Alfred Williams – Hall of Famer
On May 26th, the College Football Hall of Fame announced its Class of 2010. There were fourteen names on the list, including those familiar to many college football fans – names like Desmond Howard (Michigan), Pat Tillman (Arizona State), Randy Cross (UCLA), Sam Cunningham (USC), and Mark Herrmann (Purdue), along with retired coaches Barry Alvarez (Wisconsin) and Gene Stallings (Texas A&M, Alabama).
There was also one former Colorado Buffalo, All-American linebacker Alfred Williams.
“I’m so proud and honored by this, but it’s a tribute to my teammates and coaches,” said Williams upon learning of his selection. “A lot of people deserve to go into the College Football Hall of Fame, but they select so few. So I am both humble and proud to represent all my teammates as the first to go in from our national championship team … Everyone knows how I feel about the University of Colorado and my love for the school.”
Colorado may be Williams’ first love today, but it wasn’t always that way …
“The University of Colorado wasn’t high on my list”
Williams was part of the 1987 recruiting class which included Eric Bieniemy, George Hemingway, Jay Leeuwenburg, Kanavis McGhee, Mike Pritchard, and Joel Steed. While these recruits would go to help Colorado to three straight Big Eight titles, they came to Boulder to join a program which had posted one winning season (7-5 in 1985) in the past eight seasons.
“For me, it was topsy-turvy time with all the teams that were looking at me,” said Williams of his recruitment. “CU didn’t stack up really high with the programs I was looking at … what really changed everything was when I came down to Boulder for a visit.”
The trip to Boulder didn’t start out well. “On my flight the smoking section was one row behind me. It was my first time leaving Texas, and the smoke gave me a terrible headache … and then it snowed like crap the first day,” said Williams. “I thought, ‘It may be pretty here, but this was not right for me’ “.
Fortunately for the Colorado football program, the following day was a picture perfect Boulder day. “The snow was melting, and there were little streams running through the university. I remember looking around campus and thinking it was really cool,” said Williams, who was from a tough neighborhood in Houston. “I decided I just wanted to go somewhere totally different than where I was from. My decision was more about the University of Colorado than football.”
Another recruit from the 1987 class, Kanavis McGhee, was also from Houston. While the pair would become an effective linebacker tandem at Colorado, they did not sign on with the Buffs as a package. “We didn’t know each other were going to CU. It just kind of happened like that,” said McGhee. “We played at rival high schools, so we kind of knew each other, but we didn’t know we were both going to CU until signing day.”
Williams made an impact at the University of Colorado almost from the beginning.
As a true freshman, Williams played in all 11 games, registering six sacks despite playing in only about half of the defensive snaps. As a sophomore, Williams racked up numbers against Iowa which many players would find difficult to accumulate in a career. In a game in which he was named national defensive player-of-the-week, Williams had seven tackles, four for loss. He also had two sacks, a forced fumble, a fumble recovery, a pass deflection and a blocked punt as the Buffs defeated the Hawkeyes, 24-21, in a statement game for the program. For his 56 tackle, six sack season in 1988, Williams was named as a second team All-Big Eight performer.
And he was just getting warmed up …
In both his junior and senior seasons, 1989 and 1990, Williams was named first team All-Big Eight, and was also the Big Eight’s Defensive Player-of-the-Year in both seasons. As a junior, Williams had 81 tackles, including 16 for losses and 10 1/2 sacks; as a senior, Williams upped the numbers to 88, 21, and 12 1/2. Williams finished his career as the Buffs’ all-time sack leader, with 35 (for comparison’s sake, the Buffs’ active sack leader is senior defensive end Marquez Herrod, who has ten career sacks). Williams also is the all-time leader in tackles for loss, registering 59 for 303 yards.
“He was the type of guy who played his best in the big games,” said Williams’ college coach, Bill McCartney. “When he was physically and emotionally prepared, he was dominant. When we needed him most, he came up big.”
With Colorado being successful on the field, increased national recognition came to Williams as well. Williams was a consensus All-American linebacker as a junior, and a unanimous pick as All-American as a senior. Before his senior year, Williams was named to the prestigious Playboy All-American team. Williams became the first Colorado Buffalo to win a post-season trophy when he was named the 1990 Butkus Award winner, given to the nation’s top linebacker.
Thanks for the Memories
When asked to look back at his days in Boulder, Williams has made special note about four games in his career at Boulder. The first came against Illinios at home in 1989 – it was Sal Aunese’s last game with his Buff teammates (http://www.cuatthegame.com/1989/10-illinois-jeff-george-farewell-to-sal/).
The other three came in 1990, the Buffs’ national championship season.
Against Texas, the Buffs were down 22-14 before rallying to defeat the Longhorns, 29-22 (http://www.cuatthegame.com/1990/22-texas-bieniemy-rallies-the-troops-in-austin/). The Nebraska game, on the road, provided another great comeback. “The Nebraska game is special because we came back and perserved under great duress,” said Williams of the 27-12 victory. “Just understanding how important the game was to the university, the team, the entire campus … it was monumental.” (http://www.cuatthegame.com/1990/cu-vs-nebraska-nov-3-1990/).
The final game on the Williams’ list is not the national championship game, but rather the last home game of his collegiate career, a rout of Kansas State. Colorado already had its ticket punched for the Orange Bowl, and the game was a 64-3 laugher. What made the game memorable for Williams was not his 17-yard reception, when he was inserted as a tight end, but rather a touchdown scored by senior running back, O.C. Oliver. A fan favorite, Oliver had become overshadowed in the backfield with the emergence of Eric Bieniemy. Still, Williams, the consummate teammate, was happy for the reserve back when he got to play against the Wildcats. When Oliver scored a touchdown late, “we met him and carried him off the field,” said Williams. “He was important to the progam … The look on O.C.’s face was something I’ll never forget.” (http://www.cuatthegame.com/1990/kansas-state-passing-the-torch/).
Winning the national championship, of course, is a special memory unto itself. Though Williams would go on to play in 128 games in his NFL career (a first round draft pick by the Cincinnati Bengals in the 1991 draft), go to the Pro Bowl (1996), and win two Super Bowl rings (1997-98), the Buff linebacker still calls the win over Notre Dame in the Orange Bowl the apex of his football career. “Winning the national championship was no doubt the highlight,” said Williams. “When you get paid, you’re supposed to do those things; that’s the way I feel … There’s really no NFL moment to rival it. The amount of talent on both teams (Colorado and Notre Dame); they way we competed; a pair of Hall of Fame coaches. It was just huge. You can’t dream up the kind of experience I had … nobody would believe the movie. They’d say it didn’t happen.” (http://www.cuatthegame.com/1991/5-notre-dame-orange-bowl-national-champions/).
“Everyday is Alfred Williams Day”
Saturday, September 18, 2010, is designated as Alfred Williams Day by the University of Colorado, with Williams to be honored by the University and the Buff Nation at halftime of the Colorado/Hawaii game.
“Our hats are off to Alfred for his prominence on the football field beyond CU,” said Colorado athletic director Mike Bohn, “but also what he continues to stand for as it relates to our football program, athletic department, and the entire university. Many feel it is more than appropriate that Alfred is the first to go in from the national championship team. Not only because what he meant to the team, but how he has represented and supported the University through the years.”
Williams, for his part, is looking forward to partying with his former teammates, both this weekend and during the Georgia game, when the entire 1990 national championship team will be honored. “I’m so grateful because of the incredible friendships we made that have lasted,” said Williams. “If my football career would have ended with my last college game, I would have been alright with that. Our legacy at CU is intact, and the celebrations planned for these next two games give us a chance to revisit it.”
The last word I’ll leave to the Colorado contribution to the College Football Hall of Fame Class of 2010 …
“I think we all know that not every day is going to be a good day, but we believe it will be,” said Williams. “Why have a bad day when you’ve got the option to make it a good day? This (Saturday) is going to be a good day, I know it. But every time I’m on campus. I believe it’s ‘Alfred Williams Day’ “.