His induction into Pro Football Hall of Fame shows meager beginnings can be path to greatness.
His is not a name that a casual NFL fan remembers. No, the name Aeneas Williams doesn’t come with a notebook thick with at-the-ready tales about his play the way Michael Strahan’s does.
We know so much about Strahan, and his fame has continued with a successful TV career. But Williams, the prototype for the shutdown cornerback, remains closeted in that netherworld of “Who’s he?”
Let’s start by saying Aeneas Williams is just what Strahan is: a 2014 inductee into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. We might know that fact for no other reason than we either watched Williams’s induction on TV last weekend or we heard about it beforehand.
Ask how many who watched the induction ceremony remembered Williams, and the hands that might go into the air wouldn’t be many. For greatness can hide itself when a man spends his NFL career with down-on-their-luck teams like the Arizona Cardinals and the St. Louis Rams.
And a man’s story is even more difficult to get a grasp on when it starts with the meager beginnings that the Aeneas Williams story begins with.
His didn’t spawn from some football factory like Alabama, LSU, Texas, Clemson or Florida State. Williams was a walk-on at Southern University, an HBCU that had stopped being a pipeline to the pros once football powerhouses started to recruit Black players.
What historically Black colleges and universities were left with were the Strahans, the Claude Humphreys and the Aeneas Williamses: Black men too small, Black men too slow and Black men too, recruiters thought, uncoached.
Men like Williams were too many things NFL teams didn’t want, but he was, NFL teams would soon discover, too determined to fail.
“Some people spend their whole life to prove people wrong,” Williams said in his induction speech. “The goal is not to prove people wrong. The goal is to reach your potential.”
More than anybody else in the Hall of Fame Class of 2014, Williams embodied the man who reached his potential. He spent more seasons on Pro Bowl teams than all the defensive backs who came into the league with higher profiles. He never let the critics define him; he kept his eyes focused on his gifts, which he had plenty of.
Not all gifts are on public display, and potential is one of them. So are grit, pluck and heart. No one can stand in front of you and see or touch those traits, which can propel you to heights that others dare to seek.
But Williams, whose rise to fame isn’t as handsome as most, sought those heights and reached them. He got there despite the critics, men who preferred to talk about what a man wasn’t rather than what a man is.
Personifying the rags-to-riches story, Aeneas Williams, an ordained minister, might tell people that’s what matters most, and certainly in his tiny Black church in St. Louis, he’s been leaving that message with his congregation each time he preaches.
His congregation likely sees in the 46-year-old Williams what we want to see in all our people: a Black man who didn’t give in to the perceptions of others.
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Follow Justice B. Hill on Twitter: @jbernardh
(Photo: Jason Miller/Getty Images)