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Weighty issues

Slimmed-down Ricky Williams considers comeback

Posted: Friday May 20, 2005 11:53AM; Updated: Friday May 20, 2005 3:13PM
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Ricky Williams has lost 40 pounds since he rushed for 1,372 yards in 2003.
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Before you Dolphins fans, fantasy geeks and hemp manufacturers get all hot and bothered over Ricky Williams' possible return to the NFL, here's a number you might want to consider: 195.

That's how much Williams currently weighs, 40 pounds less than his playing weight in Miami, before the positive drug test, the stunning retirement, the overseas trips, the stint in the Indian healing institute and the servitude of a swami -- but we're getting ahead of ourselves.

In an instant-messaging session with Williams on Wednesday, I asked the former All-Pro halfback whether he planned to play football again, and his answer was, "I honestly do not know."

He conceded that he'd had numerous telephone conversations with Miami coach Nick Saban, who called Williams' mother to track down the phone number at the small house the erstwhile runner and ayurveda student rents in Nevada City, an artsy town in the Sierra foothills of Northern California. Williams has a favorable impression of the new Dolphins boss, referring to him as "smart" and "interesting" and comparing him to Saban's friend Bill Belichick.

Williams, as published reports suggest, has gotten the distinct impression he'd be welcomed back by Saban if he were to decide to play in 2005, even though the Dolphins used the second overall pick in the draft on former Auburn running back Ronnie Brown. In Williams' eyes, he can offer Miami a pair of very productive seasons before stepping aside to make room for Brown and reverting to retirement.

"I've still got 4,000 yards left in me," Williams wrote, meaning two years at 2,000 per. "Who is gonna turn that down?"

Obviously, it's not that simple. There's the weight issue, along with the marijuana factor. Williams would likely face a four-game suspension upon ending his retirement, and he'd either have to alter his recreational habits or get something a hell of a lot more effective at beating drug tests than Onterrio Smith's "The Original Whizzinator."

There's also the question of how Williams would be received by his teammates, many of whom felt he abandoned them when he abruptly retired just before the start of training camp last year. He accepts the fact that there will be locker-room backlash but doesn't think it's anything he can't handle -- especially once he reminds them of his toughness during games. Certainly, most fans of the team are bitter in the wake of the disaster that was 2004. Yet something tells me that both groups, now that time has passed, might cut Williams some slack. So much has happened since he left -- Dave Wannstedt's resignation, Saban's coronation, the jettisoning of Jay Fielder, the drafting of Brown -- that it's almost as if Williams would be returning to a different franchise.

Besides, as Williams correctly pointed out, on-field heroics can cover up a lot of sins. Even among the most ardent Ricky bashers, the first time he takes a handoff, bursts through the line of scrimmage, bounces off a linebacker and outraces everyone to the end zone, it will be greeted with unabashed cheers.

To put it another way: The same guys yelling, "You suck, pothead!" will then be begging, "Please, Mr. Williams, will you sign my Zig-Zags?"

Williams finds it odd that so many people seem to chastise him more than they do those players who've tested positive for steroids, and he is heartened that he has achieved some of the clarity he sought when he bolted 10 months ago. "It took me almost a year to figure out the reason for quitting," he wrote. "The analogy I came up with was that I was renting my life. I needed to go out and make a down payment so I would stop wasting money."