A career that spanned three teams, flirted with NFL superstardom, and ultimately defied our logic of the game. That sums up the years in which we got to watch Ricky Williams play professional football. Williams announced his retirement on Feb. 7 after playing 11 NFL seasons over the past 13 years.
For such a humble, soft-spoken man, the former Heisman winning running back was no stranger to controversy throughout his career. He came into the NFL in 1999 as the catalyst in one of the most questionable draft trades in recent memory, as then-Saints head coach Mike Ditka traded his entire draft along with two picks the following year to move up and take Williams.
His three years with the Saints were tenuous at best. While compiling back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons in 2000 and 2001, Williams had a harder time dealing with the media then putting up stats. Conducting interviews in his full helmet and tinted visor, Williams was eventually diagnosed and treated for social anxiety and clinical depression.
The centrepiece of another blockbuster trade in 2002, Williams was shipped to Miami for two first round picks and two late round picks. In his inaugural season with the Dolphins Williams posted his career-best year with 1,853 yards and 16 TDs earning first team all pro and Pro Bowler distinctions.
After testing positive for marijuana and being slapped with a four game suspension in 2004, Ricky decided to retire from football. After spending the year studying holistic medicine and not playing football for the entire season, Williams made a minimal impact when he returned to the Dolphins in 2005. The following season he would receive a full year suspension from the NFL supposedly for using an “herbal” substance that violated the league policy.
Williams spent his suspended 2006 season on a much larger field — quite literally — as he signed on to play for the CFL’s Toronto Argonauts. After an unimpressive year in the CFL, Williams made his comeback to the NFL as one of Bill Parcells’s key pieces in bringing the Dolphins back to relevance in 2007.
In 2009 after Dolphins Ronnie Brown was lost for the season, Ricky Williams became the starter and ran away with the job setting a NFL record for the longest gap between 1,000-yard seasons by a rusher at six years.
Most recently, Ricky spent the 2011 season sharing time with Ray Rice of the Baltimore Ravens, and was a Billy Cundiff field goal away from potentially adding a Super Bowl birth to his eclectic resume.
Ricky Williams’s career will not likely be judged only upon statistics but more by the human reality he brought to the football world. He battled and found himself throughout his football career and managed to comeback against tough odds and made an impact at a position where players his age normally do not.
At times he may not have lived up to his full potential for greatness. Ricky Williams’s career was nonetheless exciting and fun to watch. It will likely never be duplicated.