Williams shocks Dolphins by retiring, plans to travel
July 25, 2004
SportsLine.com wire reports
MIAMI -- Ricky Williams has decided to retire at the peak of his career, stunning the Miami Dolphins and leaving an enormous void in their backfield less than a week before the start of training camp.
Free as a bird: Williams quits on his team for road less traveled
by Pete Prisco
•What's Your Take?
Tell Pete your opinion!
The 27-year-old Williams, who rushed for 3,225 yards in two seasons with the Dolphins, told coach Dave Wannstedt of his decision before leaving the country to begin several months of travel.
"I was completely surprised," Wannstedt said Sunday. "My main thought process was to try to get Ricky to come back here, sit down, talk about some things and see if we can get this thing back on track. He obviously chose to go another direction."
Williams told Wannstedt of his plans Friday. His retirement after just five NFL seasons was first reported by the Miami Herald.
"You can't understand how free I feel," Williams told the Herald in a cell phone interview Saturday before boarding a plane in Hawaii for Asia.
Long ambivalent about life in the spotlight, Williams said there's no chance he'll change his mind, and he plans to file his retirement papers Monday or Tuesday with the NFL. Dolphins players report for camp Friday.
Williams told the Herald marijuana tests he failed had a minor influence on his decision, but were only one of many factors. In May, three South Florida newspapers reported that Williams tested positive for marijuana and faced a fine of at least $650,000 for violating the league's substance-abuse policy for a second time since joining the Dolphins.
His attorney, Gary Ostrow, said there was no violation, and a ruling on Williams' appeal was pending. But Williams told the Herald he has gotten around drug tests in the past by taking a special liquid players all over the league consume to avoid detection.
"I don't know really what he was talking about," Wannstedt said. He declined further comment on the subject.
Williams, who is single but has three young children, was to make about $3.5 million this season.
After winning the Heisman Trophy at Texas in 1998, Williams joined the New Orleans Saints when coach Mike Ditka used all of his draft picks to acquire the standout running back. Ditka said Sunday he hasn't spoken with Williams in about six months and was shocked by the retirement news.
"I'd love to talk to him and try to talk him out of it," Ditka said from Chicago. "It seems kind of foolish to me, but I don't know what's on his mind. You're just destroying a great career. He's a talent. To let that all go to waste doesn't make a lot of sense."
Williams played three season for New Orleans but didn't blossom until he was dealt in 2002 for two first-round draft picks to the Dolphins.
It was Miami's biggest trade since 1970, and at times it looked like a steal. Williams led the NFL in 2002 with 1,853 yards rushing and broke nine team records. Last season he ran for 1,372 yards despite little offensive support.
Ricky Williams sudden decision to retire leaves the Dolphins thin in the backfield.(Getty Images)
In some ways Williams' decision to retire in his prime was not a surprise, because he was never the stereotypical football player. His passions include shopping and photography, and in 2001 he was diagnosed with social anxiety disorder, a condition contributing to his extreme shyness. While with the Saints, he often conducted interviews while wearing his helmet. He said he felt like a weirdo in New Orleans but professed to be happy during his two seasons with Miami.
A vacation this offseason to Australia may have whetted his appetite for more travel. He returned from that trip sporting a shaved head instead of his distinctive dreadlocks.
He's not the first running back to retire at or near his peak. His friend Jim Brown quit at 30, Barry Sanders retired at 31 and Robert Smith quit at 28.
But his decision was deflating for South Florida sports fans, who had been buzzing about the Miami Heat's acquisition last week of Shaquille O'Neal.
For the Dolphins, the loss of Williams is the latest setback in an abysmal offseason. It started with a strange organizational reshuffling that included the hiring of former quarterback Dan Marino as vice president. He resigned 22 days later.
The Dolphins promoted running backs coach Joel Collier to offensive coordinator, but he later returned to his old job, citing health reasons. Tight end Randy McMichael was arrested following a domestic dispute, and Pro Bowl linebacker Zach Thomas underwent knee surgery that will force him to miss part of the exhibition season.
And now, due to the timing of Williams' retirement, the Dolphins head into training camp with few options for filling the position. Eddie George, who might have been a possibility, signed with the Dallas Cowboys this week. For the moment the job belongs to three-year backup Travis Minor, who has yet to start an NFL game.
John Bianco, assistant director for media relations at Texas, said Williams told him a few weeks ago he expected to make this season his last. Bianco said he anticipates that Williams will return to Texas to earn his degree in education and pursue work with children.
"He's always known his best years would come after football," Bianco said. "Football was a small part of his life."
The Associated Press News Service
Copyright 2004, The Associated Press, All Rights Reserved