Silence is Golden
The old teacher in David Carradine's classic TV series Kung Fu, whose name was Master Po, was fond of saying things like "Grasshopper, the pathway you have chosen is chosen for you. For in the matter you speak of, destiny, there is no such thing as chance." Or, "grasshopper, when one seeks escape, one never finds escape, for the trap is in the seeking."
Words of wisdom? Perhaps. But, let us consider for a moment the pathway chosen by Ricky Williams, the infamous running back of the Miami Dolphins, and an integral member of the Dolphin's brainwave wildcat offense; Williams, whose checkered past has more twists, more ups and downs than a stadium size Snakes and Ladders game board.
In 2004, after winning a rushing title for the Dolphins in 2002 with an exceptional 1853 yards, and 1352 rushing yards the following year, the dreadlocked, soft-spoken Williams tests positive for marijuana for the third time, thus setting in motion a destiny well beyond the familiar for most NFL players and their fans. To wit: two days before training camp, he retires from football rather than face the ignominy of an imminent suspension. The timing of his retirement sends Head Coach Dave Wannstadt over the deep end, (literally). Williams goes abroad. He travels. He is seen living in a tent in Australia , spending $7 a day. He goes to California and studies ayurveda, an ancient Indian system of holistic medicine. He learns yoga, and expresses a desire to become a yoga master. Bill O'Reilly slams Williams on "The Factor," calling him the "poster boy for the pot movement."
2005. Williams returns to football. Wannstadt is now toast in Miami, and Nick Saban is in. Saban hires Scott Linehan to run the offense. Williams serves a four game suspension, but under Master Scott Linehan's offensive system, rushes for 743 yards, 6 TDs, and a 4.4 yards per carry average. (Ah, grasshopper, he who walks the straight path discovers he has not forgotten how to run.) Nobody votes for Williams as the Comeback Player of the Year.
2006. Williams violates the NFL's drug policy for the fourth time. He is rumoured to have been in India. The substance he allegedly used was related to his "herbal" therapy. Bill O'Reilly slams Williams on "The Factor." Williams seeks refuge in Canada, playing in the Canadian Football League for the Toronto Argonauts. Williams is ripped by Joe Theismann, who calls him an "addict," and who disdains the move by the Argos for signing him. Williams hurts himself in a game in Regina, Saskatchewan, breaking a bone in his forearm. In eleven games, Williams rushes for 526 yards on 109 carries playing in Canada. Canadian Football League fans actually think Williams average performance for the Argonauts is evidence that the CFL is as good as the NFL. A new rule in the Canadian Football League comes into effect that suspended or banned NFL players will no longer be permitted to play in the CFL.
2007. Williams applies for reinstatement. He practices yoga. He sees a shrink. Miami Dolphins Head Coach Cam Cameron says of Williams "past behavior is indicative of future behavior." Translation: don't bother coming back. Then, the Miami Dolphins lose their first twelve games, and appear headed for an 0-16 season. Cam Cameron changes his tune. "The situation has changed," he said. (Ah, grasshopper, what is pride without humility?)
Williams returns on a Monday night game in Pittsburg. Heinz Field is a mud bowl. Williams fumbles. Lawrence Timmons steps on his chest. Williams writhes on the field. He has torn chest muscles. He is placed on IR. There is more yoga on the horizon. The Steelers win the lowest scoring game in Monday night history, 3-0.
2008. Williams signs a contract renewal with the Miami Dolphins. Nobody knows what to expect. The next drug test failure could be minutes or light years away. Bill Parcells likes what he sees. Williams signs an extension through 2009. Williams works hard. He spells Ronnie Brown. They become friends. Williams rushes for 659 yards, a 4.1 YPC average, 4 TDs. He catches 29 passes for 219 more yards. He is featured in the Dolphins wildcat offense, which is the brainchild of QB coach David Lee.
Since Williams reinstatement toward the end of 2007, since the night when he returned to the NFL after four violations of a banned substance, the night that Lawrence Timmons stepped on his chest, Williams has been clean. Now, through thirteen games of the 2009 season, Williams silence off the field has been accompanied by thunder on the field. He is currently 10th in the league in rushing, 25 yards short of 1000.
He has ten touchdowns and averaged just under five yards per carry.
At 32, Williams has put Ladainian Tomlinson to shame. Since Ronnie Brown went down with a season ending injury, he has been the Dolphins most poignant attacker, supplanting the nascent trickery of the wildcat formation with power running. He has apparently turned the final corner of his career and is heading to the homestretch: at the end of next season, he will allegedly retire.
For diehard Miami Dolphin fans, the shibboleth this year has been silence. Master Po might say, "silence is golden." But as Caine himself, played by the late David Carradine might respond, apropos of Williams, "I may be silent, but don't mistake me for a wall."