Friday, August 1, 2014
No debating Aeneas Williams' game now
By Josh Weinfuss
Like any proud father, Lawrence Williams liked talking about his son.
When the conversations turned to what Lawrence's son Aeneas did for a living, Lawrence would tell them Aeneas played cornerback in the NFL. It wouldn't take long for the natural follow-up question: "How good was he?"
Before this past February, Lawrence had plenty to boast about. Aeneas played for 14 years for the Arizona Cardinals and St. Louis Rams. He was an eight-time Pro Bowler and a three-time All-Pro who had 55 interceptions and started in a Super Bowl.
5-11, 194 pounds
1991-00 Phoenix/Arizona Cardinals, 2001-04 St. Louis Rams
• Eight-time Pro Bowler
• Interception in each of first two career games
• Named NFC defensive rookie of the year by NFL Players Association
• Three-time first-team All-Pro
• 55 career int.; nine int. ret. TD (T-4 all time)
• Started for Rams in Super Bowl XXXVI
Lawrence's answer changed the day before the Super Bowl in New York when Aeneas was voted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
"That kind of ends the discussion as it relates to a whole lot of debate as to how good your son is," Aeneas remembers his dad saying.
On Saturday, Aeneas will be enshrined in Canton, Ohio. Presenting him isn't just a man who shouldn't have to answer any more questions about his son but a man who built the foundation from which Aeneas grew. Lawrence was the first and only of nine siblings to attend and graduate from college. When Aeneas graduated from high school, his family applauded. Going to college was a given. Graduating from school was expected.
His upbringing kept Aeneas humble, and it carried him throughout his career. He'll first listen to his father, which befits Aeneas. He's never let his words do the talking. But after Lawrence boasts and brags as only a proud father can, it'll be Aeneas' turn.
Aeneas Williams' speech has been written for some time, but he's cried while rehearsing it. Although speaking in front of a crowd is old hat for the pastor of The Spirit Church in St. Louis, this is different. This is the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Still, this may be the easiest speech of Williams' life.
"It won't be hard because I won't be telling someone else's story," Williams said. "The great credible speech ... comes from the credibility of the one speaking, so it won't be hard. It won't be hard for me to share the truth as to how fearful I was."
Williams will tell stories. He will tell the one about how he proved his college coach wrong when going from a 4.6-second 40-yard dash to running a 4.28. And about how then-Cardinals defensive backs coach Rob Ryan hugged Williams and promised him he would lead the league in interceptions. And, of course, how he continued to work throughout his career to prove himself.
"It's pretty easy to tell those stories because I want people to not stand up there and think I was just like this guy that was predicted to do it," Williams said. "I wasn't, and I want to tell people why and what [and] how significant the mentors were, how significant it was."
The stories that might not be told are how Williams became a mentor himself.
Unlike Williams, Kwamie Lassiter wasn't drafted into the NFL, but the two shared a goal of being a professional defensive back. Williams worked with Lassiter during his early years with the Cardinals. He taught Lassiter how to watch film, how to study it, how to implement what he learned. He showed Lassiter how to play with a calm mind, which Lassiter credits as one of the Williams' most important lessons. Another was teaching Lassiter that the game is bigger than any individual.
"It was somewhat shocking," said Lassiter, who played with Williams in St. Louis. "But when I found out who he was as a man, and not a cornerback or athlete, I can understand why he went about this business the ways he did, why he says the thing he did.