NEW ORLEANS For St. Louis Rams cornerback Aeneas Williams, it’s all about the ring. After an 11-year quest, he soon may be able to slip the gaudy walnut-size bauble that defines Super Bowl success onto his finger.
Six straight Pro Bowls weren’t enough to keep Williams in Arizona last year. The perennially poor Cardinals reached the playoffs only once in his 10-year tenure, so Williams forced Arizona to trade him to St. Louis. Now the Rams’ emotional defensive leader can fulfill his dream against the New England Patriots in tomorrow’s Super Bowl XXXVI.
The Rams’ offensive playmakers quarterback Kurt Warner and running back Marshall Faulk sport rings from Super Bowl XXXIV. This one is for Williams, said his teammates.
“So many guys say you’re not complete if you don’t win one,” Williams said. “When I run across guys like Dan Dierdorf and Conrad Dobler who played for the [St. Louis] Cardinals and didn’t have this opportunity, maybe vicariously they’re living through me.”
Williams worried his legacy would be diminished if he never reached a Super Bowl. No matter that he was part of the NFL’s All-‘90s team and a possible Hall of Famer; Williams needed to leave Arizona before losing his desire and merely settling for a paycheck.
“When you focus on the negative side, it diminishes your zeal for playing the game,” Williams said. “I was always under the impression that if you sit around and talk about the negatives, it would be like sitting around talking about it raining. I would be the guy that would find a way to get some umbrellas and sell them.”
St. Louis eagerly traded second- and fourth-round picks for Williams as part of a defensive makeover that included eight starters and four coaches. The unit finished third overall and against the run.
“He means to our defense what Marshall means to our offense,” coach Mike Martz said.
The Rams improved from an NFL-worst 471 points allowed in 2000 to a sixth-best 273 this season. They also jumped from 27th to 10th in passing yards allowed. Williams scored two touchdowns on interceptions during his seventh straight Pro Bowl season, plus two more in the playoffs against Brett Favre, which brought begrudging respect from Green Bay’s star quarterback.
“Aeneas is one of the best I’ve faced, [but] I wouldn’t say he is the best,” Favre said. “I faced Deion Sanders before. At least I’ll throw at Aeneas, [but that] doesn’t mean I’ll be successful.”
Warner appreciates what Williams has done in saving the offense from having to survive many high-scoring shootouts.
“The last couple years, the offense felt we needed to score a lot,” Warner said. “This year we say we’re going to score a lot, but our defense is going to bail us out of some situations.”
Teammates often talked of Williams’ lengthy preparation. He spends many hours watching tape of opposing teams. However, on a team known for its religious beliefs, Williams touched his teammates most by giving them his personal attention.
“When you get to the NFL, everybody’s making money,” Williams said. “A lot of times, a big ol’ 6-7 guy really just wants to be hugged.”
Said Rams cornerback Dre Bly: “We were lacking leadership on defense last year. He tells me little things that I can learn from receivers. He is a true professional.”
Williams, 34, once sold popcorn and peanuts at the Superdome along with Faulk. He has always been a name in his hometown, even if it is an unusual one. His brother is Achilles Williams. It seems their father, George, didn’t want his sons to have a common first name.
“No one knew how to say Aeneas, so I wanted a name like Ralph or Joe,” Williams said. “But as I got older, after people started learning how to pronounce it, I enjoyed it.”
After all, Williams certainly has proven he’s no average Joe.