Aeneas Williams, St. Louis Ram defensive back, is proud to be from New Orleans.
He's proud to have played football at Alcee Fortier High, pronounced "For-shay."
Williams is happy to speak "New Awlins." Williams is happy to sound different and is happy when he runs into anyone anywhere who has that accent. Williams is happy to be from a place where, as he says, "Football was in the fabric of the city."
Williams is happy he started playing tackle football when he was 4. He is happy the other 4-year-olds didn't want to see Williams and his helmet and his fortitude coming full steam ahead. He is even happy to say that his first separated shoulder came when he was 8.
Williams is not embarrassed that his 40-yard-dash time in high school was a lineman-like 4.99 or that he was "slow and skinny," according to Fortier football Coach Robert Welch, the offensive coordinator when Williams played.
Nor is Williams embarrassed that he didn't play college football until his junior year at Southern. "In our family," Williams says, "you went to college to learn and not to play football."
Williams was not conflicted about turning down an academic scholarship to Dartmouth. His father, Lawrence Williams, got his degree from Southern, and so did Aeneas.
Williams is proud to be 34 and the husband of Tracy, who has a master's in business administration and agricultural economics from Illinois and even prouder to be the father of Saenea (Aeneas spelled backward), Tirzah and Lazarus.
And Williams is proud his father named him Aeneas and his brother Achilles. Lawrence Williams got tired of being the third or fourth Lawrence Williams in every class--grade school, high school and college--and so named his sons after the characters he admired in his Greek mythology class at Southern.
If there were days, as Aeneas Williams says, he wished he were named Ralph because everybody could pronounce Ralph, he is now proud of the name.
And proud that he is a seven-time NFL Pro Bowl honoree because of his own hard work and not only his God-given talent. How did Williams go from running a 4.99 40-yard dash to a 4.4, sometimes even a 4.3 now? "Hard work, hard work and extremely hard work," says Welch, who
calls Williams the best example of a self-made player.
Williams respects hard work and its benefits.
He respects his parents for making him earn his way all his life. He sold peanuts and popcorn at the Superdome during Saint games. Then he would sneak down to the Saints' locker room in hopes of grabbing some chin straps and sweaty wristbands. He delivered flowers for the family florist shop, Williams Florists.
Flower delivery wasn't so bad until the day he was asked to pin the Williams Florist corsage onto the dress on a corpse at the local funeral home. "I ran home and told my mom I didn't want to do that any more, and my mom told me it wasn't the dead ones you had to be afraid of, it was the live ones who would give you trouble."
Williams is confounded by some of the questions this week. Why did he willingly spend 10 years with the dreadful Arizona Cardinals? Why did he not complain? Why did he not demand a trade, hold out, pick up and move to a place where he could better showcase his skills, where his work ethic would be emulated not only by other players but also by ownership, where he could, let's face it, become a big star on a playoff stage?
"I made a commitment. I was being paid by the Cardinals to do my job and it was up to me to do that job as best I could," Williams says.
So Williams is content that he fulfilled his contract, accepted gracefully the designation as franchise player and then moved happily along when the Cardinals sent Williams to St. Louis for second- and fourth-round draft picks last year.
Williams is comfortable with himself. He is comfortable being an ordained minister. He thanks God for his blessings, but he will not make others uncomfortable with his faith. He'll talk about God if you want to listen. He'll talk about Dick "Night Train" Lane if you want to talk about that.
Williams knows about Lane, who held the single-season record for interceptions when he died Tuesday.
"He's one of the guys who transformed the cornerback position," Williams said. "He'll always be remembered as one of the greatest cornerbacks who played the game."
Williams is not happy so many of his colleagues don't know about "Night Train" and other NFL history. Williams doesn't blame the young guys. "I am concerned there's not a concerted effort to keep veterans around longer to bridge the gap," Williams said.
All those years when he went off to the Pro Bowl, fresh after a month off because, after all, the Cardinals weren't in the playoffs, he'd wait for the other Pro Bowl players, the ones who were bruised and tired from the playoffs and the Super Bowl to arrive in Hawaii.
"All I'd do is ask those guys questions," Williams says. "I wanted to know how they did it, how their teams did it. What did it take to get to the Super Bowl? I'd take notes. I always took notes."
The notes didn't tell Williams to intercept two Brett Favre passes in the NFC semifinals and score on them. The notes didn't tell Williams how to pick off the last pass of the NFC championship game, the one from young and talented Donovan McNabb, the one that sealed the Rams' 29-24 victory and sent Williams home to New Orleans.
Williams is a man who has never missed a game in 11 years. Bad teams, good teams, Williams played.
He is a man who has 50 interceptions, 11 returned for touchdowns. He is a man who earns the praise of his teammates--"Aeneas Williams has made me a better player and a better man," says cornerback Dre' Bly--and of his coaches--"Aeneas is the epitome of what a professional football player should be and what a good man should be," says Ram defensive coordinator Lovie Smith.
Williams is a businessman. He and Achilles have a successful chain of auto dealerships in northern Louisiana. Williams is a friend. The people of his childhood don't have to call Williams. He calls them, says Manuella Parker, a neighborhood friend and former teacher at Fortier High.
Most of all, Williams makes it seem fun to be a sports fan. In a week of too much pomp and not so much circumstance, he speaks one easy truth.
"I'm blessed and I'm home at the Dome," he says. A trip earned.
Diane Pucin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.