Former Texas Longhorns running back Ricky Williams is retiring from his NFL career, NFL.com's Jason La Canfora reported Tuesday. Before he bounced between the Dolphins and Canada and before Saints coach Mike Ditka spent an entire draft on him, Williams made his mark in Austin as one of the greatest college football players ever.
He became the NCAA's I-A all-time rushing yardage leader in 1998, when he virtually swept college football's major awards, including the Heisman Trophy. Though that record's since been broken, he still owns at least a part of 20 NCAA records. He ran for 6,592 yards and scored 90 touchdowns from scrimmage. Texas fans remember him as a legend, but a complicated one:
If Williams is indeed ready to hang up his cleats, he leaves a legacy as complex as his own personality. It's not particularly easy to make sense of it, but as a player in a league that often demands conformity, Williams clearly walked his own path. It seems commendable that he worked so hard to keep his identity from being completely tied to football, something that should serve him well as he transitions to life after the game.
He made the Sports Illustrated cover in '98, with the cover story listing future Jets coach Rex Ryan among the many stunned by Williams' talents. It's also worth pointing out he gave up a year's worth of NFL salary and risked his entire career by returning for his senior year at Texas. From SI:
Williams should already be gone. He would have been a top five pick in the NFL draft last spring, but he chose to return to Texas. He risks losing vast wealth nearly every time the Longhorns snap the ball. Last winter, fired Texas coach John Mackovic told Williams, "A running back can only take so many hits in his career." Williams doesn't disbelieve this, he simply disregards it. "It might be true," he said late last week. "But even if I am costing myself years at the end of my career, I don't care. I'm having too much fun."
Williams never really stopped making choices all his own, something to which NFL fans who've been puzzled by his career over the years can attest.
For more on the Horns, visit Texas blog Burnt Orange Nation.