|Hey, Ricky, are we having fun yet?|
By Ralph Wiley
Page 2 columnist
Must be fun, being Ricky Williams. First, you're young. Whatever your problems are, you have time to get over them. Second, you make around a million dollars a year, before taxes. Now true, your hands are kind of small, especially for a guy the size of a small truck. This makes it kind of challenging, holding on to a football with those small hands, especially when being struck about the head and body by fast, padded people the size of large SUVs.
Must be like being on holiday, doing that. Your average running back could only take such ecstasy for 3½ years before his body finally broke down after, oh, a half-dozen knee surgeries.
Must be fun. Ricky could ask Terrell Davis. Only he's not around.
Fun? A carnival. Add to these festivities the fact you've won the Heisman Trophy while performing at the University of Texas. You were terrified at the ceremony, because you have this social anxiety disorder. But when you confided this to people, you were blown off at first, disbelieved. A big ol' strapping "fella" like Ricky, scared of a little thicket of microphones? Pshaw. Get out.
Must have been a picnic for you.
The rights to you as a first-round draft pick were traded for almost a whole team. And not just any team, but the dreaded New Orleans Saints, and their coach at that time, Mike Ditka. Ditka went on like you were the second coming of Jim Brown. You were supposed to turn the dreaded Saints around, when a tag team of Pope John Paul and Joan of Arc might not have been able to turn them around, especially when they were coached by Ditka, sideline gunslinger, or some kind of slinger, who made a great fist and a habit of pulling at certain portions of his anatomy under stress.
Michael Jordan's hands aren't that big. Let alone your tiny paws.
Must be nice, not being able to get a grasp on expectations of you.
To gain the needed compensation for this mission impossible, you were represented at the time by a rapper named Master P, who also fancied himself a basketball player, when it was hard for most of the general populace to take him seriously as a musician. His minions had you nearly playing for free. There might even have been a clause where you would have to pay the dreaded Saints, if things didn't go well.
Things didn't go that well, according to the dreaded Saints although you played three seasons for them and rushed for 3,129 yards, more than 1,000 yards per season, on average. With the dreaded Saints, this translates to 2,000 yards per, or thereabouts.
So you've been repped by a rapper, and then rapped by a ripper, then left in the crapper. Ditka traded a whole team for you, and then stood there and had his picture taken in a tux for ESPN The Magazine, while you wore a white wedding dress and looked queasy.
You didn't know. They asked you to do it; they never ask Troy Aikman to do it, but you they ask, and you were cooperative, since the dreaded Saints traded a whole team for you, and everything.
You've got this near-agoraphobic condition that made you prefer to talk to people with a football helmet on, even after games. It kept distance between your own shy self and their own aggressive selves, the media, the coaches, all the university of Texas alums who wanted you to take a picture by their limos and Escalades.
One suggested a legend/savior like you should drive a Hummer. And you bought into that. Must be fun, trying to parallel park it.
Actually, the best thing is to leave it parked. You can't count the times you've been stopped riding in your Hummer. You look like the black Medusa anyway, with the memory of that wedding dress, and your head covered in dreadlocks, or twists, and you don't like to shave, because you have an exceedingly irritating case of razor bumps when you do, so you like to go au natural, hair-wise, and you don't mind driving fast, either, not realizing that what you are really doing is trying to put as much distance as quickly as possible between you and that pack that has been following you for the last three years. Put all these factors together and somehow you wind up spending a lot of time sitting on curbs, your face being lit by flashing police cruiser lights, being sniffed by unfriendly dogs.
Oh, it's so great, being Ricky Williams, being a bull's-eye for just about everybody, particularly the coppers, every time you get into your Hummer, when they just about unanimously figure you not for Ricky Williams, the savior running back with the small hands and the shy disorder and the history of being traded from one Sun Belt city to another; no, they figure you for some mid-level dope slinger, or his bodyguard, and stop you and run their plate checks.
So what if you have to walk home later? You're in shape.
Life's a breeze if you're Ricky Williams. It's the rest of the world that's huffing, wheezing and cutting corners on you. Rick Reilly writes about you and your collegial times with 5-0, and that's sure to make them ease up, being pointed out like that and all. All you need now is for Suge Knight to come ride shotgun with you.
Who wouldn't trade places with you?
The dreaded Saints, that's who. They traded you to the Miami Dolphins, who haven't had a running back of your caliber since ... well, maybe ever. They don't even mind the added six handicap of you having the small hands. They won't make the mistake the dreaded Saints did, and ask you to catch long passes with those very small hands. They will line you up deep like a siege gun in the backfield, run 88 and 99 Toss and 4- and 5-hole traps until you are coming out of the bloody earholes of the Jets, Pats and Bills.
That's what they say they'll do, anyway.
The best newspaper columnist in Florida, Dan Le Batard, is a good friend of yours. Dan won't treat you unfairly, in print or out, and can probably offer you some good, professional advice about life and the vagaries of the media, and being a savior in the National Football League; he can probably school you about the ups and downs of all that; but, at the same time, that leaves a lot of other newspaper columnists in Florida. You don't think they might have a human reaction and go opposite from Dan Le Batard, just for the hell of it, do you? No, they'll all love you too, just like Dan does.
You are Ricky Williams, and it must be so great, being you, having to take medication to control your social anxiety disorder, then going on the Tom Joyner Morning Show on syndicated radio to speak on it nationwide with Tom, Sybil, Myra, J. Anthony Brown, a comic who was especially sensitive to you (not) and the psychic seer and hoodoo queen Miss Dupree, whom you already half-suspect of putting something in your spaghetti sauce back in New Orleans.
You are Ricky Williams and you must rush for all the yards people such as Wayne Huizenga are expecting. Huizenga was asked about the "baggage" you bring with you. He said, "In business, you always look at alternatives ... there wasn't any alternative for us. So, we're very happy we were able to get Ricky and there wasn't anybody else. So, if we didn't get him, where would we have been?"
Wow. Talk about your vote of confidence.
But when it comes to football, you don't worry if you're Ricky Williams. Once the football game starts, then Suge Knight, Wayne Huizenga, sports columnists secretly envious of Dan Le Batard and everybody else will be clamoring for a seat on your bandwagon.
It'll be a Blockbuster night, all right.
Just as a change, last week you go up to Orlando to practice with the Dolphins against the Tampa Bay Bucs at the Wide World of Sports complex at Disney World. Many visitors at the park figure you for another mascot. Children want to take pictures with you. Mickey wants to take pictures with you. But you must decline, because you are not there to take pictures. You could've gone up to practice against Jacksonville. But that would've been hard.
But you already knew that; you try to stay out of their way. Hard to do when Wayne Huizenga has fingered you, and all the notebooks, pens, tape recorders and cameras are focused on you and only you.
It's harder still when the Warren Sapps of the world are running into them all so helter-skelter and bringing your name up. So Sapp, when asked about you, said nothing, then he turned back as he was leaving and had to zing one in: "I just hope (Ricky Williams) can stay away from the police," Sapp said. Such a wise D-lineman. But Warren Sapp is, in essence, just what you need. When it was time to collide with him last Monday night, you did not avoid it.
It must be fun, being Ricky Williams, making the Warren Sapps of the world go, "Oof!" under the lights. (That is, actually, about the only time it seems to be fun being Ricky Williams).
And to think, you haven't even met Jeb Bush yet.
Ricky Williams. He's here, he's there, he's everywhere. He's had enough trials and tribulations in and around the NFL for a 10-year vet already, even though he's only been in the league three years.
They say it's not the destination, but the journey.
Not if you're Ricky Williams.
It's fun being Ricky Williams, but only after you've gotten there.
To the destination. The Super Bowl. Where else?
That's when it will be great being Ricky Williams, after he runs the Dolphins to the Super Bowl, and Don Shula, Jimmy Johnson, Dan Marino, Delvin Williams, Karim Abdul-Jabbar (no, the other one) Nat Moore, Mike Ditka, Larry Csonka, Bob Griese, Jim Kiick and magical Merc himself all come out of the woodwork to say they knew all along that it must be fun being Ricky Williams ... at least more fun than it was being Eugene "Mercury" Morris.
On that night, after the Super Bowl is over, after it has been such fun being Ricky Williams, he will take off his helmet, wipe all the reporter and coach and owner slobber off it, check out his battered body, let shaving go for yet another day, toss his dreads, fire up the Hummer, check out shotgun for Suge Knight, hope to see someone better than him there instead, see no one, no one but him, then light out for Texas, Cali and the territories.
Wherever Ricky Williams goes, there he'll be.
Yeah. Must be a little slice of heaven, all right.
Ralph Wiley spent nine years at Sports Illustrated and wrote 28 cover stories on celebrity athletes. He is the author of several books, including "Best Seat in the House," with Spike Lee, "Born to Play: The Eric Davis Story," and "Serenity, A Boxing Memoir."