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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Monday, February 3, 2003

Now we know what makes Ricky Williams special

 •  AFC keeps picking on NFC
 •  Gannon still feels sting of Super Bowl setback
 •  Manning calls Colts teammate an 'idiot'
 •  Titans will help out ex-Warrior
 •  Pro Bowl statistics

By Ferd Lewis
Advertiser Columnist

Ah, the many splendors of Pro Bowl week for a National Football League star. The sun, the beaches, the golf, the parties, the touchdowns ...

The opportunity to play special teams?

"By far the most fun this week was getting to run down there on the kickoff (coverage) team," Ricky Williams was saying with not a hint of sarcasm. "That's what I was really looking forward to. That was probably the biggest thing I wanted to do while I was here."

Thirteen NFL stars, at least one of whom opted for bunion surgery over Pro Bowl duty, passed on the game as is the custom. Others treated it with a big yawn. Even among those who did manage to put in appearances, special teams opportunities were not exactly fought over with the fervor of prime tee times.

Then, there was Williams, long on star power as the league's leading rusher, who not only shows up after the season-long punishment of 383 carries, but was the first to raise his hand to take part in kickoff coverage and insert himself in the game. And, force a statement-making fumble in the American Football Conference's 45-20 victory.

If he wasn't already cradling the Dan McGuire Award, symbolic of being chosen the player of he game, and the keys to a new car that went with it, the enthusiastic volunteerism surely would have earned the Miami Dolphins running back some sort of trophy.

The respect would come as an added bonus. "That just shows you what kind of a person he is and what kind of a player he is," said AFC coach Jeff Fisher.

While reporters inquired about his game-high 56 yards — an average of 5.1 per carry — and fans congratulated him on his two touchdowns, Williams was more interested in discussing his special teams play. Particularly the one on which he separated 6-foot-5, 252-pound Jeremy Shockey from the ball on a kickoff return in the second quarter.

"When he got going on kickoffs," Fisher said, "most of the guys around me on the sidelines were standing there watching him."

"I just wanted to go out there and have some fun," Williams said. "I didn't know what I was doing; I just wanted to run down there and hit somebody. In a real game it probably would have been different because I probably would have gotten blocked, trapped or picked, so this was the perfect opportunity to go out and have some fun."

And if the AFC wasn't in a hurry to get him in on kickoffs, where he was listed as third team, well, Williams would take matters into his own hands. "As long as they didn't stop me, I wanted to keep jumping in there (to play) whenever I could," Williams said. "If I wasn't tired, I was going in there because, being a starting running back, it isn't every day I get to do something like that.

"The last time was, maybe, when I was like in eighth grade and playing Pop Warner, or something."

So he was looking forward to this one in a big way.

"He was saying before the game (in the locker room) 'I hope somebody comes my way so I can make a big hit,' " recalled teammate Sam Madison.

In a game where running backs had walked away with the play-of-the-game honors just twice in the event's 23 previous years, Williams found a new way to be a big hit.