One day soon after, Ricky asked his mother, "Notice anything different about me?"
"Not particularly" Sandy replied.
"It's me," he said. "The old Ricky. I'm the old Ricky again."
Williams got excited a few weeks ago when a rumor circulated that the Saints were considering trading him and Roaf to the Cleveland Browns for a slew of draft choices. The rumor, however, apparently had no basis in fact, and Williams wearily accepted his destiny with a team that hasn't won a playoff game in its 33-year history. In February, Williams traveled to New Orleans to check on his house and to meet Jim Haslett, the former Pittsburgh Steelers defensive coordinator who was hired to replace Ditka. "He doesn't say, 'How's your elbow?' " says Williams. "He says, 'Have you been working out?' " (The answer to that question is no. Williams, still nursing his injuries, hasn't worked out at all since the season ended.)
"His questions bothered me," Williams says. "And the way, if you ever meet a football coach, they always look you up and down before they say anything to you. It's their job, I guess, but it didn't make me feel like a person."
"I was in there and Coach Haslett says, 'Ricky, I've heard so many things about you, it's hard not to prejudge you before I meet you,' " says Williams. "He said, 'I don't want to do it, but I've heard from people upstairs and the p.r. staff that you come whenever you want and do whatever you want, and Coach [Ditka] never did anything about it, never punished you or anything.' He said, 'Ricky, with me that's going to have to change.' I looked at him and said, 'It's not that bad, Coach.' "
Williams says he left the meeting with Haslett—who did not respond to repeated interview requests—feeling even more certain that he didn't fit in with the Saints. "I would never, ever, ever, ever flex my muscle" and demand a trade, he says. Williams thinks Benson didn't go far enough when he weeded out employees in January. "I'd fire everyone," he says. "The secretaries.... I like our trainer and our equipment manager. But some of [the other staff] will rat on you. It pisses me off so bad."
Now you come along, with your notebook and tape recorder, asking questions that provoke a silence so heavy and sullen that all the world's clocks might have stopped ticking. So how did you eat, Ricky?
You sit together—for the third day in a row—at a corner table in a waterfront restaurant called the Hula Hut. The dumb, insensitive queries have ended, and so have the monosyllabic replies. Now it's Williams's turn to ask a question. "What is a prima donna?" he says.
Momentarily stunned, you consider a variety of responses before settling on the most obvious one: It's a spoiled, pampered brat, you say.