RENTON, Wash. – Notwithstanding the deplorable mutt who quarterbacks the Pittsburgh Steelers, it has been well-established that the position of wide receiver is home to the most problem children per capita in the National Football League.
It’s full of 3D players – divas, domestic violence offenders and DUIs. Or dogs, deadbeats and drama queens, if you prefer. With a little gunplay thrown in for good measure.
Let’s give you a quick lineup, er, rundown: Marvin Harrison, Donte Stallworth, Chad Ochocinco, Randy Moss (emeritus), Matt Jones, Santonio Holmes, Brandon Marshall, Plaxico Burress …
Here’s how bad it is: Terrell Owens comes off as one of the good guys.
No, here’s how bad it is: Mike and Reggie Williams are barely blips on the bad-boy radar.
Maybe that’s because they underachieved their way out of the NFL as much as they misbehaved, both top-10 draft picks whose indiscretions might have been indulged if they’d just produced more on the field. Even with the commissioner’s recent less-but-not-quite- zero-tolerance policy, talent will always – or eventually – trump character issues.
Which brings us to the Williamses and the Seattle Seahawks, who were impressed enough with the pair in a cold tryout this past week that they were signed to contracts Friday, which should at least earn them invitations to training camp this summer.
The Seahawks’ first minicamp under new coach Pete Carroll had a little “On the Waterfront” feel to it, with the dockworkers milling around and the wrangler hollering, “Everybody works today.” No fewer than 17 jobless souls were brought in for a look, or to just fill a uniform. Five were rewarded with contracts and further opportunity, as the Seahawks seek both lineup solutions and competition within.
Alas, with that kind of dependence on the discard pile, no one will ever look back and suggest that these Hawks “coulda been a contendah.”
In any event, the Williamses were the most intriguing of the bunch, for a number of reasons. To begin with, they are large human beings for their position – Mike being too large the last several years – and after former coach Mike Holmgren’s fondness for relative gnats (Deion Branch, Bobby Engram), it’s a clear departure.
As noted previously, both are former Pacific-10 superstars of the same era – Mike at USC under Carroll, Reggie at Washington – who could be described as NFL flameouts, had they lit the league up at all. And both sounded not just grateful for what figures to be this final shot, but humble and repentant as well.
“This is a gift from God, getting a second opportunity to play the game I love and especially in Seattle,” said Reggie, who revealed that in the taxi from the airport last week he asked the driver to crack a window “just so I could smell home.”
The ninth overall pick in the 2004 draft, Reggie caught 52 passes for Jacksonville in 2006 and scored 10 touchdowns the following year. But the Jaguars didn’t re-sign him after his rookie contract expired in 2008, feeling he’d been underwhelming on the field and too much of a risk off it – which he proved by being arrested twice in 2009, once after he was Tasered by an off-duty cop in Houston. He’s now serving two years of probation on a cocaine charge and has been out of football for a year.
Mike Williams has managed to stay out of court, but often out of the gym, too – and has been two years gone from the game. Detroit made him the No. 10 pick of the 2005 draft, but got fed up within a season and a half. He lasted just seven games in Oakland in 2007, and two more with Tennessee. He dropped key passes, rarely passed on dessert – his weight ballooned to at least 270 at one point, though all he would admit to is that he weighed “a lot” – and generally made himself a pain.
“In my early years, I was more focused on fighting the system and fighting coaches that I didn’t think liked me or that were out to get me,” he said.
“The first time around, I didn’t get it. Everybody’s not the same and it’s unfortunate that I didn’t take care of my business the first time, but that’s something I’ve learned and matured from and moved forward.”
Their new seriousness of purpose was reflected in both the physical conditioning they showed (“I wanted that to be a testament to the commitment I made to myself and the team,” Mike said) and how quickly they grasped some of the nuances of a playbook they saw for the first time Monday. Reggie is now engaged and father to a 4-month-old son and considers himself “a better man because of those mistakes.” Mike has stopped looking for villains.
“This is a blessing,” he said. “I’ve embraced every aspect, from just having my name on the back of a jersey again.”
But, realistically, can they really help the Seahawks?
“There’s a couple ways to look at that,” quarterback Matt Hasselbeck said. “Sometimes those guys are more hungry and more willing to listen and do whatever it takes to be successful. The other thing would be, I guess, being out for a year. I don’t know. None of that matters to me. One of the things Pete Carroll said when he came in is, ‘I don’t care what any of you guys have done in the past, I don’t care about yesterday. I just care about today and beyond here.’ I think that’s a good way to look at it for every guy.”
And by every guy.
“There’s always a concern that maybe the ship has sailed,” Mike Williams said. “But there’s also perseverance. You ain’t done until you’re done.”
The last D.