Running back Ricky Williams credits Pinball Clemons, time with Argos for 10,000-yard NFL career

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Ricky Williams’ time in Toronto has become a bit of a running joke for CFL fans but the former Heisman trophy winner turned NFL All-Pro running back doesn’t view it that way.

“I have to say that I fell in love with Canada, fell in love with Toronto and really got a chance in a cool way to see at least the major cities in the country and that was amazing,” Williams recalled fondly on CJME 980’s The Green Zone.

“I mean, football-wise, a little disappointing, I broke my arm and had an Achilles injury so I missed a bunch of games, but when I was on the field I loved my teammates and I really just loved the CFL.”

Williams spent the 2006 CFL season with the Toronto Argonauts while serving an NFL suspension for a fourth violation of substance abuse policy. He arrived in Toronto as a four-time 1,000-yard rusher after being selected fifth overall in the 1999 NFL Draft by the New Orleans Saints, who traded their entire draft class to go up and get him.

Playing in the CFL was never the plan, but he felt it was the only way to keep his career alive while the NFL continued to punish marijuana use.

“My response honestly was hell no, I’d never do that. Then I started to think about it and started to think about my life and realize if I don’t do something football-related, I might never play football again,” Williams admitted. “It became more appealing and then when I pull up to Toronto to meet the team, I was sold.”

In 11 CFL games, Williams rushed for just 526 yards and two touchdowns due to injury, but the whole experience gave him a new outlook on life thanks in large part to then-Argos head coach Pinball Clemons, now the team’s general manager.

Clemons is known for his infectious personality and unceasing positivity. Williams can testify that wasn’t an act.

“At first I was like, this can’t be real, but as the season went on, I was convinced it’s real. He’s always positive. Always has something positive to say. He made playing football fun,” Williams said.

That changed the way Williams lived his own life.

“I feel like people look at me sometimes and they think there’s no way that I can be as real as I am, as open-minded and as free-thinking as I am, and being around Pinner gave me permission that it’s okay to be different,” Williams explained.

“It’s okay to be special. It’s okay to be a light, that you don’t have to dim yourself because other people don’t believe it. That was extremely important to me at that time in my life.”

The running back would be reinstated by the NFL in 2007 and played five more seasons with the Miami Dolphins and Baltimore Ravens, crossing the 1,000-yard threshold one more time in 2009, and joined the NFL’s 10,000 yard club during his final season.

In Williams’ opinion, none of that would have been possible without his time spent in Toronto.

“Playing in Canada, there’s less pressure. There’s less stress in it for me and I think Pinball had a lot to do with it. It was more about the love of the game and having fun, and to me, I realized what I loved about football was the same thing I loved when I was 10-years-old playing in the neighbourhood: guys getting together and having a good time,” he said.

“That’s really what it was all about when I played in Toronto and I retained that attitude when I came back to the NFL and it helped me regain my love for the game, and rush for another 1,000 yards, but also reach 10,000 yards in my career.”

That makes all the Williams jokes worth it.