Ricky Williams: The New Underdog
When uttered, his name is usually followed by a joke. He is hated by some, resented by more and now, for the first time in his career, written off by most.
He is also one of the most intriguing and human of sports figures.
Flaky. Irresponsible. Dishonest. Unrealistic. Drug addict.
Thoughtful. Caring. Curious. Idealistic. Hard worker.
How can one person be perceived in so many contrary fashions? The answers lie partly in Williams and partly in the viewer.
To Miami Dolphins fans he represents the last time their team was relevant. This was made painfully obvious to them last year on Monday Night Football. A very misanthropic Tony Kornheiser poked fun at an injured Williams and his fans in Miami: “There goes your savior, Miami.”
The entire Monday Night crew thought it a fitting way for Williams to end. Injured on a sodden field, pressed into service after one week of practice, Ricky Williams dropped the ball and ran away.
That was their storyline. That was the way they wanted it to be seen.
Williams had been hurt on his fourth carry, which he had fumbled. Williams looked to grab the ball he fumbled even after having been purposefully stomped on by Steelers’ linebacker Lawrence Timmons. The stomping had torn his pectoral muscle. Williams still came back in and carried the ball two more times before succumbing to the injury. He left unable to lift his arm.
It was a criminal act and yet the only incriminations being made were of Williams and his lifestyle. None of the Dolphins players defended him. None of the front office people or coaches had the backbone to press the Steelers for some sort of apology. What else could you expect out of a team that went 1-15? You surely wouldn’t expect a fiery pride and the feeling to fight. Not out of those Dolphins.
Many will ask why his teammates should have defended him. After all, he left them high and dry in 2004 and messed up again in 2006 and 2007.
The answer to that is simple: Because. Because he’s a teammate and you should always defend your own. One of the Dolphins linemen should have pummeled Timmons on the spot. They didn’t. They were the 2007 Miami Dolphins.
The relevant question, the one that means something more is simply, “What is so awful about Ricky Williams?”
The two negative traits that are least defensible are his inability to control his addiction and the fashion in which he decided to retire in 2004.
The latter instance, the one of his departure, in not completely untenable.
He got the ball 775 times in 2002 and 2003, with close to 400 coming in 2003 alone. That year the Dolphins line was terrible and with no one even remotely decent at quarterback, rival defenses would stack the line of scrimmage. The Dolphins didn’t even make a pretense of possessing a passing game.
In 2004, without Ricky, the Dolphins couldn’t run the ball to save their lives. They won four games. They burned through three running backs.
So what were those other negative traits? Dishonest? Maybe. He has said that he hasn’t smoked marijuana when he has.
Lazy? Hardly. He is respected for his practice and game-time work ethics. He has carried the ball injured and never takes a down off, even when his carry totals crept into the 30’s. Twice he carried the ball 40 or more times.
You don’t get out of bed until Tuesday afternoon if you carry the ball that many times.
Some have called him cowardly. Yet Williams, a sufferer of extreme social anxiety and mild agoraphobia, has to overcome profound fear every time he walks into the locker room, let alone a stadium filled with thousands.
Flaky? Flaky is the one term I find ridiculous. Williams penchant for things not football, things like yoga and holistic healing, his earnest investigation of philosophy and religion; these are flaky things? Brian Urlacher might as well be a Disney version of Frankenstein’s monster, and Ricky Williams’ existential curiosity is a problem? Randy Moss is clearly unstable, let alone abusive, and yet he is given more credit as a human being than Ricky Williams is.
When asked in a recent interview about when it was hardest to avoid smoking, Ricky answered when reading. He used to enjoy reading scripture while high, claiming it helped him read deeper.
That's different. Not flaky.
The factor that defines him as deviant is the NFL. The latter two, the examples of Urlacher and Moss, are tied to the NFL; it is all they perceivably are. Ricky Williams wants to be something more than a football player. He knows his "God-Given" talent is that of being a bruising running back with exceptional vision and quickness.
People for some reason resent this. We all should want to be something other than our professions. We'd be healthier human beings.
Then lastly, there’s Ricky the player. Actually, as far as Dolphins fans looking to Williams to be their savior, it’s not as ridiculous as people make it sound. Not counting last year’s eleventh hour appearance, Williams was the key factor in the Dolphins only winning seasons for the last six seasons.
With Ricky: 2002, 9-7. 2003, 10-6. 2005, 9-7.
Without Ricky: 2004, 4-12. 2006, 6-10. 2007, 1-15.
This year should mark a year of challenge for Ricky. For the first time in his college or professional career he is being written off as a player as well as a person.
Ricky is smart, though. He’s perceptive and now has hopefully learned to think things through to their ends, not just their beginnings.
With that in mind, Ricky seems to have prioritized his life. He has said that he knows that football is his best chance at providing for his family. He knows that if he can have a good year in 2008 then he can expect better money the next year. He knows that if he fails one more time, then his legacy as a very good football player is gone like the smoke from his joint. More importantly, he knows that another failed drug test leaves a shameful legacy for his children.
The marijuana isn’t what makes it shameful. The inability to overcome it with so much to gain if he does, is.
Ricky Williams has so very much to prove, to himself most of all.
So, Tony K., here’s to those Dolphins fans who, come next September, are excited about going way back in their closet and pulling forth a teal jersey labeled #34.
Personally, I’d rather pull for a guy seeking redemption than an opportunistic and abusive wide receiver at the top of his game.
Though, if you’re a Tony Kornheiser type, then you’d better draft Randy Moss early. He’s a sure thing in your fantasy football league.
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