A middle-aged man approached the table, as many other diners had before him, and said, "You don't know me, but I used to coach against you when you played for the Roadrunners. I don't know where you're gonna go today, but I know the Lord is watching over you. You've done more for yourself and for this community than most people will ever acknowledge."
Williams thanked the man, then dropped his fork. "I'm so excited," he said, "I can't even eat." Cadillac left the restaurant, hopped into his black Escalade (what, you expected a Ford?) and drove around his hometown for the next 45 minutes. The previous night Williams had been in an uncharacteristically grumpy mood after his agent, Ben Dogra, called and urged him to speak to an Arizona Cardinals official. The Cardinals, who picked eighth, had largely ignored him to that point, and Williams--apparently having watched too much television over the previous several days--was down on the predraft process. "I'm sick of all this crap," Williams told Dogra. "Players are being used as pawns. I don't want anyone calling me unless they're picking me."
His frustration, like that of Cal quarterback Aaron Rodgers, stemmed from an excess of predraft speculation. Even after adding 15 pounds to his collegiate playing weight, Williams (5'11", 225) supposedly was being downgraded for his lack of size. Tampa was his preferred destination. But though he had bonded with Gruden and his assistants at the Senior Bowl--and though Gruden told Williams just before he ran the 40-yard dash at the NFL scouting combine, "You know I'll be calling you in April"--Cadillac feared he'd be snubbed. It didn't help matters when he learned that former USC wideout Mike Williams, a Tampa native, had dined with Bucs general manager Bruce Allen that night.
Brown, too, was unsure of his status as the draft neared. On Wednesday he and his agent, Todd France, arrived in New York, filling the next several days with various predraft activities, as well as side trips (shopping on Fifth Avenue; a turkey burger at Carnegie Deli). On Friday, Brown was joined by a large entourage, which included members of his own family and that of Chris and Andy Tripp, the godparents whom he regards as a surrogate mother and father. Everyone was optimistic, and with good reason: Brown's size (6'1", 234) and pass-catching skills, plus a breakout performance at the combine, had vaulted him to the top of most experts' draft lists for backs. Yet he correctly assumed the Dolphins were receptive to trading down, which could have made for a much longer draft day. Only the Tennessee Titans had flown Brown in for a visit, and on Saturday morning France said, "Anyone who tells you they know what's going to happen is lying."
The suspense ended 30 minutes into the first round when Brown took a call from Dolphins coach Nick Saban. As the pick was announced on ESPN, Williams's mother, Sherry, stood up 900 miles away and began clapping and screaming. Room 220 at the Comfort Suites quieted until, with the Bucs on the clock, Cadillac got a call from Dogra, who told him, "They're in the war room right now going back and forth between you and Mike Williams." The nervous runner watched helplessly as most of Tampa Bay's allotted 15 minutes passed; it turned out the Bucs were having trouble getting through to his cellphone. Finally, he flipped it open and stood as Gruden intoned, "Cadillac, you ready to be a Buc?"
"You know it, Coach. Let's go!" Williams replied, and from then on the room resembled Times Square on New Year's Eve, providing a telling image for ESPN's viewers even as the network's announcers continued trying to divine the Bucs' intentions. As Cadillac's parents, five siblings and another two dozen relatives and friends whooped it up, the man of the moment sat smiling, singing, over and over, a church song he'd memorized as a child: "I got a feelin' ... everything's gonna be all right ... be all right, be all right, be all right ... all right."
Five hours later, after posing for photos with what seemed like every Gadsden resident--some undoubtedly alerted to his presence by the marquee outside the Comfort Suites: TO GOD BE THE GLORY. CONGRATULATIONS CARNELL. GO CRAZY IN THE NFL -- Williams was already aware that his life had changed forever. "People are coming out of the woodwork, including many of my so-called cousins," he said, laughing and rolling his bright brown eyes. "People I've never seen before are coming up and saying, 'Don't forget me....'"
Brown is one man whose shared sacrifice Williams will always remember fondly. "Usually, when you have two great backs sharing the ball, it's chaos," Cadillac said. "For us to put aside our individual goals definitely helped both of us in the draft. Both of us in the top five? Man, that's crazy."