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"Miami won't forget eccentric Ricky Williams"


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Miami won't forget eccentric Ricky Williams

By Dave Hyde, South Florida Sun Sentinel

August 10, 2011 10:50 AM

This is a strange column to write about Ricky Williams, because there's nothing strange about it. No massage he's giving. No meditation class he's leading. Nothing about a four-day hike in the Peruvian mountains to Machu Picchu.

There's only the expected news of Ricky leaving town after signing with Baltimore, thus ending the most fascinating run by an athlete in South Florida history and concluding a good life lesson for all of us.

People change. That's the lesson here. And it's not just Ricky who changed over the last decade, though there's some good symbolism that he arrived in dreadlocks, went through a homeless-beard stage and leaves town bald.

It's also you who changed. It's me. It's anyone who watched his journey and came to appreciate his personality. He was a continual work in progress, always different than what you expected or anyone you met in a locker-room.

Who else has led the National Football League in rushing and retired to a tent in Australia? Who else tested positive for drugs four times and became the longest-tenured Dolphin - outlasting players, coaches, even the owner?

During his Dolphins years, Ricky taught yoga in California under the Hindu name Rudra, and studied massage in Kendall under his given name of Errick. He didn't shave for a season. He wore white for a season. He got married on Fort Lauderdale beach. He turned everyday conversations into entertainment.

Me (Dave Hyde): "How's it going?"

Ricky: "I'm alive." Me: "That beats the alternative." Ricky: "Some people don't think so."

Me: "Who?" Ricky: "Some deeply spiritual people. Death is welcome to them."

He read books. He studied Eastern thought. He woke up one day and didn't want to eat red meat. No good reason. Sort of like Forrest Gump just wanting to run. That one day became two days. Then a week. A month.

It's been eight meatless years now. He once ordered five mangoes for lunch in the Dolphins' complex, to his teammates' great amusement. Nothing else. Just five mangoes.

But what set Ricky apart from most players with any story close to all of this was this: Teammates loved him. Coaches respected him. They didn't always understand his personal journey. Who did? But they appreciated his talent and hard work.

Here's a story: Bill Parcells, the original dictator, told players in his first speech that he wouldn't tolerate any "knuckleheads." Ricky figured that meant him. But by the next year, after watching Ricky work, Parcells dropped a yellow Post-it note near Ricky at a practice.

"2010 - $4.2 million," it read. That was how Ricky's contract got negotiated for what became his last season here. No agent. No bickering. Just one old pro respecting another old pro.

Is there disappointment he's gone to Baltimore? There is to me. Beyond that, there's this second-guess: Ricky averaged 4.2 yards a carry last season. The rest of the running backs averaged 3.5 yards. That's not a difference. It's a gulf.

Parcells once left a gas can in Ricky's locker to ask if he had any left. We'll see this year if he has any. And we'll see if a hard-running team like Baltimore saw something the Dolphins didn't.

Football was never a life to Ricky. It was a job. A career. But as he grew older, as he saw the end coming up on him, he seemed to surprise even himself by how much he enjoyed playing the game. Now, at 34, he plays in a new city.

When I talked with Ricky last spring, he was on his way to Singapore to study something spiritual. And Thailand. And then maybe Peru. He talked of that four-day hike to Machu Picchu.

"That's something I always have wanted to do," he said.

Now he's off to Baltimore. It's not Peru. But the good people there should know they're getting the most fascinating story South Florida sports ever produced. Good one. Different. But fascinating.

© Copyright © McClatchy-Tribune Information Services

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Back to the topic.

For all the hoopla surrounding Ricky, the guy always played well and what trouble he did have was with marijuana, which is well on it's way to legalization anyway.

Compared to all the domestic violence, non domestic violence, weapons charges, rape and the other bizarre crap that a lot of other players get involved in, this doesn't amount to anything. Yet somehow Ricky has the bad rep.

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