The Ballad of Cadillac Williams

It's not the least because I'm a Tampa Bay Buccaneers fan, nor because it was so important to the Buccaneers (needing a victory to have a chance at the playoffs), but last Sunday's game against the was Raiders one of those games that come along every few years that will stay with me forever.

Not because it was a great game, though it was, and not because it sucked me in on an immersive level that few games, even important games involving my favorite teams, do.

It's a game that will stay with me because it is a game that taught me something, taught me something important.

I've complained in this space before about how insipid announcers will solemnly remind the viewers that "we must remember that this is only a game," during one of those dark moments pass when an immobilized player is carted off the field with a life-changing, critical injury.

For one, no one needs to be reminded of this, particularly during a moment like that. They're actually disrespecting the gravity of the situation by stating the obvious.

Also, it's also "only a game" on plays where no one suffers a spinal injury. Why don't they tell us then?

Cadillac Williams has been fortunate to never suffer that sort of hold-your-breath-and-pray-for-him injury. But he certainly knows the level of injury just below that.

During his 2005 Rookie of the Year campaign, my colleague Brad Oremland presciently warned about the heavy workload he was getting and how it might cut his career short.

Sure enough, early last year, Williams tore the patellar tendon of his right knee. He was out for the season and it looked quite possible that his career was over.

The Buccaneers soldiered on without him, replacing him with Earnest Graham (whom this year suffered a season-ending injury on November 16th). Doctors doubted Williams would regain a level of strength sufficient to play in the NFL again.

But after being out of action 15 months, Cadillac returned just in time to spell Graham.

Even the most serious of injuries that football players bounce back from usually top out at about a year. Any longer than that and the injury is effectively career-ending.

But not for Cadillac. He returned 100% and started showing flashes of his old brilliance right away.

No more was that true than in this must-win game for the Buccaneers. He already had 16 touches for 87 yards and two of the Buccaneers' three touchdowns with 9:44 remaining in the fourth quarter. At the time, the Bucs were clinging to a 24-21 lead.

With 1st-and-10 on their own 33-yard line, Jeff Garcia handed off to Williams. He tried to break through the left side of the line, found nothing, and in a burst of fury, determination, and imagination, he reversed field and broke right, cutting a diagonal line across the field. He was finally brought down 28 yards later, and left clutching his left knee on the sideline.

In a twist of fate that gave the moment the ultimate poignancy, CBS microphones were on the same sideline, right by Cadillac.

He emoted pain in shocked gasps, both shrill and hoarse. "Aaah! Aaah! Aaah! S**t! S**t! Aaah! Are you f**cking kidding me? Are you f**cking kidding me?! Aaaaahhhh! Get the *f**k away from me! S**t!

He knew. He understood. He knew this feeling, this snap, this pain, from before. Fifteen grueling months of rehab was still writ large in the rearview mirror, and now, as he lay on the turf, he knew he was either going to have to do it all over again, all of it, or give up on his dream and become a footnote. A trivia question: what 2005 Rookie of the year retired just three years later after suffering his second serious knee injury in two years?

I have heard tons of cursing picked up by the sideline microphones in football, and we all know it's standard operating procedure for the announcers to acknowledge it and apologize for it.

Not this time. This time, they did not disrespect the gravity of an injury. The announcers said nothing, only listened.

So did I. Half an hour later, as the Buccaneers shuffled to the locker room, defeated and their season over, I learned that it isn't just a game after all. Not for the players lucky enough to play it and be able to walk off the field, nor those, like Williams, not as lucky.

Epilogue, courtesy of the AP:

[Williams] said that unlike last season when the patellar tendon in his right knee was ruptured, the tendon pulled away from the bone this time and should be simpler to repair and require less recovery time.

"This process should be much easier," Williams said, adding that former Tampa Bay teammate and current Carolina kick returner Mark Jones suffered a similar injury when he was with the Bucs.

"After six, eight weeks he was rolling, so right now I'm just hoping for the best and hoping that's it."

Comments and Conversation

January 2, 2009

Gregory Valente:

god bless you cadillac, I will be praying for you and the cady will roll again! hang tough we love you around tampa bay,and thanks for your determination!

Leave a Comment

Featured Site