I'd like to have Ricky Williams as a teammate.
I'd like to have Ricky as a teammate because he blurs the lines. You know, the standard social cliques and the boundaries that separate them. The lines are drawn on the grade-school playground and later solidified in the high school auditorium -- the stoners, the jocks, the brains, the dorks, the cool kids. Ricky Williams challenges labels and mocks one-dimensional titles, morphing all of them into one inscrutable package.
A stoner in the backfield? A thoughtful tailback? An aspiring shaman who handles his in a game of supposed killers? Could such a man exist?
He does. And I'm happy for this. I think he would be someone with whom I could talk about anything. This is rare in the football world. Most intelligent guys are wise enough to hide the fact that they're intelligent or that they entertain thoughts outside the "proper" image of the professional athlete. Last summer, on the eve of another farcical training camp, Williams smashed that notion. "I just don't want to be in this business anymore," Williams said at the time. "I was never strong enough to not play football, but I'm strong enough now."
If Ricky were my teammate, I'd have said hello to him when he returned to the locker room. Hard feelings? What for? Because he quit? He quit his job. He didn't quit on me.
I'm not the Miami Dolphins. Wayne Huizenga is the Miami Dolphins. And Huizenga sued Williams for the loot he owed him. Business owners want services rendered for their money, and $8 million is a lot of jack. I suspect I'm not the only one who sees it that way.
I can recall a preseason game against the Saints my rookie year. After we gave up a long pass, the Saints had the ball on the 1-yard line and then scored on the next play. On the sideline, standing next to fellow rookie Tony Siragusa, I said, "Sorry about that, man. I'll make up for it." In typical Goose fashion, he laughed, shrugged and said, "Hey, don't apologize to me. I don't write your checks."
Is Siragusa the typical NFL player? I don't know. You gotta ask him.
I found it intriguing when another defensive lineman, the Dolphins' Jason Taylor, criticized Williams last year. Taylor used all the right clichés, questioning Williams' commitment to football and search for happiness. "Ricky just won't go away and stay away," said Taylor last season. "Football didn't make him happy. Money didn't do it. His freedom didn't do it. Now he wants to try football again."
At the time, I never really thought Taylor hated Williams. I always thought Taylor was a little envious. I think a part of him wished he could walk way from football and not give a crap what people thought about it. This was certainly evident when Taylor dressed up like Williams last Halloween. But now that the precociously wise, bearded prodigal son has returned, Taylor has led a teamwide embrace, culminating with Taylor asking himself last week how long he could "hold a grudge."
Of course he can't hold a grudge. In his heart, Taylor knows Ricky was right. Williams, having lost his desire to play, did the right thing. He walked away. In order to play on that level, you have to be present. Football isn't like other jobs. You can't pretend to be busy. You can't go into an office, shut the door and pretend to work. In order to perform, you must be present.
And Williams was no longer present. He couldn't tell you whether he smoked weed because he didn't want to play football or whether he didn't want to play football because he wanted to smoke weed. Williams was seriously conflicted. There's no inner conflict in football, so Williams left.
That was a good reason to leave. That was the best reason to leave. If you aren't into it, you can't help anyone, least of all your team.
Let's talk about team. I'm one of the few people around here who actually knows what it's like to play on a football team. Let me tell you what that means in relation to Ricky Williams: After Sunday's five- carry, 9-yard performance, I wouldn't be pleased to see him struggle. I'd be glad he was thrown the ball several times because that's the best way to get him involved. But I wouldn't want to see him struggle between the tackles.
Real teammates on real teams don't want one another to struggle -- not if they're trying to win. I played on some bad teams in my career, both in college and in the pros, but I never played on a team in which the players wanted a teammate to fail -- or a player was punished for having pride and self-respect. Without pride and self-respect, an athlete isn't an athlete. Is he even a man?
Ricky Williams is a man. And he's my kind of teammate.
Alan Grant is a regular contributor to ESPN.com and ESPN The Magazine. He is a former NFL defensive back who played college football at Stanford.