At the end of Aeneas Williams’ first training camp with the then-Phoenix Cardinals, the rookie cornerback talked to defensive backs coach Jim Johnson, wondering if he had made the team.
Johnson, now the defensive coordinator for the Philadelphia Eagles, gave Williams the news that was obvious to everyone but Williams himself – not only had the cornerback made the team, he was a starter.
Williams held that spot for 10 seasons, 46 interceptions and six Pro Bowl appearances.
Now, the Cardinals plan to immortalize his name.
This season, Williams will become the 13th person put into the team’s Ring of Honor. The induction ceremony will come Nov. 10, during halftime of the “Monday Night Football” game against San Francisco.
Williams, who said he was “surprised” by the gesture, was informed late last week.
“Anytime an NFL organization decides to put your name somewhere in front of the public’s eyes, it is truly surprising and truly a blessing,” Williams said by phone from his home in St. Louis.
“We wanted to get a player in who recently finished his career, who looks like a Hall of Fame candidate, and we couldn’t think of anyone better,” team president Michael Bidwill said. “He was a fan favorite, an organizational favorite.”
Williams finished his career with a four-year stint with the Rams, including a Super Bowl appearance. With 55 career interceptions, he is expected to be in the Hall of Fame discussion when he becomes eligible after the 2009 season.
Making the playoffs in 1998 was Williams’ highlight as a Cardinal, he said. More than that, though, was his growth experience during his decade in the desert.
Williams could have left as a free agent after five years, but chose to remain in Arizona instead of going to Jacksonville. Both he and the team were ready to part when the Cards traded Williams to the Rams for a second- and a fourth-round pick on draft day, 2001.
“(At the end) it was time for a change, but my time in Arizona, I enjoyed it there,” Williams said. “We may not have won all the games we wanted, but I met good people and always believed – and still believe – the Cardinals will be a team to reckon with.”
There is some irony in Williams’ date to enter the Ring of Honor. While doing it on “Monday Night Football” seems obvious – “It’s the big stage, and we wanted him to have a big platform,” Bidwill said – it also is the first time since 1999 that the Cards have hosted the 49ers on Monday night.
The last time, Williams played a memorable role – delivering the hit on 49ers quarterback Steve Young that produced Young’s career-ending concussion.
“The thing I remember, the first thing that popped into my mind, was (unknown backup) Jeff Garcia,” Williams said. “We thought when Steve went out of the game, we had an advantage, and instead the young guy comes in and sustains enough of the momentum that I think they beat us (which the 49ers did, 24-10).
“I remember exactly coming in on one side on a blitz and (defensive back) J.J. McCleskey coming from the other side and remember praying for Steve and hoping he was OK.”
Young, who is part of the ESPN “Monday Night Football” crew these days, might be there for Williams’ big night. So too will Mike Martz, Williams’ last NFL head coach who now is the 49ers’ offensive coordinator.
Williams said it was too early for him to know how much of his family will attend the ceremony or which of his former teammates he would like to see there.
Bidwill said inductions into the Ring of Honor will be on a case-by-case basis and won’t necessarily be an annual occurrence. After 10 original members were put there when University of Phoenix Stadium opened in 2006, Pat Tillman was added later that season.
Last year, Roger Wehrli was inducted in the same year as his Hall of Fame induction.
Now is Williams’ turn.
Williams even played a part in getting University of Phoenix Stadium built; it was his record-tying 104-yard fumble return for a touchdown against the Redskins that helped spark an upset win two days before voters approved the stadium-funding bond.
The 40-year-old Williams, a pastor at a local St. Louis church with a car dealership in his home state of Louisiana, said he hasn’t thought about his chances of getting into the Hall of Fame.
“My goal has always been to play the game where I reached my potential individually and to the best of my ability help us reach it collectively (as a team),” Williams said. “After that, all the accolades, the Ring of Honor, things like that, I had no clue.
“But I believed if I worked hard and was consistent each day and had the character to match the performance, ultimately good things would happen.”
Contact Darren Urban at firstname.lastname@example.org. Posted 5/6/08.