CANTON, Ohio – Aeneas Williams was scared, and he told the world about it.
Standing on the stage Saturday night during his Hall of Fame induction speech, the former Pro Bowl cornerback of the Cardinals told the story that he feared playing for the team when Buddy Ryan was named coach. Ryan put his cornerbacks on an island, exposing them to giant failure every play.
Rob Ryan -- now the Saints defensive coordinator, then the secondary coach for the Cardinals – told Williams he could succeed. After a nine-interception season, Williams realized he had nothing to fear.
“Much love to Revis Island,” Williams told the crowd at Fawcett Stadium, “but it started with Aeneas Island.”
With the passion he’s long had and the experience of holding an audience from his time as a pastor of the Spirit Church in St. Louis, Williams delivered a 25-minute acceptance speech well worthy of the Hall of Fame.
Within it, he hit on many of his familiar themes and reiterated the thanks he had often brought up on the road to Canton.
Rob Ryan was in the audience to watch. So too was former Cardinals cornerback Corey Chavous, fullback Larry Centers and linebacker Terry Irving. A host of Williams’ teammates with the Rams were also there, appearing at Williams’ post-induction reception that went into the wee hours of Sunday morning – including Kurt Warner, Torry Holt, Isaac Bruce, Marshall Faulk, London Fletcher and Orlando Pace.
At his party, filled mostly with Williams’ family and friends, he spent almost 90 minutes just taking pictures with loved ones alongside his newly minted bronze bust that would soon take up residence a couple of miles away in the Hall of Fame.
“Once the speech was all done, being with those Hall of Famers and having a gold jacket, seeing this good looking guy over here, it has sunk in,” Williams said, glancing at his bust. “I’ve enjoyed the entire week. It’s been awesome.”
His speech had a theme, with two of the key phrases in his life – “Begin with the end in mind” and “Die empty” – included throughout. “I wanted to have a message,” Williams said later, and he closed his speech by getting the entire stadium chanting both mantras.
But Williams saved time for some humor too, like when he poked fun at Cowboys Hall of Fame receiver Michael Irvin, with whom he had many battles. Williams said that if the Cardinals hadn’t upset the Dallas Cowboys in the 1998 playoffs, the Cowboys wouldn’t have their state-of-the-art stadium now.
The old Cowboys Stadium, Williams recounted, had a hole in a roof and they called them “God’s team.” Afterward, Williams said, it took 10 years to plan and build the stadium.
“I did the math,” Williams said. “That was about the time we upset them – and (owner) Jerry (Jones) figured out, ‘God must not be with us anymore.”
That brought plenty of cheers and laughs from the crowd, and got Irvin – on stage with the other Hall of Famers – laughing and standing.
He saved special thanks for his wife Tracy and former Chargers cornerback Gill Byrd, now the Buccaneers defensive backs coach but who became a special mentor for Williams both on and off the field. Byrd was the most important of those defensive backs Williams called for advice in his career, including Hall of Famers Ken Houston and Michael Haynes.
The advice wasn’t lost on the eight-time Pro Bowler.
“Very few of us get to live out the true meaning of our names,” said Williams’ father, Lawrence, as he presented his son to the
Early in his speech, Williams joked about how the 2014 class had all talked about who was going to cry during their speech.
“I’m going to cry,” Williams said. “I’ll be up front.”
The funny thing was, Williams never did. Later, at his reception, he held court with those he holds most dear, whether it was Faulk – who not only was a St. Louis teammate but also a fellow New Orleans native – or his extended family.
The celebration was as much about Williams the person as it was Williams the player.
“He was part of the foundation that got that stadium built and he knows it and I tell him all the time it helps us win games,” Cardinals president Michael Bidwill said. “I wish I could have a young Aeneas Williams I could draft and have play for us right now.”
Along the way, he became the first Cardinal from Arizona to make the Hall of Fame. Standing next to his bronze likeness, he insisted he wouldn’t be the last.
“It’s just getting warmed up. I just started the bus,” Williams said. “
“The guys like Jackie Smith and Roger Wehrli, Larry Wilson, they paved the way for me. Now me, to get it ready for those (Arizona) guys, I’m excited about it.”