In December, Chris Rose, an entertainment columnist for the New Orleans Times-Picayune, chided Williams for granting interviews to out-of-town reporters and ignoring local ones. That item, though clearly tongue-in-cheek, so infuriated Sandy Williams that she E-mailed a letter to the newspaper's editor defending her son. Sandy seemed particularly concerned about correcting an error in the Rose report: that Williams was seen at a New Orleans-area restaurant eating his favorite menu item. "Everyone who knows Ricky knows he doesn't eat seafood, not at all," wrote Sandy. "Crab claws—that's almost as stupid as the column."
A month later another columnist for the paper, John DeShazier, riffed on the bizarre goings-on in what he called "Ricky World," notably Williams's falling asleep inside his locker after a game. "What we appear to have is a confused child on our hands," wrote DeShazier.
Williams says he read almost every article written about him, and the more he read the more he became convinced that local reporters were out to get him. Nisey visited him at home and found newspaper clippings scattered all over his dining-room table. "People were mailing them to him," Nisey says. "It made me so upset. I tried to talk to him about it, but he said, 'Shut up, it doesn't bother me.' But how could it not bother him?"
After the Saints' season finale against the Carolina Panthers—a game in which he gained a season-low seven yards on 14 carries—Williams decided that it wasn't only the New Orleans media who had him in their sights. He and a male friend, along with a couple of women, were lounging in Williams's outdoor hot tub when the police showed up at his front door. It was about 3 a.m. A neighbor had called and complained about noise at the Williams home. But Williams says he and his friends were "only talking quietly and drinking Dom Perignon."
"I don't understand people," he says. "I'm 22 and I have a nice house. Why did they have to do that?"
Just before the final game of the previous season, at a Texas practice for the Cotton Bowl, his last game as a Longhorn, Williams sat in the dirt and gathered a bunch of roly-poly bugs in his hand. Running backs coach Bruce Chambers approached Williams and asked him what he was doing. Williams, already named the Heisman winner in a landslide vote, said, "Oh, nothing." Then he flashed an embarrassed smile at Chambers and tossed the bugs on the ground.
But that's where his life in Texas differed from the one he lived in New Orleans, and where college football distinguished itself from the NFL. Would an NFL coach be amused by a player who fools around with roly-polys at practice? Says Williams, "I think my thing is, if a person makes me feel like a person and not an object, then I'll respect that person more and treat that person with proper respect. But when people treat me like a thing or a possession, and like a person second, then I'm not going to respect them."
So when the season ended, Williams moved back home—back to Austin, and back to where the respectful adoration he desired was a given. He moved into the same downtown apartment he had rented when he played for the Longhorns. He enrolled in school and bought a backpack, which, to those who know him, was symbolic of an eagerness to return to the way things used to be. "I'm in an excited-to-learn stage," he says.
"Ricky came by my house the first three nights he was back in town," says his mother, Sandy. "The first night he called, and I was really tired from work. I was half-asleep, and I could hear my cell phone. It kept ringing and ringing, and finally I answered. Ricky said, 'Hey, where are you?' I'm like, 'Ricky, I'm sleeping. Where are you?' He says, 'I've been at your front door for 45 minutes. Can I come in?'
"It was raining but there he was, standing at the door with his face up against the glass trying to peek in. You could see his face, straining to look. I said, 'You poor baby.' He didn't really want to talk. He just wanted to be here."