but throughout the NFL.
His peak on the field was about two years long (and likely two years too short), but he was Miami's offensive MVP in 2002 and 2003—two seasons where Miami didn't make the playoffs (again, due to inconsistency at quarterback), but did have a combined record of 19-13.
He will be remembered more for his actions off the field.
While he was controversial due to his use of marijuana earlier in his career, Williams never got into any other off-the-field trouble and by all accounts has been a model citizen everywhere he's gone. During his time in Toronto and his last two years in Miami, Williams would work part-time as a yoga instructor. He continues to practice Yoga to this day.
Williams was also a rare breed in that he didn't let football become what defined him: He wanted to be fulfilled with life in general and grow as a human being.
This was a sentiment he expressed upon making his retirement announcement on Tuesday via ESPN:
The NFL has been an amazing page in this chapter of my life. I pray that all successive adventures offer me the same potential for growth, success and most importantly, fun. I want to thank all my fans, teammates, coaches and supporters for the strength they've given me to overcome so much.
I want to especially thank my family, coach Mack Brown, Coach [Mike] Ditka, Coach [Bill] Parcells, Ronnie Brown, Wilbert Montgomery and the Jamail family for believing in me. As for what's next, I am excited about all the opportunities ahead—continuing my education, running The Ricky Williams Foundation and whatever other opportunities present themselves.
My football career has been filled with many great memories going back to pee wee football with coach Tom Miller, [San Diego's] Patrick Henry High School and coach Jerry Varner and on to the University of Texas. It has been a big part of my life and blessed me with so many wonderful opportunities and the chance to connect with many people who have helped me grow and mature.
I will miss the game, the camaraderie, my teammates and especially the emotions of a big victory. I love the game and leave it feeling fulfilled, proud, in great health and excited about the future.
I have to thank Coach [John] Harbaugh and the Ravens organization for the opportunity they gave me this year. I had so much fun and really appreciated the chance to finish on such a great note.
Thank you Ricky, for your years of service to the Miami Dolphins and to your other two teams the New Orleans Saints and Baltimore Ravens. Best of luck in all of your future endeavors.
Wait a Second: What If He Wants to Comeback?
Since this is Ricky Williams we're talking about, this question does have to be asked: What if he changes his mind during the offseason?
I doubt he will, as this time he's older and a bit more battered then before, and he's not the same Ricky he was in Miami, but it's fun to speculate.
Williams signed a two-year contract with the Ravens last season, meaning that if he does choose to come back, it would be with Baltimore, case closed, right?
Well, not exactly.
The Ravens could decide to give Williams his release, which is where it gets interesting for Dolphins fans.
See, if the Dolphins do sign Peyton Manning like everybody expects they'll attempt to do, then they will likely be in win-now mode in 2012. So, if Williams decides he wants to come back and the Ravens do release him, Miami would be a good place for him.
But, he'll be the third running back behind Daniel Thomas and Reggie Bush—a slot that the Dolphins would likely rather use on a late-round pick that can not only get some carries but also play some special teams.
I plead guilty of bringing up this straw-man, then killing it, but I figured I had to because I'm sure there will be some speculation about it in the upcoming weeks and months of this NFL offseason.
Thank you again for reading, and feel free to share your favorite Ricky Williams memories in the comments, whether they be Williams at Texas, with the Saints, Ravens, Dolphins or even Argonauts.