It only makes sense that Ricky Williams retired by notifying the Baltimore Ravens, his most recent employer, of his decision. See, nobody is going to tell Ricky Williams what to do. This is a player who, more than anything else, did it his way.
Even though he began his career in New Orleans and finished it in Baltimore, it will be his years with the Dolphins that undoubtedly will be remembered most. We liked him. We loathed him. We respected him. We admired him. We were baffled by him. When you think of Ricky and the Dolphins, it spans the gamut of emotions.
He thrilled us with the greatest rushing season this franchise has ever seen and angered us by simply walking away from the team, almost on the eve of the 2004 training camp. We called him a traitor when he showed up halfway around the world living life in relative seclusion, learning yoga and meditation. But then he came back after those suspensions and a year in Canada and we cheered him again, how he broke tackles, how he scored touchdowns, how he carried this offense on his shoulders for so many Sunday afternoons.
He is 34 years old now. He had a good season with the Ravens, a decent season. But he sensed it was time and for Ricky Williams that means no regrets, no looking back. “This has been an amazing chapter in my life,” Williams said upon announcing his retirement. “But I’ve got other things to do now. It’s time to move on.”
In his final game, he passed 10,000 career rushing yards, only the 26th player in league history to do so. Had he won a couple of Super Bowls, had he played a few more seasons, he might have deserved consideration for the Hall of Fame. But awards and honors have never been paramount to Williams. It just wasn’t his thing.
He’s got things to do now. Places to travel. People to help.
So many glorious memories of his Dolphins career. Those 2002 and 2003 seasons, the best back-to-back rushing seasons in team history. Those long dreadlocks waving in the wind as he raced into the open field time after time. That quick cut. That burst. Those huge thighs running over one defender after another.
And then in the locker room, sitting on a stool answering questions with one sentence answers, everyone around him searching for the key that would unlock his introspective side, all those philosophers he liked to quote, the history he liked to recall. But often there was nothing. Just a smile. And something soft spoken.
But catch Ricky in the right mood, get him alone on a lazy Summer afternoon, and he’ll talk you into the night. He’ll ask you questions. He’ll laugh. He’ll show you a warm, highly intelligent side, that few get to see. Tough to bring down. Tough to figure out. That was Ricky Williams.
How should Dolphins fans remember him? Was he worth the two No. 1 picks the Dolphins gave New Orleans for his services? Did the negatives of that year when he inexplicably walked away overshadow all the good he accomplished when he was here? Did we all learn to respect him after his return years with the Dolphins because he came back and gave us more thrills, always working hard, never complaining?
How should he be remembered? For what he was, I say. An immensely talented running back who, nonetheless, might have been so much better, even more productive, if his life was football and football only. But that’s the catch. If his life was football and football only we wouldn’t be talking about Ricky Williams. He might just be another player.
Eleven seasons. Five 1,000-yard rushing seasons. Over 10,000 yards. Seventy-three touchdowns. And you’re left with the feeling that there could have been so much more.
One Dolphins head coach once said to me of Williams: “One moment you never want to see him again; the next moment you can’t get enough of him.”
He was a model citizen in his final run with the Dolphins. While it was clear he didn’t have the burst he once had, you still saw glimpses. His last great season was 2009 when he rushed for 1,121 yards and scored 11 touchdowns. Then in 2010 he split his carries with Ronnie Brown and remained quiet both on and off the field.
His final experience was a good one with the Ravens. He got to win his first playoff game. He got to play with Ray Rice. An enjoyable time. But now he is ready for more, another chapter as he calls it.
“I see myself travelling,” he said. “Learning more interesting things. Helping people when I can. What I’ve learned since coming back in 2005 is the importance of growing spiritually.”
If he lets us into his life, it’s going to be fun watching this next chapter unfold. With Ricky Williams, anything is possible. Just like in his playing career, you really never knew what would come next.
How should he be remembered? Foremost, as a completely unique experience and, secondly, as one of the best running backs this league, and this team, has ever seen.