“I got about four plays left in this 43-year-old body,’’ Roland Williams jokes. “And no blocking plays. Just some short pass routes, preferably near the end zone, so I don’t have to run too far and can score a touchdown.’’
Although the chiseled, 6-foot-5, 250-pound Williams looks as if he could still suit up, coach Sean McVay won’t be needing the NFL retiree’s services when his Rams meet the New England Patriots in Super Bowl 53 Sunday evening in Atlanta’s Mercedes-Benz Stadium. And that’s perfectly fine with Williams, who is quite content playing the role of super fan at this Super Bowl.
The former East High and Syracuse University standout sated his football appetite by playing seven years in the NFL, hanging up his helmet and shoulder pads following the 2005 season. Williams’ Everest moment occurred in 2000 with the then-St. Louis Rams when he helped the team known as “the Greatest Show on Turf” eke out a 23-16 victory against Tennessee in Super Bowl 34. The outcome of that game wasn’t decided until Rams linebacker Mike Jones tackled Titans wide receiver Kevin Dyson one yard shy of the potential winning touchdown as time expired. (Seasoned Bills fans will forever remember Dyson as the guy who returned a controversial kickoff for a touchdown in the waning seconds of the Music City Miracle wildcard playoff game against Buffalo three weeks before the Titans played the Rams in the Super Bowl.)
Williams is looking forward to reuniting with several of his Super Bowl-championship teammates in the stands at Sunday’s game. The Rams organization has gone out of its way to embrace its title team, and make Williams and Co. feel like a part of the present.
“They gave us commemorative jackets on the field before a recent game (in the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum), and flashed us up on the Jumbotron,’’ he was saying during a break from his work at the Champion Academy teen mentoring program he started in Rochester five years ago. “That was great that they acknowledged us, and now we’re looking forward to seeing this generation of Rams continue that winning tradition, and make some history of their own.”
They will have to do so against the big, bad Patriots, who, behind the coaching of Bill Belichick and quarterbacking of Tom Brady, have reigned supreme for nearly two decades. Williams witnessed the birth of the Patriots dynasty as a member of the Oakland Raiders during a snowy AFC playoff game in Foxboro, Mass. in 2002. That was the game in which a lost Brady fumble was ruled an incomplete pass, costing Oakland an opportunity to salt away the victory and earn a spot in the Super Bowl. The “Tuck Rule Game” loss still rankles Williams.
“That’s why I have extra disdain for the New England Patriots,’’ he said, laughing. “But I did respect the fact that after the game, when Tom was out shaking hands, he told us that it was a fumble, which it was.”
They say things eventually even out, and perhaps Williams received payback during the Rams’ overtime victory against the New Orleans Saints in the NFC title game two Sundays ago when officials failed to flag Los Angeles cornerback Nickell Robey-Coleman for pass interference during a pivotal moment.
“Maybe, after all these years, this was a karmic wake-up call for me,’’ Williams said. “Of course, it should have been a penalty against Nickell. But if he had just turned around and looked for the ball, it would have been a pick-six and a touchdown for us. People tend to forget that the game did go into overtime, and if the Saints did what Brady did in the (AFC title game), this would be a non-issue.”
Though fatigued by the Patriots’ run, Williams can help but respect their unprecedented string of excellence. “What they’ve done is second to none,’’ he said. “Tom Brady is the greatest of all-time. There’s no arguing that point any more. However, all great runs eventually come to an end.’’
And in his admittedly biased opinion, Williams believes the Patriots dynasty will officially end this Sunday. And he will be there to witness it, just as he witnessed the beginning. “There are so many plot lines to this game, and I think it’s going to be historic,’’ he said. “They have the oldest coach and we have the youngest, a guy who’s half Belichick’s age. They have the oldest quarterback, and we have the youngest (Jared Goff). This is going to be the coronation of a new era of football and a respectful good-bye to the old guard.”
Pressed to predict a score, Williams calls it 38-28 in favor of his beloved Rams.
Should his prognostication come true, it will cap an extraordinary football year for him. His old high school team went 7-3. His Orange men, behind third-year coach Dino Babers, won 10 games for the first time in 17 seasons, and Williams was able to see one of those wins during a return trip to his alma mater to receive a Letterwinner of Distinction Award. His oldest son’s high school team in suburban Los Angeles, won its league. And his Rams are within reach of another Lombardi Trophy.
“Of course, there were the Raiders, too, but we won’t mention them,’’ he jokes of Oakland’s 4-12 season. “I’ve been blessed with a lot of victories this year. I don’t mean to be greedy, but I’d like to experience one more.”
Best-selling author and nationally honored journalist Scott Pitoniak is the Rochester Business Journal sports columnist.