NFL: Ricky Williams – It’s Great to Have You Back

By Jerod Morris

I know what your first thought is going to be. What is an article about Ricky Williams doing on a site called Midwest Sports Fans? He plays in Miami, he “retired” to Australia and California, and he played college football in Texas. What is the relevance? Well, I am a sports fan who grew up in the Midwest and was indoctrinated into Miami Dolphins fanhood by football fanatic of a mom, who grew up going to Dolphins games in Miami. While I have added the Cleveland Browns to my list of favorite teams in recent years, old habits die hard. Last season was difficult, but I suppose a certain part of me will always stay devoted to the Dolphins.

Damnit. What a frustrating team to follow.

Oh well. The purpose of this post is not to wallow in self pity that I must follow an organization that once called Dave Wannstedt its head coach and that came within a lucky overtime victory of becoming the first team in any sport to have an undefeated season and a winless season in its history.

Nope, this post is about Ricky Williams, and about how he is back with the Dolphins and just received a one-year contract extension from the team. And I am about to make a claim based on a realization I had during my many fantasy drafts over the past couple. It is a claim that will probably make my dad do a double take and question my sanity. But I’m fairly confident it’s accurate.

Ricky Williams is my favorite NFL player.

By the time I truly followed and understood football, which was pretty early on, there was no questioning who my favorite NFL player was: Dan Marino. My high school friends (KVB…that pumpkin-pie haircutted freak) will laughingly remember my freshman year spent as the fat, slow QB on the freshman football team. I took pride in my lack of mobility as if it were a badge of honor because my hero, Dan Marino, was not all that mobile either. Of course, his release was as quick as the blink of an eye while my release was about as fast as a Jared Lorenzen 40-yard dash. Needless to say, football did not work out so well for me.

But back to the point.

Once Dan Marino retired, I became something of a favorite-player-orphan. Whose individual career was I supposed to latch onto? Jay Fiedler? I suppose I could have become huge Zach Thomas or Jason Taylor fans, but they play defense. I needed an exciting offensive player on my favorite team to fill the void left by Dan Marino’s departure.

Then the Dolphins acquired Ricky Williams. And in his first season wearing the teal and orange he ran for over 1800 yards and scored 16 TDs. Ricky was magnificent, fulfilling the potential that had caused Mike Ditka to famously trade his entire draft to acquire him. And it wasn’t just that he rumbled for all those yards and basically carried the Dolphins on his back to a respectable season. It was how he did it.

Ricky Williams was exciting, he was fast, he was electric. He ran with grace, with power, with purpose. His dreadlocks flopped behind him and made it seem as if he was running a half step faster than he actually was.
His next season in Miami was not nearly as spectacular, but still relentless solid as he rushed for a little under 1400 yards and scored 9 times. His yards per carry fell more than a yard though as Dave Wannstedt pretty much ran him into the ground. You could see Ricky tiring as the season went on. Over 2002-2003, Ricky carried the ball 775 times. I’m not sure if that’s an NFL record over a two-year span, but it has to be close.

In 2003, I moved to Miami after graduating from Indiana University. I was excited about my new life in my new city, and particularly excited that I would be able to follow Ricky Williams and the Dolphins from up close. Of course, it didn’t quite work out that way.

During my first weekend after moving I went to the 7-Eleven by my apartment to get a coffee. I walked by a Miami-Herald and read a front page headline that said something to the effect of “Ricky Retires.” My first thought was that it must be April 1st. There was absolutely no hint of Ricky thinking about retiring, so it just didn’t make sense.

And even though I soon realized it was true, it didn’t make sense. I was mad. Ricky’s teammates were mad. Jason Taylor was famously mad. Miami was mad. And, of course, the 2004 season was a disaster for the Dolphins. Was it Ricky’s fault? Not entirely, but certainly some blame could be laid at his feet.

While the Dolphins were putzing through the 2004 season, Ricky was off in Australia living in a tent. He was presumably smoking lots of weed, getting in touch with parts of himself that he had lost through the regimented life of an NFL player, and contemplating what his life would have in store for him. He eventually moved to California and began training to be an instructor of Ayurveda.

Basically, Ricky’s life for over a year was filled with shocks, disappointments (at least for others, if not him), career changes, periods of reflection, and probably a lot of uncertainty in his own mind. Perhaps this is part of the reason why I’ve always identified with Ricky in a way, and sympathized with him.

During the same time span while Ricky was out of the NFL, I left my teaching job in Homestead, worked for a marketing company in Miami, broke up with my then-fiancee, and then left the marketing job (you could say abruptly) when I realized my heart wasn’t in it anymore, moved to Texas, and then soon thereafter moved back to Indiana.

Minus the weed, I would say that Ricky and I traveled somewhat parallel paths during 2004 and into 2005.

So while much of the sports vilified Ricky as a quitter, a traitor, and basically a good-for-nothing, irresponsible child…I empathized. And not just because I wanted to, considering my affection for his football talents. It was because I figured there was a good chance that he and I were experiencing a lot of the same thoughts, fears, doubts, excitements, possibilities, and general curiosities at what we were going to do with the next week, 6 months, year, 5 years, decade of our lives.

Look, Ricky is no saint (no pun intended). He has fathered children out of wedlock and reportedly not always been consistent with child support payments. I do not share this in common with him. But he has always seemed genuine. And though he has acted selfishly at time, he has never been malicious or out to get anyone. Just confused. And I know what it feels like to feel so bottled up and clothes in that you just have to get out of a place, and you let people down in the process. That so many people in Miami were counting on him going into 2004 is an unfortunate part of this story.

But I can understand what he was feeling. And I would be a hypocrite to disparage him for leaving a team and a league that protects owners and teams above the players; plus, I kind of did the same thing to some friends and work associated while I lived in Miami. So really, how could I just turn my back on Ricky Williams?

And, to be honest, the incredible memories of watching Ricky Williams tote the rock in 2002 as well as I’ve ever seen someone do it never left my mind.

Well now it’s 2008. Ricky is back with the Dolphins, and from all reports is looking as good as he has since the start of 2003 (before he totally wore down). He is line to get a lot of carries this year, and barring injury (knock on wood) will have a great season and help the Dolphins return to respectability. Plus, he just got a contract extension with the Dolphins. He has been reliable and accountable since rejoining the team, and has experienced the joy and catharsis of having passion rekindled. In return, the Dolphins are slowly showing that they are beginning to regain trust in Ricky Williams.

As for me, I am back in Texas after never really finding solid footing while back in Indiana. And though it took me a month or so to find my footing here, I now have a job I love, for a boss that is great, and recently received a very significant commitment from him regarding my future with the company. Like Ricky, I have found my passion to get up every day and go to work again. And it’s no surprise that good things continue to happen.

So it was that in every fantasy draft I participated in this year I was focused on acquiring Ricky. I went 2-3, but traded for him shortly after the draft ended in the one league I didn’t land him. And the thing is, I wasn’t trying to rekindle that special feeling of excitement that we gets as sports fans at the thought of watching my favorite player play. It was just there, like a good friend that you haven’t spoken to in years but that it feels exactly that same talking to or hanging out with no matter how long the gap has been.

There are two things that I am most excited about for the upcoming NFL season: one is the potential for the Cleveland Browns to really have a solid season; the other, and probably the greater feeling of excitement, is that Ricky Williams is back playing a leading role for the Dolphins.

I don’t know if I speak for the majority of Dolphins fans, but I definitely know that I speak for myself when I say: Ricky, I’m sure glad to have you back.

About Jerod Morris

I love words. I write for Copyblogger and founded MSF, The Assembly Call, & Primility. I practice yoga, eat well, & strive for balance. I love life. Namaste. Say hi on Twitter, Facebook, & G+.


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