The Ricky Williams Drama Continues

By Rick Sarlat
Updated: June 9, 2005

Ricky WilliamsOne of the great thrill rides that the sports world has played witness to lately has been the oscillating saga of Ricky Williams. The only real certainty surrounding the former Heisman Trophy winner since he decided to call it quits last year is that trying to understand what goes on inside his head is like trying to decipher a Dostoevsky novel after smoking a joint. You could keep re-reading passages, but you’d probably never get it.

Williams, who, according to his agent Leigh Steinberg, will report to Miami Dolphins training camp in late July, has unsurprisingly gone from being “excited” about the prospect of his return to football, to being virtually clueless about it. And all in the time it might take him to inhale and exhale.

“I honestly do not know about playing football again,” Williams said in a recent online interview with Sports Illustrated. And that’s about as revealing a statement as the 28-year-old running back made about coming back to the NFL. He did, however, reinforce the notion that his is a planet most of us have been fortunate enough to never inhabit. “It took me almost a year to figure out the reason for quitting,” he continued. “The analogy I came up with was that I was renting my life. I needed to go out and make a downpayment so I would stop wasting money.” When asked if he now owns his life, Williams replied: “I’m in the process of negotiating with the mortgage company.”

He used another quirky analogy to apparently further explain what drove him to leave the game.

“I tell the story of the frustrated monkey,” he said. “He wanted some cookies so bad, he put his hand in the jar and grabbed a big handful. Then when he couldn’t get his hand out he became very angry.”

The latest news has concerning Williams’ possible comeback has been speculation over what he might be paid if he does in fact return for the 2005 season, a $3.7 million base salary or, because he breached his contract with the Dolphins when he retired, the league minimum of $540,000. Steinberg told the Miami Herald that he can’t see his client playing for the latter.

Money is far from the biggest bump in the road for Williams, though. Much more daunting is the probability that he will have to win the starting job from Ronnie Brown, the Dolphins first pick in the draft and the second player chosen overall. And considering Williams has reportedly slimmed down to an extra-lean 195 pounds, about 35 pounds lighter than his normal playing weight of 230, the onus will most certainly belong to him.

And then there’s the marijuana issue, lest anyone think it would receive only minor attention. If Williams does return, he would have to wait until after July 27, which would mark the one-year anniversary of his retirement, or face a one-year suspension for violating NFL drug policy. If he returned after that date, the league would impose only a four-game suspension, according to officials. Moreover, if Williams’ recent claim that his love-affair with marijuana has ended follows the same boomeranging pattern everything else in his life seems to, a complete revamping of his lifestyle will be in order. Especially since his re-entry to the league would likely mean he will see more drug testing than anyone in the history of the urinalysis. NFL spokesman Greg Aiello told the Miami Herald that any player who receives a four-game suspension, thus entering stage 3 of the league’s policy, would then become subject to regular drug testing, up to ten times a month, for the remainder of his career.

The question of how he would be received by fans and teammates also looms large. Fans can be won back easily enough. It would probably take little more than putting up the kind of stellar numbers he did in 2003 when he rushed for 1,853 yards. Winning back the support of his teammates, though, might take a little more doing. Many attribute last year’s 4-12 debacle to his “abandonment” of the team at the start of training camp. In his absence, the Dolphins sputtered to their lowest offensive production since 1969, averaging just 17.2 points and 275 yard per game.

The final question: Williams’ heart. Can a guy that appears to find motivation in places and concepts that escape conventional wisdom truly put his heart back into playing football and keep it there? By his own admission, the answer is no.

“I can’t see myself in one place for more than a year or two,” he once told reporters. “It’s not in my nature.”

He also once conceded that the only reason he ever played football was to “feed his ego” and that once he realized how selfish that was, he no longer wanted to play. Pretty righteous stuff coming from a guy who quit on his teammates to smoke weed.

According to Steinberg, Williams’ heart has never left the game. “I don’t think he has ever left his passion for the game of football,” he told ESPN radio. “The only question is whether or not he felt he could exist within the parameters of the NFL. He’s been going to school to help heal him from the drug use. All of that has led him on a path that has made him miss the NFL more and more…and led him away from substances that may not work in the NFL.”

We can only hope that Steinberg is privy to some side of Williams that has thus far eluded the public. A side of him that has the ability to make rational decisions. Namely, reach the conclusion that he was blessed with abilities only one percent of this world will ever know. And that this decision must come sooner rather than later, otherwise his career will have truly gone up in smoke.