Remember when you had that Cadillac Williams jersey in your closet?
I know that my Buccaneers jersey collection was quite eclectic. Jeff Garcia. Michael Pittman. Gaines Adams. Joey Galloway. Warrick Dunn. Derrick Brooks. Earnest Graham.
A creamsicle retro Earnest Graham jersey mind you.
But the one that I used to love to sport while I got my butt kicked by my buddies on Madden '07 was a Cadillac Williams jersey. I liked it because it was one of the first ones I got with the real numbers and name on the back. It wasn't one of those cheap ones where the number would fade away after a few times washing.
This was the real deal.
Admit it. If you followed the Buccaneers during the highs and lows of the Gruden years, you liked Cadillac Williams. He was an entertaining player, when healthy, and could be a game changer for those mid-2000's Bucs. He brought a dynamic to the team that was missing since the days of Warrick Dunn.
The legend of Cadillac Williams starts at Auburn, where he played all four years for the Tigers. He saw limited time his first 2 years in college, especially in year 2, when he missed six games due to a broken fibula suffered in a game against Florida.
However, the next year he wasn't to be denied. Originally, the game plan was to have Williams and Ronnie Brown split duties at the RB position. But Brown suffered a pulled hamstring, and missed most of the 2003 campaign. Williams stepped up and carried the load, rushing for 1,307 yards with 17 touchdowns. He helped lead Auburn to a win in the Music City Bowl against Barry Alvarez and Wisconsin.
2004 proved to be even a better year for Auburn, as Williams and quarterback Jason Campbell helped the Tigers to a Sugar Bowl win over Virginia Tech. Williams and Ronnie Brown proved to be an effective 1-2 punch at the running back position. Williams led the SEC in all-purpose yardage with 137.2, all the while rushing for 1,165 yards and 12 touchdowns. He was also awarded SEC Special Teams Player of the Year for 2004.
Some say that 2004 Auburn team should have played for the National Championship. Williams definitely thinks so.
"I really felt like that 2004 team was special," Williams said. "It’s just a shame we didn’t get to play for it. That’s still kind of an empty spot that’s left in my heart. We still talk about it. We just felt like we got robbed big-time."
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After the 2004 season, Williams seemed ready for the next step. In fact, other NFL writers thought the same thing. Jeff Williams of Pro Football Weekly reported that Bucs coach Jon Gruden was totally man-crushing over the play of Williams.
"At the Senior Bowl, Jon Gruden was salivating over this kid. He pulled him out real early. Don't think that was a coincidence. He's the offense. Gruden has set it up, Cadillac or bust".
With the endorsement of Gruden, Williams was selected fifth overall by the Buccaneers in the first round of the 2005 NFL Draft. And the young back from Auburn didn't disappoint. Despite missing some time due to ankle and foot injuries, Williams rushed for 1,178 yards and 6 TD's as Tampa Bay won the NFC South with an 11-5 record. However, their successful year was derailed by the Washington Redskins, who beat the Bucs 17-10. Williams' rushed for 49 yards on 18 attempts, but seemed to stopped each time by the pesky Redskins' defense.
Despite the playoff disappointment, Williams had a pretty solid year despite injury, winning the AP NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year award and the Diet Pepsi NFL Rookie of the Year.
It seems that some rookies experience a drop off right after they win Rookie of the Year. It's kind of like the Madden cover jinx. They get a taste of success, then they can't live up to the expectations their peers put on them, or they get injured.
Cadillac Williams wasn't immune to this jinx.
In 2006, the Buccaneers did not have a good offensive line, so both the quarterback and running game suffered because of it. Williams ended up with 798 yards on the year, with 196 yards receiving and no TD's. In 2008, the injury bug hit Williams, and he only got 208 yards rushing in just 4 games with Tampa.
Some began to wonder if there was any gas left in Cadillac's tank.
After a three year period of suffering from his torn patella tendon injuries and not knowing where his career was going to go, Williams had a bounce back season of sorts. In 2009, he grabbed 832 yards on 211 carries, all the while catching 217 yards. It was a nice little season for the former Rookie of The Year. However, by this time, the Bucs were in a rebuilding phase, led by coach Raheem Morris, and despite having some nice bursts of yardage in 2010, the team was more interested in bringing along LeGarette Blount than bringing back Williams.
So, the team let him go.
He wasn't out of a job long. He signed with the St. Louis Rams as a backup, and did pretty well behind Steven Jackson, rushing for 361 yards with a touchdown and 93 yards receiving. However, his tenure in St. Louis wasn't long, and they wished him well in his future endeavors after the 2011 campaign.
The question is: what happened to Cadillac Williams?
He's definitely been busy, post football career. First, he went back to Auburn and got his degree in sociology in December 2014.
"The more I looked back on it, I thought it would be really cool to go back and get my degree for my child, for my family," Williams said. "And not only for them. For me."
He has also partnered up with fellow ex-Buccaneers running back Earnest Graham and formed Pro Player Insurance Group, an insurance business specializing in auto, health, business and home insurance. He told AL.com that he needed to specialize in something other than football.
"It was almost like, OK, I've been around the game for so long, let me try my own business, let me try to do something else," Williams said.
Williams has also returned to football.........in a coaching role. He is now the running backs coach as Henderson State in Arkansas. One of his goals is not only to teach the young players the finer points of running the football, but also to teach them how to be good people too.
"I want to mentor these young guys because I have been down the road that these guys are trying to go through," Williams tells The Oracle, Henderson State's college newspaper. "I have seen it all; the good, the bad, and the ugly, so that is why I wanted to coach so I could give back to the younger generation."
And if you are missing the days of Cadillac football with the Buccaneers, here's a nice little tribute to the 2005 Rookie of the Year.
Those were some good days. 11-5. NFC South title. Cadillac winning Rookie of the Year.
Hopefully the Buccaneer faithful will get more of those good times in the very near future.