He has the smarts and closing speed to do it. "You cannot believe how hard you have to work to get open against him," says Cardinals wideout Rob Moore. "And that wears on you. You've got to run 30, 40 routes, and every one of them is a little war."
While his teammates take a knee during moments of idleness on the practice field, Williams works on pass drops or does abdominal crunches. While his fellow defensive backs pinch and slap themselves to remain awake while watching video of practice, Williams scribbles notes and asks questions of Marmie. "I've told young players who come in here, 'If you're going to pick somebody to follow, watch this guy,' " says Marmie. "Watch him in the meetings, watch him on the practice field and watch him in the game."
Is it a burden, being an example to his teammates? Williams pondered the question last Friday evening while sitting in his living room. In a nearby room his wife, Tracy, played with their daughter, six-month-old Saenea (Aeneas spelled backward). "When God gives someone an assignment," Aeneas said, "he also gives him the grace to carry it out, without it becoming a burden. The apostle Paul said, 'Follow me as I follow Christ,' and those are my sentiments exactly. Because when a person looks at me, I want him to see how Jesus Christ would conduct himself on a job."
Williams rises at five every morning to pray and read the Bible, and he hosts a weekly Tuesday night Bible study session for teammates and their wives. He says it's his God-given "assignment" to minister to those of his teammates who, like him, have been "saved."
"Aeneas is like clergy," says Cardinals fullback Larry Centers, who, you may recall, was baptized in the Pacific Ocean by Williams and Reggie White, Green Bay's minister of defense, before the 1996 Pro Bowl. During the baptism, the celebrants had to raise their voices above the chattering of Williams's teeth.
"I got saved when I was in New York," adds Moore, a former Jet, "but my walk didn't become consistent until I got here and saw what a real Christian was."
When did Williams begin to walk his walk? When did he realize he'd been given a divine assignment? It was around the same time that he decided to end his two-year sabbatical from football: when Achilles graduated from Southern. "He'd always been Achilles' little brother," says Tracy, who was a year behind Aeneas in college and began dating him around that time. "When Achilles left, Aeneas came into his own."
Until then, he was happy to follow. Lawrence recalls taking the toddler Achilles, who had swallowed a nickel, to the hospital to have it removed. Two weeks later Aeneas swallowed a nickel. At Southern the brothers shared an off-campus apartment, a major (accounting) and a fraternity, Kappa Alpha Psi. Like Achilles, Aeneas participated in student government. Like Achilles, who also had played football in high school, he didn't play football, a decision that surprised no one in the family. "I always emphasized education," says Lawrence, who majored in agriculture and minored in chemistry and was hired out of college by Union Carbide, for which he still works as a laboratory supervisor. In 1972 he bought the stately colonial house in which he and Lillian still live. The Williams home is less than a mile from the Tulane campus and is distinguished by its four Doric columns and by the French doors that open onto a second-story porch, from which hangs a small PARKING FOR CARDINALS FANS ONLY sign.
There was Lawrence on all fours last Thursday, foraging through a cabinet in his study, looking for a videocassette. "Here it is," he said finally, and he popped into a VCR a tape of a 1989 game between Southern and Jackson State. There was Aeneas, number 13, returning an interception 57 yards for the game-winning touchdown. There was play-by-play man and former NFL cornerback Lem Barney making a wisecrack about triskaidekaphobia.
After that game Barney introduced himself to the Williamses and predicted that Aeneas would play in the NFL. "Until then," says Lillian, who is a florist, "we hadn't given it a thought." To ensure that his son kept his priorities straight, Lawrence would work his way down to the field after games, give Aeneas a hug and whisper in the ear hole of his helmet, "How are your grades?"