Williams story line dominating Hall of Fame game
CANTON, Ohio -- Whether he is in for two plays or two quarters, Ricky Williams will draw the most attention in Monday night's Hall of Fame game.
The Hall of Fame game usually draws a collective yawn. But with Ricky Williams making his return to the Dolphins lineup, this one has some drama attached.
• A happy return?
Forget the returns to the NFL of Dolphins coach Nick Saban and Bears offensive coordinator Ron Turner. Or the holdouts of both teams' top draft picks, running backs Ronnie Brown of Miami and Cedric Benson of Chicago.
For now, ignore all the questions about both clubs' suspect offenses. The spotlight for this one is on Williams.
"I really don't have an expectation," Williams said. "I found that expectations really get in the way. I don't make that choice. I don't decide how many carries I will have, therefore it's pointless for me to have expectations about it."
But there will be expectations from elsewhere. Actually, from nearly everywhere.
When one of the NFL's premier players retires just before training camp, as Williams did last year at age 27, and his former team falls apart, his comeback draws headlines. Particularly with the enigmatic Williams, who must serve a four-game suspension at the outset of the regular season for violating the NFL's substance abuse policy.
Williams, who claimed throughout his layoff that he had no interest in suiting up again, now says he has a mission to achieve through football.
"I realize that one thing that I've had to work on to grow as a person is the only reason why someone is gifted, which is to give back," he said. "My teacher is from Vietnam and she doesn't understand why don't [people] go out and play football instead of just sitting on the couch drinking beer. I'd rather have people be inspired by what we do. When we work through this heat and fight through this adversity, I wish they can be more inspired by what we do."
The Dolphins could be inspired both by seeing their greatest player, Dan Marino, being saluted as the latest Hall of Fame inductee (along with Steve Young, Fritz Pollard and Benny Friedman), and by trying to prove something from the outset to Saban. Miami has dozens of questions to answer in Saban's first season as an NFL head man -- he was a defensive coordinator under Bill Belichick in Cleveland before heading to Michigan State and then LSU.
"For me, personally, there is always a lot of apprehension when you do something new," Saban admitted. "Whether it's the first practice, the first team meeting, the first game or the first camp, and I don't think there is going to be anything different about this. This is my 12th year of being a head coach, but obviously the first one in the National Football League.
"It will be interesting to see where we are as a team, I'm very much looking forward to that, but also as a coach you always wonder if you've covered all the bases."
Chicago is in its second season under coach Lovie Smith, who has turned over his offense to Turner, now in his second stint with the Bears after an eight-year stint as the head coach of Illinois. The defense, Smith's specialty, should be representative if star linebacker Brian Urlacher and safety Mike Brown are healthy.
But the offense, with quarterback Rex Grossman returning from missing most of the 2004 season with a knee injury, is starting anew under Turner.
"I just want to see him run the offense, make good decisions, get rid of the ball quickly," said Turner, who didn't indicate how long Grossman would play Monday night. "I know the physical part will be there, the accuracy, everything else. I know he'll do that. But just to make sure he's focused in and running the offense."
Grossman says not to worry.
"I'm ready. We've practiced enough to know this offense and practiced enough to know that I'm 100 percent healthy and ready to go," he said. "So this is just an exciting beginning of our season."
Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press
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