Ditka dons dreads
Saints coach ecstatic about his draft class -- Ricky Williams
Posted: Sunday April 18, 1999 07:01 PM
NEW ORLEANS (AP) -- Coach Mike Ditka donned shoulder-length dreadlocks, while fans wearing "We got Ricky" T-shirts chanted, screamed for autographs and snapped pictures. Some New Orleans Saints even started talking playoffs.
And Ricky Williams thought he carried a big load in Texas.
New Orleans, which hasn't had a winning record in six years or a 1,000-yard rusher in a decade, traded away every pick after its first one this year, and first- and third-round picks next year to get the Heisman Trophy winner.
"We did the thing that this organization thought would make us the best the fastest," Ditka said. "The future is now. It's not the year 2002, it's now.
"We drafted him because he is a great football player. I don't think the Saints have had an identity football player, really since Archie [Manning]. He's the first marquee player this organization has had in a long time."
Ditka, who joked he'd had his hair restyled Sunday morning to celebrate getting the big back with the distinctive hair style, compared Williams to Walter Payton, the Hall of Fame back who carried the Chicago Bears and Ditka to glory in the 1980s.
Williams said that was an exaggeration, insisting he just plays hard and loves doing it.
"I just run the ball and try to get to the end zone and whatever happens in between is just pretty much all instinct," he said.
New Orleans has back-to-back 6-10 records under Ditka. Last year, the offense was ranked 28th in the NFL -- dead last in yards rushing.
Getting Williams will change that, Saints officials believe.
"This is one player who's going to make our football team a lot better on offense," said general manager Bill Kuharich. "He's going to help our tight ends, our wide receivers, our quarterback and our offensive line.
"It's an awful lot of pressure to say that one player can get us to the Super Bowl. But if he can carry us on his back, God bless him. But I'm not putting undue pressure on him"'
Actually, the pick puts enormous pressure on everyone in the organization.
Ditka promised when he took the job that he would only stay three years if he could not turn the team into a winner. Now, with the sacrifice of eight potential players over two years, he's betting everything on Williams sparking a turnaround in the worst offense in the league.
"Well, he's going to be huge if he can get into the season healthy," said quarterback Billy Joe Hobert. "It's going to be good for the fans, and it's going to be good for us.
"Now, we're just going to move it on. No excuses now. We better go on to the playoffs or every one of us is going to be finding a new job next year."
Although Williams' association with rapper Master P and No Limit Sports, which represents him, was reportedly one reason the Indianapolis Colts passed on him with the fourth pick, the Saints and William's agent, Leland Hardy, said they expect no problem working out a contract. But, Hardy said, he knows what he's looking for.
"I think Mr. Williams should have a contract commensurate with his station as the greatest player in the history of the sport in the college game," Hardy said. "Talk about his signability is of non-interest to me because all parties here are going into negotiations with a common interest. And that is to get Ricky Williams signed and in camp on time and try to get this football team to the playoffs and the Super Bowl as soon as possible."
Based on what Chicago Bears rookie running back Curtis Enis received in the No. 5 slot last year, Williams would get a five- or six-year contract worth about $2 million per season. The deal will include a signing bonus in the range of $7.5 million.
Williams said he wasn't worried about the money, just getting on the field. But then he heard about Ditka's entry into the league.
Ditka was the fifth pick in the 1961 draft. He said he received a $6,000 signing bonus.
"I don't want to play that bad," Williams said.
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