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Ticket to Vikings Ring of Honor Stirs Kevin Williams' Emotions

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Kevin Williams was prepared for the moment.

The low-key Vikings Legend had been enshrouded with his custom-fit Purple Jacket earlier during the evening with assistance from his former teammate and current Viking Everson Griffen.

Williams had heard others, including Griffen, describe what he meant to the Vikings organization, the Minnesota community and themselves.

They spoke to the behind-the-scenes moments that most people aren't privy to. The moments when the folks in the room are watching, observing, learning, molding themselves based on the qualities exuded from a man like Williams.

Two video screens had showed highlight after highlight of the difficulty interior offensive linemen experienced when trying to block him, as well as his game-changing plays. A defensive tackle can usually only dream of reaching the end zone. Williams made it four times — twice on fumble returns and twice on interception returns — and Minnesota won all four of those games.

There was testimony from his wife Tasha about his less public life as a "wonderful father" to Aubrey, Mya, Kevin II and Elijah — and "an even better husband."

Tasha gave Kevin a butt slap for encouragement on his way to the podium.

Williams will never be accused of being a stage showman, but his speech — words of thanks and reflection on his tremendous career — opened with a cool composure.

"Everybody that knows me understands I didn't play for accolades and Purple Jackets," Williams began. "I played because I had fun and nothing was more important to me than those Sundays of going out at 12 o'clock with my brothers and getting after somebody.

"When they first told me [in June] I was going to be inducted, it's just been crazy," Williams added. "A lot of emotions going on, wanting to cry, shout, just excited, thinking it was too early, but I realized there's no amount of words I can use to express how truly blessed and grateful I am to be getting this honor."

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Since Vikings Owner/Chairman Zygi Wilf and Owner/President Mark Wilf met Williams in Minnesota to surprise him with the news, he had time to reflect of what it meant to become the 26th member of the Vikings Ring of Honor, the sixth defensive lineman and third defensive tackle.

"That's something," Williams said, maintaining his humility. "All of these great players we've had come through this organization, and now it's my turn. … Of all the things, as far as sports goes, this is it for me. This is probably the best day in sports for me.

"I'd like to thank the Wilf family and the entire Minnesota Vikings organization, my coaches," he continued. "It's great to see Coach [Mike] Tice. You got this thing started back in 2003 when you took a chance and picked a guy in Arkansas. It was great to see Coach [Brad] Childress [at a Vikings Legends event the previous night]."

Williams thanked the Vikings athletic training, public relations and alumni affairs departments before shifting to his teammates, many of whom returned to participate in a Legends Weekend for the first time.

"Without you guys, I wouldn't have been able to do some of the things I was able to do or some of the things that you guys exaggerated," Williams said. "You never know who is watching you, so I appreciate you guys and all the words. You try to get things right and just never know who is watching. To my D-line brothers, man, we had some fun. You see Fred [Evans], he just laughs for no reason. I can't say what I want to say, but we had some fun.

"To Jared [Allen], I know he's not here, but Jared came in there, and like Ray [Edwards] said, it was Jared, me, Pat [Williams] and 'the other guy,' so Ray did his thing and held his own, but Jared gave us that extra punch," he added. "Me and Pat were already doing our thing, but Jared came in with the mullet and all of those 'wild child' things. I don't know, it was just a shot in the arm that added to the group to get us going."

Allen narrated a video tribute that preceded Williams' induction ceremony at halftime Sunday.

Williams was still cruising along — like on his 77-yard fumble returned for a touchdown in 2004 or two pick-sixes (54 and 18 yards) in the 2007 season — until he got to Pat Williams.

Talking about the Co-Founder of "The Williams Wall" stopped Kevin in his tracks like a running back trying to gain ground against the 2006-08 Vikings teams that led the NFL in rushing defense.

He broke down from the emotions.

"Man, how am I going to get this out here?"

The question was as rhetorical as one can be when spoken into a microphone while 200-plus eyes and ears are paying full attention.

They listened as he began, "To my boy, P.W.," and waited 26 seconds for Williams to compose himself and muster, "appreciate you. You just don't know."

Kevin Williams took another 15 seconds shortly thereafter before continuing.

"We had a lot of fun, but it was a true brotherhood formed. He was here probably two months, and he showed up at my wedding," Kevin Williams said. "I always joke with him that he never made the Pro Bowl until he came and played with me, but man, I wouldn't be on this stage without you. I appreciate you.

"You took my game to another level. Every game was a competition, which I won most of the time," he added with a laugh. "Hey man, I couldn't ask for a better teammate. I love you bro."

Pat Williams has an even bigger aversion of public speaking, but Vikings Legend Greg Coleman made sure to get the microphone in front of him.

The comments lasted 17 seconds but were all that was needed for the bond to be revealed.

"I don't know what to say, but I love you, and I'm glad I played all them years with you," Pat Williams said. "I love your family, I love you, and I love your kids, so congratulations."

It all began at the Senior Bowl

Mike Tice had just completed his first season as head coach of the Vikings, and Scott Studwell was in his first year as Minnesota's Director of College Scouting when they converged on Mobile for the 2003 Senior Bowl.

"He put on a performance at the Senior Bowl, in the individual drills, that was unblockable," Tice said Saturday. "In my time in the league and attending Senior Bowls, I truly remember one other athlete who went to the league unblockable. He's still playing, and that's Aaron Donald. That's two special players."

Studwell remembered a "very quiet, humble individual." He said "one-year wonder" wasn't the right term to describe the Oklahoma State product, but was maybe "one of those late bloomers."

"He lit up the Senior Bowl. His combine, and everything he did to represent himself and as a person and player was what we were looking for," Studwell said. "Welcome to the Ring of Honor. I think the Hall of Fame is the next step for you because you deserve it. We are so happy and so proud to have you as a member, not only as the Minnesota Vikings and Ring of Honor, but this community and these teammates.

"You can see the love; you can feel the love in this room," Studwell added. "You are an exemplary player and person that we're always looking for. We just appreciate you so much and what you did for us as a player and person."

Despite that impression, Williams's path to the Vikings wasn't without a twist. Minnesota was supposed to select at the No. 7 overall spot. The Vikings thought they could trade down and still land Williams based on needs of other teams. Nothing finalized before the clock ran out. Jacksonville and Carolina, originally No. 8 and 9, submitted selections for QB Byron Leftwich and T Jordan Gross before Minnesota submitted Williams' name.

Nearly 20 years removed, Tice had a little fun revisiting the moment.

"This player that we drafted in 2003 with the seventh pick, no, the eighth pick, no, that would be the ninth pick, went on to record 10.5 sacks his rookie year," Tice said. "What was impressive about that was the first 12 games, we played him on the outside, and then as a staff, we decided to move him inside, and he recorded five sacks in December and was the NFC Rookie of the Month. That was the start of something great.

"In the second year with us, he recorded 11.5 sacks, but more importantly, he had 70 tackles," Tice added. "Seventy tackles for an inside player is fantastic. Fifty-two of those were solo. Now that's pretty damn special. I was blessed as a head coach to be able to work alongside Kevin. Extremely humble, soft-spoken, determined, passionate, tremendous heart."

View some of the best images of Kevin Williams from his days as a Viking.

Be the First to See the Kevin Williams Special Exhibit Sept. 30 to Oct. 25 at the Vikings Museum in Eagan, MN.

Commemorate Kevin Williams' induction into the Vikings Ring of Honor by learning more about how he cemented his status as one of the top defensive tackles in franchise history. Fans who stop by the Museum starting on 9/30 will receive a free, limited run artist print. Limit one per visitor (while supplies last).

Tributes from teammates

The following comments were delivered by teammates during the Purple Jacket ceremony.

"Kevin is a great guy. We all know that. He's a great defensive lineman. You just saw that. He's a great person, and he accepted me and my family with open arms, him and Pat. Give me a round of applause for 93 and 94."

— Fred Evans

"Kevin and I were teammates from 2006-10, and we've heard all of the same things about his personality: extremely humble, extremely hardworking, selfless, always thought team-first, but I'll give you a little more on some of those attributes. Kevin was a large child, and what I mean by that, whether it was NERF basketball in between meetings … tennis on the Wii in the training room or Mario Kart, it was always Kevin that was there.

"If he got beat, or we didn't think we had enough time, he'd say in his Southern drawl, 'We've got time for another. He was quiet and competitive. He was extremely competitive.

"I don't want people to mistake being quiet for not being a warrior, and that's what he was. He was a quiet warrior on the field and in our locker room. He was a guy, that if he needed to speak, he would speak, and everybody would listen. He wouldn't do it very often, but we sure as hell respected every word he said, even if it was just to have another game of tennis or basketball.

"I think we always talk about legacy. We hear that word all of the time. What's your legacy going to be? How are you going to leave your legacy? Too often we think about, 'How are you going to leave a legacy professionally?' We think about what we're doing to leave a legacy. He's one of the rare guys that can leave a legacy not just with the way he played the game, not with the way he approached the game, but he could leave a personal legacy, as well. You don't come around many players that leave it on the field like he did, leave it on the practice field like he did, lead like he did but also be a man in the locker room."

— Ben Leber

"I had the honor of practicing with Kevin and got a chance to see him in the locker room as a young guy. I just had so much respect for him with the way he carried himself and treated everybody from the top of the organization to the bottom. I can attest to that as a young rookie receiver coming in, trying to find my way. He was a guy that always had words of encouragement, always had a positive thing to say, but it was always a challenge.

"When his name comes up in the organization, you immediately see people light up and talk about the kind of man he is with the way he treated people, not just his fellow stars on the team but the janitors, the folks in the cafeteria, the folks in the organization. You ask anybody, and they'll say the same thing, Kevin was just a great guy and awesome to be around. It's great we could be here and honor him tonight, honor that locker room that was so special. I appreciate the opportunity for me to be a part of it for a short time and to come back and be a part of the organization again and see that so many people recognize that special leader that I had a chance to share a few years with.

"Even when it felt like people weren't looking, you were so consistent. I just want you to know that people who came across you for even a short period of time, it really stood out and means a lot."

— Martin Nance

"There's nothing bad you could ever say about Kevin. He took me under his wing. I was a young whippersnapper, drafted in '06, and he just always pushed me. I always watched him, and thought, 'I want to be just like Kevin because he was the man. You talk about Aaron Donald now, well, Kevin was that. He was just unstoppable, unblockable. Like I tell people, it was Pat, Kevin, Jared, and I'm the other guy, but I did my job because I knew it was a standard you had to play at to be on the field with those guys. They're guys you just want to be.

"He was a guy who made everybody around him better. You better bring your hard hat."

— Ray Edwards

Lasting legacy

WILLIAMS 93 was unveiled Sunday on the upper level façade that oversees U.S. Bank Stadium's playing surface.

It was done to celebrate the Vikings Ring of Honor induction of Williams, affirming his place in franchise lore.

In some ways, Williams' influence on the Vikings locker room has never stopped.

Griffen (four seasons) and Harrison Smith (two) teamed with the six-time Pro Bowler and five-time First-Team All-Pro as they began their careers in Purple.

Griffen, now in his 12th season and 11th with Minnesota, was a backup and a special teamer on his way to becoming an outstanding and oft-outspoken Pro Bowler.

"Kevin wasn't a really big talker, but on the field he talked a lot," Griffen said. "He helped me with my calls, he helped me get lined up, and I feel like that's why I'm still playing right now. His numbers were out of this world, and he came to play each and every week. 'Ticket' was a monster. He taught me so much, and I was blessed to play with him and blessed to be his teammate."

All Smith has to see to think of Williams is a football he caught in the Metrodome in his rookie 2012 season. Smith returned his first NFL interception 31 yards, recording a pick-six against Arizona.

"It was a shorter one, but I remember it because when I got in the end zone, I didn't know what was going on, I was so excited," Smith said. "Kevin Williams picked up the ball and brought it back to me. So I still have the ball – he made sure to go get it for me."

Twenty-seven more interceptions, including three more returned for touchdowns, have followed for Smith.

By the time Smith arrived as another first-round pick, Williams had already recorded four interceptions — as a defensive tackle! — and returned two for touchdowns. The 6-foot-5 Williams, who played at 315 pounds, had also scooped and scored twice on fumbles.

His 60 sacks with Minnesota are tied with Brian Robison for the ninth-most in team history (Danielle Hunter enters Sunday's game with 59.5).

Splash plays can happen, but Williams' key to success is that he brought it every snap of all 171 regular-season games he played for Minnesota in 11 seasons (from 2003-13). He took a similar approach for Seattle in 2014 and New Orleans in 2015.

His 685 career tackles are the fifth-most among Minnesota defensive linemen, and his 75.5 tackles for loss rank eighth among all Vikings players, according to team records.

"To me, Kevin was such a silent assassin," former Vikings Head Coach Brad Childress told Vikings.com this summer. "Pat Williams made him laugh like nobody's business. It was always fun to see Pat get a laugh out of Kevin, because he was so stoic."

Childress said Kevin's role at the 3-technique was "the engine that ran that defense we were running then" and compared what the Arkansas native did here with the success that Warren Sapp delivered for Tampa Bay.

"Nobody played (3-technique) better than Kevin at that time. He was hard to block inside, got a lot of sacks inside, and obviously was a great run stopper," Childress added.

Vikings Vice President of Sports Medicine Eric Sugarman is now in his 16th season with the Vikings. He was the NFL's youngest Head Athletic Trainer back in 2006 when Williams welcomed him to the team.

"I've met hundreds of athletes throughout my career, but there are a select few that leave a stamp on your life forever," Sugarman said. "Ticket, I love you because you were a real man. You and Pat both treated me with so much respect that you did not have to treat me with. You trusted me and helped me shape that room. Without the trust of the athletes, the athletic trainer has nothing.

"Kicking your ass in Wii tennis was so much fun," Sugarman barbed with a laugh before adding, "but I just wanted to say, from the bottom of my heart, thanks for being the man that you are and a true friend for life."

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