Full Contact 5/22/2006

Didn't you always hate it when your Father would start off a story, "Back when I was a kid," and ending with "...walking five miles to school--in the snow?"  Me, too!  The only problem is, I don't know how to start this story any other way...

So, back when I played, it was different than it is today.  I'm not saying I'm ancient and used to practice with Sonny Jurgensen; it's just that a lot has changed over the past 12 years.xml:namespace prefix = o /

Originally from California, my large family was always into sports.  Not "large" in terms of numbers, just large in terms of physical size.  To put it in to perspective, I'm the runt of the family, currently at 6' 6", 296 lbs.  Well, actually, Mom is the shortest at an elegant 5' 12" (she won't say 6 feet), and the rest of the men range from 6' 7" to 6’ 9".  Three out of the four males were blessed enough to become professional athletes.

As a child, when the NFL games were on, we'd rarely sit and watch them.  The first thing we did was to grab a ball and go play the game outside.  Why would you want to watch when you could go out and feel what the players were feeling?  From then on I was hooked; Neanderthalism, adrenaline, ego and, some day, money, all rolled into one cool game.

From a small Catholic high school in Stockton, California, my 6' 2", 220 lb. frame went on to Washington State as a defensive end.  Oh, they told me that I'd be a linebacker when they recruited me, but I soon learned that coaches, especially when recruiting, are full of it.  I didn't really play much until my junior and senior season, but in the end did well enough to rack up a bunch of 1st Team, All-Pac 10, All-West Coast honors by the time I was ready for the NFL Draft.
"And the Detroit Lions select Eric Williams, defensive end, out of Washington State as the 62nd pick in the draft."  I remember hearing those words and not much else the rest of the day.  It's amazing how much a young athlete's life changes on that day, even in 2006.

Being in the pros was so cool.  Sometimes I had to pinch myself to make sure I wasn't dreaming.  I used to giggle and talk to myself about it all the time: "Ok, let me get this straight, I get to work out, play a sport I love, the ladies will think I'm something special, and they're going to pay me more than our President is making?  It's a deal!


So, now I'm a rookie in Detroit, and all I could think about was how I was going to stack up against these pros.  Were they that much better than me?  What is going to happen; will I make the team?  Since I never watched much football, I wasn't too sure if I should be intimidated by the names of Billy Sims, Doug English and Gary Danielson.

My rookie year was the toughest year!  Six weeks of two-a-days/training camp, experiencing humility for the first time in my life, and always still wondering if I was good enough.

The week before our opening day, the player who started ahead of me twisted his ankle, so guess who got the nod?  Problem is, the team we are playing is a team all Northern California boys know something about--Joe Montana and the SF 49'ers.

We ended up losing that game, but what a rush!  I was so geeked up I couldn't breathe, and that was just in pre-game warm-ups.  Out on the field, the hash marks seemed 4 feet thick, and I was holding together like a soup sandwich.  Later on, in the off season, I had a few cold ones with Randy Cross, one of the Niner's offensive guards, and asked him how I did that opening day.  He said, "Well, rookie, you made our highlight video."  It took me a minute, then the light went on and it still makes me smile to this day.  So, here is the first "Big E" tip you'll get from me: It's never good to make the other team's highlight reel!

In 1990, after six years in Detroit, I was traded to Joe Gibbs and the Washington Redskins.  With the trade, all of a sudden, I was transported back in time to my rookie training camp of insecurities...Can I compete with these guys?  Am I good enough?  I must have forgotten that I was now touted to be the best defensive tackle the Lions had, and the 'Skins just traded two players for me.  Amazing the kind of stuff your head goes through when you're dealing with the unknown.

The difference with the Redskins is that they knew what it's like to win and had a history of doing so.  There was Art Monk, Charles Mann, and Darryl Green just to name a few of my new teammates. 

Since sixth-grade football, I really have never been a starter for a team with a winning record until now.  Think about it, 17 years of playing the game and never winning.  I went from losing all those past years to winning it all--the Super Bowl in 1991.  When it's all done and your career is over, in hindsight, it was all about getting The Ring!

Now you wonder how this Redskin ended up in East Texas cowboy country?  Have you ever heard the Brooks and Dunn tune, "Rock My World, Little Country Girl?"  Well, that's what happened to me.  The next thing I knew I'd left the big city and moved to the country.  Amazing what a man will do when he's in love!
So, now I'm in East Texas, I'm really enjoying life again.  I'm hanging with my "Brady Bunch" style family of four daughters and one son, attending UT-Tyler for some classes and enjoying my role with KLTV.  My column will be appearing now and again on this page, so when you get a chance, drop me a line and maybe I can work it into something you'll feel is worth reading.

Eric Williams