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  1. #1
    RamWraith's Avatar
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    Williams still teaching, working hard off field

    Ted Lewis New Orleans Times-Picayune June 12, 2008

    In his current role as the pastor of the church he recently founded in his adopted home of St. Louis, Aeneas Williams often tells the story of how at age 40 Moses found it in his heart to visit his brother Aaron, thus beginning the saga of Exodus.

    Williams usually uses the story in the context of how he and wife Tracy started The Spirit of the Lord Family Church in his basement last year when he was almost the same age as Moses.

    But it also refers to something that happened two decades ago - when Williams, after two years of attending Southern University as an ordinary student after graduating from Fortier High School in New Orleans, felt moved in his heart to walk on the football team just prior to the start of the season.

    "Michael Lindsay, a friend of mine from Fortier, asked me why I wasn't playing, and what he said really struck with me," said Williams, who had last played on Fortier's undefeated 1985 team.

    "And my uncle, William Whitson, was always saying to, 'Nikki, why are you not playing football?'

    "Before, I never would go along with them. But this time, for whatever reason, I said, 'OK.' "

    And unlike Moses, Williams at that point was not a reluctant warrior.

    "In other areas, when I get a desire to do something, I might question it," he said. "But in football, I didn't."

    Good thing.

    In just five weeks Williams was starting at cornerback for the Jaguars. Three years later, the Arizona Cardinals made Williams their third-round draft choice, launching an NFL that career that last 14 seasons, saw him named All-Pro five times, appear in eight Pro Bowls and selected to the league's 1990s All-Decade Team. Those are credentials sure to land Williams in Canton as soon as he's eligible.

    Already, he's scheduled for induction in the Cardinals' Ring of Honor this fall.

    But before that, Williams is about to be inducted into the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame in Natchitoches. He was elected by acclimation in his first year of eligibility.

    "All of this recognition is a tremendous honor," Williams said. "But my goal as a player has always to get myself better individually in order to assist my team getting better as a group."

    That wasn't always easy.

    As Moses did, Williams spent years in the wilderness - namely Arizona where in his 10 seasons the Cardinals lost nearly twice as many games as they lost, making the playoffs only once.

    Traded to St. Louis on draft day in 2001, Williams helped transform one of the league's worst defenses into one of its best.

    The Rams went to Super Bowl XXXVI in the Superdome where they lost to New England, 20-17.

    Williams' play that season earned him All-Pro honors for the fifth and final time, and that was before his two interceptions of Brett Favre in the NFC divisional playoff victory against Green Bay and another pick in the NFC Championship Game against Philadelphia.

    He also was voted defensive captain by his new teammates shortly after his arrival.

    "Aeneas meant as much to our defense as Marshall Faulk meant to our offense," then-Rams Coach Mike Martz said. "He was phenomenal, and because his level of expectations never wavered, he brought the guys he played with, particularly in the secondary, up to his level.

    "He demanded that guys practiced and approached the game with same intensity and focus that he had. Without Aeneas Williams I'm sure we wouldn't have achieved the level of success we had."

    For Williams, finally playing for a Super Bowl team was a singular moment.

    But he looks back on his time with the Cardinals with just as much affection.

    "We may not have won the amount of games we did with the Rams, but I developed as a person and developed as a player," he said. "And when we finally got over the hump (in 1998, defeating Dallas in the wild-card round before losing to Minnesota) it was a great experience.

    "To the outside world, playing for the Cardinals may seem like the worst thing that can happen. But when you compare it to the catastrophes and tragedies you see in the world every day, you realize it's a matter of perspective."

    It was during his time with the Cardinals that Williams also began the activities that led to his current calling.

    He and Tracy, whom he'd met when they were students at Southern, would conduct Bible study classes for teammates and their wives, a practice they carried over when he joined the Rams.

    "I love having the ability to help people understand their relationship with the Lord in a practical way," Williams said.

    At the same time, Williams enjoyed imparting his football knowledge to teammates.

    In a sport where careers are short and there are always younger, faster players willing to take your place, there are those who look on their teammates as rivals.

    Not Williams.

    "I was never intimidated by the idea of someone coming to take my job," he said. "If someone was good enough, then it was time for me to move on.

    "So I've always shared of myself. And besides I've always felt like more is caught than taught."

    It was a trait much appreciated by teammates.

    "I'm telling you, the guy has a special aura to him," Rams linebacker London Fletcher said before the Super Bowl. "He's one of those rare people you meet who you know is right away is going to have an impact on your life."

    Williams himself has always sought to learn from others, first from older brothers Malcolm and Achilles and then from older Fortier teammates Kevin Lewis and Maurice Hurst, both of which had NFL careers as well.

    "My parents were my original mentors," Williams said. "They didn't do it my sitting down and telling us what to do, they modeled themselves to me through their hard work."

    Williams' work habit were also legendary - from his time at Southern when he would run the bleachers at 6 a.m. to the end of his career with Rams when defensive coordinator Lovie Smith had to move defensive drills closer to the goal line because Williams insisted on running any interception he made all the way back.

    "Aeneas said the object of every play was to score, so that's what he'd do when he got his hands on the ball," said Smith, now the coach of the Chicago Bears. "I'd try to get Aeneas to take a day off every now and then, but he'd always say 'I've got to get my practice reps.'

    "Aeneas Williams was one of, if not my favorite player I've ever coached. He's something else."

    Williams's devotion to conditioning made him an iron man with the Cardinals - he started 169 consecutive games for them. Time finally caught up with him in 2002 when turf toe, leg and ankle injuries combined to put him in injured reserve.

    He rebounded to make the Pro Bowl again in 2003, but after more injuries in 2004, Williams retired.

    He finished with 55 interceptions, nine of which he returned for touchdowns along with three fumbles returned for TDs.

    "He's one of the best I've faced," Favre said. "I'd throw at Aeneas, but that didn't mean I was going to be successful."

    By then Aeneas and Tracy had three children - daughters Saenea (Aeneas spelled backwards) and Tirzah and son Lazarus (daughter Cheyenne would come along a year later).

    Although Williams had a business interest in several car dealerships in the Monroe area (he still retains one), he and Tracy decided to remain in the LaBue area of St. Louis.

    That's where he founded his church last year.

    Membership is small - about 50-60 attend the services held in the Williams' basement - but Williams hasn't tried to use his celebrity to attract more.

    "Even if people came impressed by my name, if there's nothing of substance they wouldn't last long," he said. "My mission is about giving people information about improving their relationship with the Lord in a practical way that impacts their lives and that raises up a wise and understanding people.

    "Hopefully, when someone to comes to our church they have an experience with the Lord and then they in turn will go and tell other people."

    Williams would like to grow his church, but he's not so presumptuous as to see becoming a mega-church one day.

    "I want it to be what it's supposed to be," he said. "I tell people sometimes if you could see what God has planned for you, you'd weep for days.

    "If somebody had told me when I started playing football at Southern that all of this would have happened for me, I would have called him a liar, called him crazy and I would have stayed away from him. I've truly led a blessed life."

  2. #2
    chipperjones Guest

    Re: Williams still teaching, working hard off field

    Great article, great player, great person!

  3. #3
    Dr. Defense's Avatar
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    Re: Williams still teaching, working hard off field

    It is great to read this article. He was a great player for us, that just seemed to fall off the map. I was always wondering where he went. I wouldn't mind seeing him come back to coach on our team though.

  4. #4
    Keenum's Avatar
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    Re: Williams still teaching, working hard off field

    He got that nasty neck injury back in 2004 I believe, and after that he quietly retired. But in 2006, I think I remember the Cardinals were considering talking to him and having him play FS for them. Some writer for the AZ Republic even had Williams starting at FS for the Cards in his offseason roster.

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