"I couldn't have made it without Toby," says Jimmy. "So much of what I am stems from me being a walk-on at Nebraska. That adversity made us both grow."
Williams majored in physical education at Nebraska but did not graduate, and he is candid about his failing to get a degree. "To be honest, football is my business," he says. "It's what I do, and I've been successful at it." He represented himself in his contract negotiations with the Lions after last season and came away with a three-year, $1.2 million deal.
Williams is at the age when he will either become a superstar or just another semianonymous, good-but-not-great player in a conference loaded with outstanding linebackers. "He could skate from here on out," says Murphy. "But I think he'll continue to improve because he has so much pride. He'd improve if he was a waiter or a chef. He'd be the guy practicing making spaghetti sauce."
To stay loose Williams has been practicing the tenor saxophone. "I go downstairs at my house and play along with John Coltrane," he says. "It's such a mellow instrument, it instantly relaxes me, gives me an inner peace and serenity. After a day of aggression, it's just what I need." There is only one element of sadness to his passion for the sax. "Sometimes when I really want to play, my fingers are just too swollen," he says.
Last year Williams wed the former Chris McGant, and they are expecting their first child in late October. "If we have a boy, Jimmy doesn't really want him to play football," says the 5'11" Chris, who played basketball at California University of Pennsylvania. "Jimmy is quiet and a little shy. He's very sweet and lovable. And, like me, he loves parks and nature. We don't talk much about football at all."
Well now, lest we forget we are examining a singular NFL linebacker, let's recall the case of free-agent tight end Bret Pearson. A Wisconsin grad, Pearson was in the Lions' camp at the beginning of preseason, trying to impress the coaches. Williams also was in camp early, testing his rehabilitated knee. On the first day of full pads, he tore into Pearson in a violent fight. "Don't you ever grab my——jersey!" yelled Williams in his time-honored refrain. Pearson left camp unexpectedly not long after that. "My back was bothering me," he says. "And, uh, that's a pretty good crew of linebackers the Lions have."
Let's listen, also, as Williams sits in the cafeteria at the Lions' training camp at Oakland University in Rochester, Mich., and talks about his craft. "If it's between getting an interception and putting a hit on the receiver," he says, "I'll always hit the receiver. I like to hit a man and hear that..."
He smiles warily, afraid that maybe he's revealing too much.
"Hear that little..."