As San Diego native, Ricky Williams, established himself as a superstar running back for the University of Texas, his success coincided with the rebirth of a, at the time, dying football program in desperate need of a revival. In Ricky’s final season at Texas, he passed Tony Dorsett to finish as the all-time leading rusher in college football history and immortalized himself among college football royalty. Ricky’s time at Texas played a large part in the university reasserting itself as a college football powerhouse. Upon entering the 1999 NFL draft, Ricky was deemed as one of the best players in the draft.
By the time I got old enough to watch football, I was immediately drawn to the University of Texas. The team had just played one of the greatest football games ever in the Rose Bowl and being a five-year-old in Texas, rooting for the Longhorns just felt right. Growing up, I idolized guys like Vince Young, Colt Mccoy and other Texas legends that helped the team dominate college football for almost a decade. By the time I started watching college football seriously, Ricky Williams had already been out of school for seven years and drastically changed the public’s image of him, being portrayed by the media as a lunatic who left millions of dollars at the table to smoke weed. However, Ricky’s story is much more complex than that.
When New Orleans drafted Ricky, expectations were sky-high. Ricky was tasked to save a lousy Saints team who hadn’t had a winning season in 7 years. Having that responsibility as a 22-year-old would have been extremely daunting and overwhelming; to deal with the stress of being marked as the franchise’s next hope, Ricky often did interviews with his helmet on, and the public found that as a distraction from the team and labeled him as weird.
Ricky’s personal life in New Orleans was no better. He would avoid fans at the store by diverting to a different aisle. At home, he’d often sit inside alone with the lights off for days. His mail would accumulate, and he had almost no relationship with neighbors for the duration of his time in New Orleans. With Ricky being injured and not living up to expectations, his popularity plummeted; he went from the star running back that saved the University of Texas to the strange, injury-prone and overhyped running back who had peaked in college. When the Saints drafted Ricky’s replacement in 2001, it was apparent Ricky’s time in New Orleans was coming to an end.
Three seasons later, Ricky was traded to the Miami Dolphins. His 2002 season, which was his first in Miami, was the best of his career and one of the best seasons ever for a running back. The media loved him again, and the old mantra, “Run Ricky Run,” from his old days back in Texas, returned. But behind the scenes, Ricky’s mental health declined, his cannabis use intensified, and socializing became problematic. After another productive season in 2003, Ricky’s physical health declined. By the 2004 season, a failed drug test left Ricky on the sidelines, suspended for his first four games by league rules.
Ricky’s reaction – retiring on the last day of the 2004 off-season and next move of vanishing, sent shockwaves throughout the NFL and will forever live in American football infamy. Without a word, Ricky dropped off the scene, taking a 4-month sabbatical to Australia. His disappearing act landed him as one of the most hated figures in all sports and the media treated him like a thieving fugitive who just robbed the Miami Dolphins of $8.6 Million. Ricky was painted as a deranged pothead who had utterly lost his mind, which couldn’t have been further from the truth. Former esquire reporter, Chris Jones, described what it was like on his quest to find Ricky shortly after his retirement. You can find that here.