Ricky Williams does not regret temporarily walking away from football in 2004, just two years after winning the NFL rushing title. He also doesn’t regret missing the entire 2006 season after violating the league’s substance-abuse policy. Williams doesn’t even regret retiring a year before the Ravens — his third and final NFL team — won the Super Bowl. Instead of hoisting the Lombardi Trophy, Williams was actually working as a cameraman when the Ravens defeated the 49ers in Super Bowl XLVII.
If Williams does have one regret from his roller coaster NFL career, it is that he did not retire as a member of the Dolphins, a sentiment he recently shared during an appearance on The Greg Cote Show Podcast.
“I’m not the kind of person that has many regrets,” said Williams, who recently launched his own podcast. “I do have one regret in my football career, and it was that I didn’t finish my career as a Dolphin. It would have been great to play my last year [in Miami]. I probably would have played a couple more years if I stayed in Miami and I would have had the opportunity to become the Dolphins’ all-time leading rusher. I was maybe only 400 something yards away.”
Williams actually finished just 301 yards away from matching Hall of Famer Larry Csonka as the Dolphins’ all-time rushing leader. Csonka, the Dolphins’ starting fullback when Miami won back-to-back Super Bowls in the early 1970s, temporally left Miami before retiring as a Dolphin after the 1979 season. Williams wishes he would have done the same.
“That’s something that’s going to be hard to live down, that I didn’t finish up in Miami,” Williams said. “The Saints (Williams’ first NFL team) were great, but I look at my career as being a Miami Dolphin. The way that I came back, the way I was embraced by the fans, I’ll always love Dolphins fans and I’ll always remember my time as a Dolphin.”
Many fans don’t remember, but Williams was on the precipice of greatness at the turn of the century. The 1998 Heisman Trophy winner who broke Tony Dorsett’s 22-year-old record as major college football’s career rushing leader, Williams rushed for 1,000 yards in his second NFL season while helping the Saints win their first-ever playoff game. Williams rushed for over 1,200 yards in 2001 before he was traded to Miami prior to the start of the 2002 season. That season, Williams earned his first All-Pro selection while leading the NFL with 1,853 yards. The 5-foot-10, 226-pound Williams had a devastating combination of strength, speed and agility that allowed him to beat teams with both power as well as finesse.
Williams said that there were many different factors that led to his abrupt retirement just before the start of the 2004 season. One factor was the fact that he was coming off what he described as a “horrible” 2003 season that saw him lead the NFL in carries for a second straight year. But unlike the 2002 season, when he won an NFL rushing title while averaging 4.8 yards per carry, Williams averaged just 3.5 yards per carry in 2003, his worst average since his rookie season. Along with feeling like he had regressed for the first time in his athletic career, Williams grew tired of the Dolphins’ over-reliance on him. Part of that was the team’s change at quarterback from Jay Fiedler to Brian Griese. Williams said former Dolphins coach Dave Wannstedt admitted as much when the two ran into each other at last year’s Super Bowl.
“[Wannstedt] kind of laughed and he said, ‘You know, I’ve learned a lot. And one of the things I learned is how to trust my quarterback. When you played, I didn’t trust my quarterback. And so, if he threw incomplete or a pass that looked like it was almost intercepted, I would get on the headset and tell Norv [Turner], just give it Ricky. Just give it Ricky.’
“I had a bunch of carries in 2002, but I also had a bunch of yards. I had more carries in 2003 but I had about 500 less yards. That hurts. When you’re getting 25 carries a game but you’re getting 100 yards, it doesn’t hurt so bad. You’re getting 25 carries a game and you’re getting 50 yards, that hurts. Those two-yard gains.”
After drawing the ire of Dolphins fans in 2004, Williams earned his way back into Miami’s collective heart with a late career resurgence. In 2008, following a two-year span that saw him play in just one NFL game, Williams gained 819 all-purpose yards while helping the Dolphins win the AFC East. A year later, at age 32, Williams rushed for over 1,100 yards and 11 touchdowns, his best season since his abrupt retirement five years earlier. Williams enjoyed another productive season in Miami before helping Baltimore come within a game of the Super Bowl in 2011. Instead of trying to hang on for one last shot at a ring, Williams decided to retire.
While injuries, a suspension and his brief retirement cut into his career statistics, Williams was still able to retire with over 10,000 career rushing yards, a milestone only 30 other running backs have reached. Williams is also only one of three people (the other two being Tony Dorsett and DeAngelo Williams) to rush for over 6,000 yards in both college and in the NFL. Williams also overcame social anxiety that became more challenging in the aftermath of his infamous magazine cover photo with then Saints coach Mike Ditka wearing a wedding dress. While it wasn’t funny back then, Williams can laugh about the incident some two decades later.
“I was in a limo with Coach Ditka (after the photo shoot) going back to the training facility,” Williams recalled. “He had a cigar in his hand, and he was like, ‘I don’t know what they did to get you to put that wedding dress on, but I never would have done that.’ I was thinking to myself, ‘Why are you telling me this now? Why didn’t you tell me this before the photo shoot?’ … . I’m just now, maybe in the past five years, really starting to live that one down. I can look at it now and laugh and say this was funny.”