In an excellent column over at the SB Nation mothership, Bomani Jones takes a look at the complicated legacy former Texas great Ricky Williams leaves behind in the NFL:
Ricky loved playing football, even if he didn't like doing so for a living. No one could carry the ball 775 times in consecutive seasons, an NFL record that may never be broken, unless his heart was in it. He loved the game enough to try to shoulder the burden of New Orleans trading its entire draft for him. The world laughed at the incentive-dependent deal No Limit Sports negotiated for him -- the single dumbest in pro sports history -- but Williams embraced the motivation to "earn his money" like fans say they want players to do. And considering the futility of logging 253 carries behind the 1999 New Orleans Saints offensive line, he damn near played football for free.
Loving football wasn't enough to stop him from leaving it. It was courageous to walk away, even if he did so in a cowardly way. Football was never his singular focus. The tunnel vision that most of the greats in any world possess wasn't in Ricky. He was too into his own head, reefer, and whatever else moved him at a given time. It made him a refreshing departure from what we're used to from football players. It also stopped him from being the football player he could have been.
In the end, he played 11 seasons over 13 years. The last six years for the money, even though Williams thought pro sports were corrupt. He did it for the same reasons most of us go to work -- grownups have bills to pay. It's almost ironic to think of that. Ricky looked and ran like a football player, but seemed nothing like one. He didn't seem like anyone. But when he returned to the NFL, he did so because he was just like us.