Most of us know Ricky Williams as the guy who basically threw away an NFL career because he wanted to smoke pot instead. With marijuana being legalized in some states and some current and former NFL players lobbying to remove it from the banned substance list, Williams has become a topic of discussion more than a decade since he played his last snap.
There was, however, a time Williams wanted to turn it around. Albeit a very brief moment.
As chronicled in a long form piece in Sports Illustrated, Williams back in 2004, when he was 27 years old had a moment when he decided he was going to overhaul his image.
This overhaul would include his name, his number, and joining the Raiders. It began with him being stranded in Thailand and caught a Raiders/Buccaneers game on TV in the airport.
Right there he decided he would come back. He needed the money anyway. He called Kristin and said, "I’m coming home."
By then, the name Ricky was widely used as a synonym for aberrational behavior. Days earlier, the Dolphins had won an $8.6 million judgment against him over his signing bonus. And his solution—the way he would leave behind his status as the pothead who threw away fame and fortune—was to . . . change his name. He would become Rio Don, swap jersey numbers, from 34 to 21, and play for Oakland. He even signed a batch of footballs for Steinberg: RIO DON, #21.
"Luckily," Williams says, "that idea didn’t stick." What did stick is the stoner tag.
Only Williams did not return to football right away. He says he saw a TV interview in which one of his Dolphins teammates, Jason Taylor, expressed disgust over Williams’s soul searching, and so he figured the climate was not yet right. Later that fall, as the 2004 NFL season went on without him, he packed up his Jeep Wrangler in Florida and drove with Christopher to California, stopping only for gas. "To add to the strangeness of all this," says Steinberg, "he goes to study Ayurveda, and he [moves to] the one city in the world whose name you can’t say, in respect to what’s happening, without laughing: Grass Valley."
You can’t make this stuff up.
It’s a fascinating story overall and worth a read.