Ricky Williams has announced his retirement from professional football, but I’d imagine he’s only scratched the surface in terms of what he has the capability of accomplishing over the course of his lifetime.
Williams’ interests and strengths expand far beyond his football life. He treated his NFL career like a job, and he played to live, rather than living to play.
In his retirement press release, issued this afternoon by the Ravens, Williams wouldn’t even call his time as a pro football player a chapter in his life. Nope, it was just a single page.
“The NFL has been an amazing page in this chapter of my life,” Williams said. “I pray that all successive adventures offer me the same potential for growth, success and most importantly, fun. I want to thank all my fans, teammates, coaches and supporters for the strength they’ve given me to overcome so much.”
Other pages in this chapter: Ricky’s sudden 2004 retirement, only a year removed from winning the league’s rushing title. His random stint in Toronto, in the prime of his football career, as a member of the CFL’s Argonauts. And of course, his time spent studying holistic medicine in Grass Valley, Calif., also smack dab in the prime of his football life.
The first page would probably be his time in Texas, where Ricky ran for over 6,500 yards and won the Heisman Trophy as a junior.
The second page might document his experience at the 1999 draft, when Mike Ditka sold the entire farm to move up and take Williams with the fifth pick.
Williams outlasted Edgerrin James, who was selected one pick before him that year. He also outlasted Deuce McAllister, whom the Saints figured could replace Williams when they shocked the football world by trading him to Miami in 2002. McAllister had a few big years, but he wasn’t Ricky.
One more page would have to be dedicated to his penchant for smoking weed. The punishment for his reliance on marijuana was, after all, what spurred him to ditch the game eight years ago. It’s the only reason he was in Grass Valley, and the only reason he came to Canada.
Another page — or maybe more than a page — would probably cover Williams’ struggles with clinical depression and social anxiety disorder. He’s one of the oddest characters the NFL has ever employed. Super shy, sneaky clever. Agree or disagree with his premises, the guy was brilliant. Interested in philosophy and fresh, outside-the-box thinking? Check out his Twitter feed.
I had the chance to talk to Williams when he was with the Argos in 2006. Despite being soft spoken, he’s very deliberate with his words, making each one count. He looks you in the eye and genuinely cares that all of those words reach the intended target with his design for them still intact. There’s no ego there.
The problem is that many of those who talk to Williams don’t get the message he’s sending. The problem is that he’s smarter than most of us. He knows that there’s a lot more in this world for him, which is why he’s walking away despite averaging a respectable 4.1 yards per carry with fresh-for-34 legs in 2011.
“As for what’s next,” Williams said. “I am excited about all the opportunities ahead – continuing my education, running The Ricky Williams Foundation and whatever other opportunities present themselves.”
I’m excited to find out what presents itself to Williams, and what road he takes. The only drawback is that some of those potential roads are unlikely to include Wi-Fi, reporters, cameras and microphones. There’s a good chance that, from the perspective of the mainstream media, Ricky Williams is about to disappear.