Why the New Ricky Williams Statue Will Be So Fitting

Ricky Williams, the world-traveling football player and former Longhorn great, was already immortal in the eyes of Texas fans.

On April 1, it becomes official. Before the annual spring football game, an 8-foot, 1,000-pound statue at DRK-Texas Memorial Stadium will be unveiled in honor of Williams. For one of the most enigmatic and talented players in Texas history, the honor serendipitously brings his wild ride of a football career back to where things began.

From 1995 to 1998, Williams was the most dominating college running back in the country, finishing his career as college football’s all-time leader in rushing yards, among many other NCAA records.

Though the record stood for a single season, it was good enough to help Williams net the Heisman Trophy his senior year, making him the only Longhorn other than Earl Campbell to win the coveted award.

In 1998, the New Orleans Saints traded away a hoard of draft picks to select Williams, sending expectations into the stratosphere.

His well-documented struggle with social-anxiety stunted his career growth in New Orleans, but things changed when Williams was traded to the Miami Dolphins in 2002. It was there that he became the led the league in rushing, made the All-Pro team, and became one of the most feared running backs in the league.

In 2004, Williams set off a media firestorm by announcing his retirement during the prime of his career. It was later revealed he’d tested positive for marijuana, another well-documented issue that would plague Williams for years. After traveling the world, Williams returned to football and endured the toughest four year stretch of his career.

From 2004 to 2007, positive drug tests and injuries allowed Williams to play in only 13 games combined. The downtime essentially stripped Williams of four seasons of football during his prime, but despite that fact, this season he became only the 26th player in NFL history to rush for over 10,000 yards in their career.

Williams has been criticized throughout his career as an oddball, an apathetic, and worse. Many look at Ricky Williams and think, “What if?” Most miss the point.

The recent ESPN documentary Run, Ricky, Run does a great job of further exploring Williams’ mindset and interests beyond football through those down years. When Williams announced his retirement from football this year after playing in the AFC Championship game for the Baltimore Ravens, the media joked that Williams was retirement to smoke pot. It was the easy story, one that became too familiar during Williams’ career.

Far fewer media outlets, though, noted how in December, Williams held a yoga retreat for at-risk children’s charity, discussing how yoga has helped him overcome his past drug problems. He also founded Ricky’s Kids to mentor kids, and the Ricky Williams Foundation to give health guidance to people in lower-income communities.

It’s been 14 years since Ricky Williams won the Heisman Trophy and helped elevate The University of Texas football team to another level. It’s been a long, strange trip for Williams since he left Austin. He’s been through hell, but he’s changed the paradigm, too. He pushed himself past the boundaries of his talent to become a better man. That’s what makes him so special.

It only seems fitting that after traveling around the globe and back, Williams found his way home to UT-Austin, where his professional football career can end as it began: posing with a statue, taking a bow before his most loyal fans.

Photo courtesy UT Athletics



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