EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- Minnesota Vikings defensive tackle Kevin Williams said he can't think of too many times where he came in on Monday or Tuesday after a game and didn't think he was going to play. That's partially because of good luck with injuries, but it's largely because the six-time Pro Bowler has set a high threshold for what would keep him out of a game.
Williams has missed just three games because of injury in 11 seasons. The third one came in the first week of this season, after Williams had hyperextended his knee on a low block from San Francisco's Joe Looney in the preseason. Still feeling the effects of the injury, Williams returned the next week in Chicago and made an interception.
"You can’t make plays and you can’t be counted on if you can’t show up," he said. "That’s one thing I’ve always thought. If you’re able to be available and make plays when you’re out there and be ready at all times, and just showing up is half the battle. You’ve got to put in the work, but just showing up and then playing the game, that’s the easy part."
Williams' teammates voted him their recipient of the Ed Block Courage Award, which is given to a player from each team who embodies the principles of sportsmanship and courage. The award generally goes to a player who has overcome long odds to get where he is, but for Williams, the triumph might come simply in his longevity.
He has played more games than any other defensive tackle in Vikings history, having surpassed Alan Page earlier this season, and even though the team planned to use him less frequently this season, the 33-year-old Williams is still a vital part of the defensive line. He has 2.5 sacks and a fumble recovery to go with his interception, and has seen some snaps at nose tackle since he filled in for Letroy Guion there and recorded all of his sacks on Nov. 7 against Washington.
"He has been outstanding in every area, whether it be off the field or on the field," coach Leslie Frazier said. "He's well-deserving of this award, and it shows you the respect that his teammates have for him."
Williams' teammates could also be getting one of their final chances to honor the defensive tackle. He is in the final year of his contract after agreeing to forfeit the 2014 season on his deal and give back $2.5 million this season in exchange for a guaranteed base salary. The Vikings drafted Sharrif Floyd to succeed him, and Williams seemed to know on Wednesday that his time in Minnesota might be drawing to a close. When asked about playing with defensive end Jared Allen, who is also a free agent after this season, Williams said, "You're going to make me get sentimental," and gave a wise dissertation on the realities of the NFL.
"Coming in as a rookie, you’re bright-eyed and bushy-tailed and you never know what to expect," he said. "It takes three or four years to actually realize this is is a billion-dollar business and each team does everything it can to win. It’s nothing personal, but it’s all business and you have to soak up all of the moments you can, all the wins you can get, enjoy the playoff runs and embrace all of the people you meet and the friends you make because one day it’s eventually going to be done. Right now I’m just trying to play ball, enjoy the group I’m with and we’ll see where we go at the end of the year. "
It's possible the Vikings could bring Williams back on a one-year deal, especially after they've relied on him so much this season, but their willingness to part with Antoine Winfield suggests Williams shouldn't count on that. If he is in his final days with the Vikings, though, he's closing a run that could one day land him in the Hall of Fame. This week, it earned him an award from his teammates.
"It’s a tremendous honor for me for my teammates to think that highly of me," he said. "It just shows you what you’re doing on the team and in the community, it really pays off."