St. Louis Rams

August 2, 2014

Aeneas Williams: 'It wasn't just about being a great player'

Cornerback Aeneas Williams never let losing affect the way he played.

Williams, who experienced only one winning season in his 10 years with the Arizona Cardinals (1991-2000) before being traded to the St. Louis Rams in 2001, always went full tilt no matter the score of the game or his team's record.

"It was understanding how to become a thermostat and not a thermometer,'' Williams said of setting the standard instead of just measuring it. "One of the highest compliments I've ever gotten is when the Rams brought me in for the initial visit with coach Mike Martz, and what he said was, 'Even though you guys didn't win a whole lot of games, when we look at the film, we could never tell (that) by the way you play.'

"I just refused to become a loser even though we weren't winning a whole lot of games.''

Williams will be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame on Saturday in Canton, Ohio.

He is part of an induction class that also includes Giants defensive end Michael Strahan, Seahawks offensive tackle Walter Jones, Buccaneers linebacker Derrick Brooks, Bills receiver Andre Reed, Falcons/Eagles defensive end Claude Humphrey and Raiders punter Ray Guy.

The Hall of Fame induction ceremony will be broadcast on ESPN2 beginning at 6 p.m.

One of the most respected players of his era, Williams initially received word about being chosen for the Hall of Fame last winter before Super Bowl XLVIII.

Williams said he has yet to answer the multitude of congratulatory text messages he received.

"Hey, when you are on Cloud 9, there are no cell towers up there,'' said Williams, a New Orleans native who lives in St. Louis where he is the pastor at The Spirit Church. "What I have enjoyed is the kind words and the many congratulatory words to my family, to my wife, to my children and to my parents. Life has changed from standpoint of being able to influence people's lives for the better and the credibility that comes with it.''

Williams' presenter during the induction ceremony will be his father, Lawrence Williams, whom he credits with molding him into the man he has become.

"I never had to look outside my home for a hero, whether it was my father or my two older brothers,'' Williams said.

When it came to their three sons, education always came first for Williams' parents, Lawrence and Lillian.

His father, who worked as a lab manager and operations facilitator for Union Carbide, was the first person from his family to go to college.

"He knew the significance that a college education would afford the three boys he was raising,'' Aeneas Williams said. "We didn't have a big high school (graduation) celebration. It was applauded, but it was already implied that were going to go and graduate from college.''

Williams followed his brother, Achilles, to Southern University.

Like his big brother, he also chose to study accounting.

"I initially would have been accountant, and I probably wouldn't have been very happy,'' Aeneas Williams said of how his life would have turned out if a former Fortier High School teammate hadn't talked him into trying out for Southern's football team before his junior year. "I would have been fine with the money I earned, but I wouldn't have had the fulfillment that I have had in my life playing the game of football that I loved since I was a kid.''

Williams led the Southwestern Conference with seven interceptions in his junior season and still likes to repeat what Southern defensive coordinator Percy Duhe told a New Orleans newspaper that year: "Aeneas is a good player, but I don't think he'll ever go pro because he runs a 4.6 (second) 40-yard dash."

He joined the Southern track team after seeking advice on how to improve his speed from a football teammate who also ran track.

"I ran a 4.28 for scouts that spring," said Aeneas Williams, who led the nation in interceptions with 11 as a senior in 1990.

The Cardinals selected Williams in the third round of the 1991 NFL draft.

He was traded to the Rams for two draft picks before 2001 NFL draft. He joined a Rams defense that had given up 471 points -- an average of 29.4 points per game -- in 2000.

Williams said he was greeted by Martz and Rams defensive coordinator Lovie Smith -- a protege of Tony Dungy, the one coach that he had always wanted to play for -- at the airport.

"When I stepped off the plane, they said, 'You are going to do for our defense what Marshall Faulk did for our offense,''' Williams said.

Williams' impact was immediate as the Rams surrendered only 273 points, an average of 17 points per game, in the 2001 season.

Against Green Bay in the divisional round of the playoffs, Williams set an NFL record with two interception returns for touchdowns off passes by Brett Favre.

A week later, his interception of Donovan McNabb with 1:47 left sealed a win in the NFC Championship game and helped the Rams reach Super Bowl XXXVI.

It was with the Rams that Williams said he learned how individual talent could be transformed into team success.

"I tried bait to quarterbacks when I was in Arizona and I was able to do it, but when I got here (St. Louis) if I was a tenth of an inch off, Kurt (Warner) would be able to zip a pass in that I would normally intercept,'' Williams said. "Just that level excellence is the way Coach Martz approached the game and Coach Lovie with the accountability helped me understand as a unit what it took to be collectively great.''

Williams was an eight-time Pro Bowl selection who played in 211 NFL games, including 206 starts. He started 180 straight games before a broken fibula ended the streak in 2002.

He had 55 career interceptions, and if they kept records for most practice interceptions, Williams would hold the mark.

Williams would return each of those interceptions for a touchdown, a routine that became so commonplace at Rams practices that his teammates would simply head back to the huddle and get ready to run the next play as he ran down the field.

It was a case of practice carrying over to games as Williams returned nine interceptions for touchdowns in his career, tying him for second-most in NFL history behind Rod Woodson's 12.

Williams continues to touch people's lives through his work as a pastor. He's takes great pride in his off-the-field work. Asked how he wanted to be remembered, he read a congratulatory message from Jay Zygmunt, the Rams' former president of football operations.

His voice cracked a few times as he read, "'Congratulations on your selection to the Hall of Fame. In my 27 years with the Rams, I was blessed to be around many great players. You are at the top of that list with your incredible play, but your exemplary life as a man even surpasses your performance and accomplishments on the field. You are truly special and embody the essence of the ultimate Hall of Famer. Enjoy this well-deserved recognition.'

"That's how I wanted to influence for the better my teammates and anybody I came into contact with. It wasn't just about being a great player.''

Contact reporter Steve Korte at skorte@bnd.com or 239-2522.

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