A moment of clarity for Ricky

The way Ricky Williams walked out on the Dolphins will be remembered as historically irresponsible, an 11th hour bailing free of regard for the devastation it would do to a franchise that had constructed itself around ultimately the most ironic thing of all: His ability to run.

For all his insistence that his so-called retirement had been a long, thoughtful decision, it still suggested an impulsive, irrational act. Ricky ran and ran and ran.

Nevertheless, it was probably still the right choice for him, even if it was the wrong timing. The biggest mistake of all could come Thursday, when Williams visits the NFL offices in New York to discuss his return to running the football. Maybe it was time for Williams to come back to the United States, back to reality, but he should do himself a favor and honor his original instincts. Ricky Williams should stay out of football.

Now, he owes the Dolphins more than $8 million in signing bonuses, and it sure seems this bill has coincided with an epiphany that apparently came to him sipping tea in Beijing a few weeks ago. Apparently, Williams was watching Sunday Night Football on ESPN and decided he missed the game. Suddenly, he wanted back into it. Suddenly, he turned himself into what he swore he never was: One more jock that just couldn't walk away, and find something else for himself in this world. Just one more jock that everyone was right about. He couldn't live without it.

Watch and see now: Ricky Williams will regret returning to football, more than he ever did leaving it. If it's a choice of declaring bankruptcy and returning to a culture he had grown to hate, he would be better off going broke and starting over again. He ought to hit up one of those fat-cat Texas Longhorns boosters, get himself a job and get on with his life.

All along, Ricky Williams has sworn the money was meaningless to him. Everyone wants Ricky to start running again, but truth be told, Williams needs to stop running and make a stand.

He hated how famous football made him, but returning to the game now will only make everything so much more suffocating this time. If Williams hated his existence in the NFL before the isolation of living in a tent in Australia on $7 a day these past few months, he will truly despise it upon his return. He's inviting back everything into his life that he loathed -- only it will be worse than he had ever experienced. The frenzied scrutiny that will accompany his return to the game -- whether it will be Miami, or elsewhere -- promises to send him digging deeper into his own world.

Here comes the searing glare of scrutiny, an unprecedented gaggle of television cameras and boom mikes and notebooks. Here comes the punishment of carrying the ball, the burden of life as a franchise player, the quizzical looks of teammates and coaches wondering if he'll bail on them too. He was always a square peg in football, the ultimate non-conformist in a pseudo-militaristic sport.

One of his friends will tell you this about Williams motivation for returning to the NFL now: "I know it looks like it is about money, just like it looks like he quit to just smoke. But those are vast oversimplifications for a complicated man."

To believe Ricky Williams left football so he could constantly get high is probably one of those over-simplifications. As Williams described, pro football players could smoke pot with little fear of ever missing a down due to suspension. Still, it sounded like Williams smoked so much weed that it did what most say it does: Made him feel like just hanging out, like accomplishing nothing. It turned out to be an inspiration to have no inspiration.

So, Ricky Williams marches into that building in Santa Monica, Calif., on Thursday, a marching billion-dollar conglomerate of the National Football League with his lawyer and a sworn change of heart. They know he can still run in the NFL, so they'll welcome him back with open arms. This is no time for him to run again, but to stop and make a stand. This was never the life for him, and he'll never be unhappier than returning to face what will await him in the NFL. This isn't the happy ending to the Williams story, just the next yard-marker on a long drive destined for a crash and burn.

Adrian Wojnarowski is a columnist for The Record (N.J.) and a regular contributor to ESPN.com.
His book, "The Miracle Of St. Anthony: A Season With Coach Bob Hurley and Basketball's Most Improbable Dynasty," can be pre-ordered before its February 2005 release. Wojnarowski can be reached at ESPNWoj8@aol.com.