Because of the teams he played for, both of St. Louis’ NFL franchises, I didn’t think Aeneas Williams would make the Pro Football Hall of Fame as quickly as he did. His level of play certainly called for it, but we saw how long the voters took to elect other Cardinal players like Jackie Smith, Dan Dierdorf and Roger Wehrli. So I was thrilled when Williams’ election was announced on Super Bowl weekend.
Once Aeneas was elected, I had no doubt that he’d knock his speech out of the park. And that’s exactly what he did on Saturday night in Canton, delivering his philosophy of life while weaving in the story and people that were most important in his football career. And at the end of the day, what Williams did was the same thing he does every time he touches someone’s life at his Spirit Church or when he’s on the air talking football: He provided sage advice and inspired.
After having watched Aeneas practice for four years with the Rams, I can see his philosophy of life completely soaked into his play. As he told the throng in Canton, “I’ve got two statements, if you don’t remember anything I say. Two statements if you don’t remember anything else I say. Begin with the end in mind and die empty.”
On Aeneas’ first day of Rams practice in the spring of 2001, there was no doubt that those thoughts applied. New defensive coordinator Lovie Smith preached ball pursuit, and Williams not only hustled to every loose ball in practice, but he ran back every practice interception or fumble return for a touchdown every day. He began with the end in mind: starting spring practice with the idea of playing in the Super Bowl. And he left it all on the field. Metaphorically, he died empty.
Aeneas is a superb leader, not just as a player but as a human being. In leading by example, Williams would do 10 pushups every time he dropped an interception or made a mistake. When the future Hall of Famer started that tradition, his teammates joined in. Whenever a mistake was made on the practice field, the offending Ram defender would drop and give his coaches and teammates 10.
From telling the story of how he reduced his 40-yard dash time from 4.6 to 4.3 by asking a teammate who ran a 4.3 how he could do it, and then joining the Southern University track team, to going out to San Diego on his own dime to work with Gill Byrd to become the best there was, Williams hit every note of his illustrious career. He pointed out that he and Marshall Faulk, the only Hall of Famers from New Orleans, had something in common in that “both of us sold popcorn, peanuts and Coke in the Superdome. So I say to any young kid that wants to get to the Hall of Fame, you better go to the Superdome and become a vendor and get some of this magic or this thing that God has blessed us with, it’s called hard work. Thank you, Marshall.”
He began with the end in mind, starting each phase of his career with the idea of winding up where he landed on Saturday, in Canton.
And Williams left it all on the field. When his career was over after 2004, there simply wasn’t anything left. His career died empty. Coming back from a catastrophic broken leg in Oct. 2002, Williams returned to action and played 16 games at safety in ‘03, making the Pro Bowl at his new position.
Williams has become a stalwart in the St. Louis community. Beyond being a Hall of Fame football player, he’s truly a Hall of Fame person. His Spirit Church continues to grow, and Aeneas continues to impact people positively. In addition, he helps out the Rams. When Chris Givens wanted guidance during the off season, he sought out Williams. Aeneas will be back in training camp before the summer is out, mentoring and tutoring the extremely young crop of Ram defensive backs.
Williams is the second member of the Greatest Show on Turf to enter the Hall, following Faulk and preceding those that are eligible next year – Kurt Warner, Orlando Pace, Isaac Bruce and Torry Holt. He is a shining symbol of what the NFL should be about, of what the Rams franchise wants to represent, and of our community.
We can all be better simply by listening to and heeding that Aeneas credo. Start with a plan to be our best, and then put everything we have into what we do. Begin with the end in mind and die empty.