He just ate whatever came along? No, that isn't good enough for you. You have to know how he ate. "In training camp," says P.J. Franklin, the Saints wideout who shared a room with Williams for a month last summer in La Crosse, Wis., "I'm serious, man, Ricky would eat something, then just throw it on the floor and leave it there. I was like, 'Man, Ricky, would you throw that away?'
"I've never seen anything like it. I couldn't see the floor for a month. For real. Clothes were everywhere. Food. I mean, the bed covers! He'd just leave them there, piled on top of everything. It got so deep, it was like a tornado had hit. I said, 'Man, Ricky, don't you think you need to pick some of this up?' He was like, 'Man, P.J., leave me alone.' "
Being a slob is a sign of Williams's heightened sense of joie de vivre. This is what his publicist, John Bianco, would have you believe, anyway. Bianco, director of media relations at Texas, probably knows Williams as well as anyone. Their friendship was forged during the 1998 Heisman campaign, when as a senior Williams traveled the country making appearances and picking up awards. If not for Bianco, Williams might never be understood.
But Bianco admits that even he sometimes doesn't have a clue about Williams. "We'll be on a road trip," says Bianco, "and it's five minutes before we're leaving for the airport, and Ricky hasn't even thought about packing and getting everything together. He just throws everything in a bag. And after he walks out the door, I have to track behind him and find his wallet and his clothes. He always leaves a lot behind. Not a little, a lot. With Ricky it's always a question of whether he'll leave something really important."
With his fancy hair, body art and assorted piercings Williams looks as if he's searched out every Gen X clich� and claimed it as his own. His appearance is so derivative that it's gone full circle and become original again. He's retro even before the slacker fad has played itself out. When Williams moved to New Orleans last year, he might've joined other bohemian wannabes in a hip historic neighborhood such as the French Quarter or Faubourg Marigny. Instead he settled in a posh, gated community built on reclaimed swampland near the southern shore of Lake Pontchartrain. Williams has described his Kenner neighborhood as being straight out of Leave It to Beaver.
"When he moved there, people came around and left their business cards," says his sister, Nisey Williams, 21. "Let me do your lawn, let me clean your house, let me decorate. They were very nice. But Ricky doesn't call anyone. His house is so pretty. I just wish he'd take better care of it.
"He'll eat like part of a banana and throw it on the floor," continues Nisey (pronounced NEE-cee). "He says, 'You know I don't mean anything by that, right? I'm not throwing it on the ground so you'll pick it up.' But he throws it anyway, and out of instinct I pick it up. I guess he's been doing it so long I'm used to it by now."
Williams says he felt "like an outcast" last season while playing for the Saints. He and Franklin went to Hooter's once a week, and wideout Andre Hastings and tackle Willie Roaf stopped by his house on occasion. But Williams spent most of his time alone or with college friends who had flown in from Austin. Williams, who grew up in San Diego, says he came to feel as though he "didn't fit in at all—on the team or in the city." He "wanted to leave all the time" and return to Austin, he says, especially after suffering ankle, elbow and toe injuries that sidelined him for four games.
As a senior at Texas, Williams scored 28 touchdowns, but he was good for only two as an NFL rookie. In 12 games in New Orleans he rushed for 884 yards, 1,240 fewer than he gained in 11 regular-season games as a Longhorn in 1998. Although Williams showed considerable moxie by playing hurt, he says his efforts and sacrifice went largely unnoticed by Saints coaches and players. "When you're hurt," he says, "the coaches don't talk to you. They don't even look at you."
What about his teammates? Weren't they compassionate?