I wonder what the odds would have been in 2004 on Ricky Williams — the player who retired from the Dolphins to travel the world — headlining a victory for the team in November 2009.
With lead running back Ronnie Brown having been placed on season-ending injured reserve, the Dolphins turned to its old/new set of legs Thursday night, and the results were favorable.
Williams, once the butt of jokes for his bohemian habits, is now a 32-year-old veteran with what appear to be a few years left in his career. In a fascinating twist, Ricky now seems to have the respect and admiration of his teammates and peers and even a burgeoning relationship with the Dolphins’ old-school boss, Bill Parcells.
My time with Ricky
I spent two years with Ricky, representing him in 1997-1999 when he was a professional minor league baseball player during the summers at University of Texas. I was also his agent when he was one of the most celebrated college football players ever, a Heisman Trophy-winning, dreadlock-wearing bundle of speed and power set to be a top pick in the 1999 NFL Draft.
Ricky is one of the more interesting people I’ve encountered in sports. Generally, athletes may have remarkable careers but not many interesting things to say. Ricky was always interesting and always interested in learning more.
He has a childlike innocence about him and an ability to draw people to him even after pushing them away. He was always a bit of a different cat and never chose to hang around the football crowd. Although I never saw the drug use that he’s spoken openly about, I did see a wanderlust that made his decision to venture to India, Asia and other uncharted terrain not surprising to me in the least.
Almost a Bear
I remember when Ricky and his family decided that he would enter the draft after his junior year at Texas. In December 1997 we filled out the proper paperwork and had it notarized at a Disney hotel in Orlando while attending the ESPN College Football Awards.
Had I sent in that paperwork right away (we were informed we could not pull it back once submitted), a small part of the NFL landscape would have played out differently. Ricky would have been drafted in 1998, most likely by the Chicago Bears, who preferred Ricky to the running back they selected (Curtis Enis), and the New Orleans Saints would have never mortgaged their future and sold their 1999 draft for Ricky. Ah, what might have been.
I knew Ricky, though, and held the paperwork until the last minute. When he went home to San Diego for the holidays and hung out with some young NFL players at the time — Bryant Westbrook, Darrell Russell and others – he decided that the life of an NFL player was less desirable than the life of a college kid at Texas.
I remember Ricky saying, “I know that next year I’ll have to go where I get drafted, but why should I move to Chicago or St. Louis when I can stay another year here in Austin?” I advised him of the injury risks and the professional and financial reasons to do so, but he was convinced.
Although I was losing a fee for a year (or longer), it was refreshing to see the logic in Ricky staying in a place where he simply liked to live. He then asked, “Will you still represent me in a year?” I said I would (duh), but I knew that nothing was set in stone with Ricky.
Master P or me
After fighting off the hordes of competing agents for Ricky throughout his Heisman-winning season, I signed him for football representation after the 1999 Cotton Bowl game.
Now it was game on. I was now traveling with a rock star, following him to banquets, all-star games, the American Music Awards, the Grammy awards, Hawaii, England, etc. At some point, I started to notice a different group hanging around him and confronted him about his new friends.
Ricky then informed me that he wanted me to negotiate his NFL contract but to do so with a music producer, performer and impresario named Master P. Ricky, as we now know, did not like to fall in line with the mainstream and wanted more than a traditional sports or football agent. And Master P (Percy Miller) was starting a sports representation practice with Ricky as his star client.
Although I considered negotiating contracts for Master P, I ended up choosing to switch from the player side to the team side and picked the Green Bay Packers over Master P. P (I asked if I could call him that and he said it was OK) hired another negotiator to work on Ricky’s contract with the Saints, and the rest, as they say, is history.
Retirement at age 26
Ricky has remained an inquisitive type who always looks for more in life. His sudden departure from the Dolphins to travel the world was certainly not the best-timed move but showed the impulsive and constantly curious side to a person who has always wanted to experience more.
I won’t soon forget the day Ricky left the Dolphins and the country in 2004 because it was the same day my colleague at the Packers in the next office, player personnel director Mark Hatley (the man who would have drafted Ricky in Chicago had he come out of Texas in 1998), died of a sudden heart attack. That time represented a jumble of emotions for me, but part of me thought maybe everyone else had it wrong in criticizing Ricky for his “life is short” attitude.
Now it’s worthy of note and not surprising that Ricky is becoming somewhat of a respected elder, exercising the reasonable judgment that many have accused him of ignoring in the past.
The player who left me for Master P; the player chastised for his interest in exploring the world rather than reporting to training camp; the player who went to an Ashram and practices yoga regularly; the player who eats only macrobiotic food, is now is now an appreciated and revered veteran on the Dolphins, a valuable old leader with still-young legs.
Although he left me for P, I’m rooting for him.
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