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'Big Shoes to Fill': Kevin Williams' 1st Step to Vikings Ring of Honor Began with Choosing 93

EAGAN, Minn. – Kevin Williams stopped, handed his phone to a Vikings staff member and stood near the Purple People Eaters exhibit, positioning himself between purple sculptures of Alan Page and Gary Larsen.

"I've gotta get a photo with these guys," Williams said during last week's tour of the Minnesota Vikings Museum.

Wearing gray shorts and a long-sleeved workout shirt emblazoned with the Norseman logo, the former defensive tackle directed a non-assuming smile toward the smartphone lens. Those who know Williams will tell you that his version of "excitement" wouldn't tip the emotional scales for most people.

He's a man of few words but ample talent and a humble heart.

A 2003 first-round draft pick by Minnesota, Williams totaled 60 sacks (tied for ninth-most in team history), five interceptions (two returned for touchdowns), eight forced fumbles and 13 fumble recoveries (two returned for touchdowns) over 11 seasons in Purple.

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.

Williams never sought the spotlight, but he's being recognized nonetheless. His museum tour occurred a few hours after receiving the surprise news that he will be inducted into the Vikings Ring of Honor this year.

He thought Wednesday morning he was headed to Twin Cities Orthopedics Performance Center to do some public relations work and potentially view the Vikings minicamp practice. Those events did happen, but later that afternoon, he slipped ring sizers over his finger and held still for jacket measurements.

"It is surreal. … I didn't play for the accolades or the glory. I just wanted to win and do my job and represent this organization as best as I could," Williams told "I mean, don't get me wrong. I'm super excited about this honor. It just shows you that you did things the right way and people recognize it, and I appreciate it.

"But I'm still in awe, and I'm still – I don't know – I'm lost for words, kind of. And I don't have many, anyway," he laughed. "I don't speak all that much, but I'm lost for words at how appreciative I am of this opportunity."

For the love of the game

In addition to quickly spotting the Purple People Eaters installment, Williams peered pensively into the glass "Frozen in Time" column dedicated to Jim Marshall's Vikings career and retired 70 jersey. On a plaque in the column is inscribed the following quote:

"My grandfather was great on ethics, and he always felt that every time you do your best, you never quit, so he reinforced everything my coaches were teaching me. If I didn't leave everything on the field, I felt that I didn't play well."

Marshall's NFL career started four decades before that of Williams, but his mindset and work ethic very much resonate with the younger Viking.

"I loved playing football, it was my job, it was fun, and my mom told me early in life, 'If you're going to do something, do it the best you can do it. Don't, you know, half-do-it – I can't say what I want to say," Williams chuckled. "But she said, 'Don't half-do-it.' And that stuck with me throughout my life, and I even tell my kids now: 'We're not going to go here and play if you're not going to play hard and give it your all.'

"That's what I was reading on one of Jim Marshall's exhibits over here – he was talking about, his [grandfather] told him, 'If you don't play and leave it all out on the field, then why are you out there playing?' That was something that I kind of lived by, too," Williams continued. "It was like, 'Let's go out here and give it all you have, and what happens, happens.' I didn't play for the accolades. If you ask anybody, I ran from most of the interviews. I just played because I loved it."

View behind the scene photos of Kevin Williams at TCO Performance Center after he found out he was the 2021 Vikings Ring of Honor inductee.

From Marshall, who started 270 consecutive regular-season games for Minnesota, and the other Purple People Eaters to John Randle, Williams has always strived to honor the legacy of the Vikings defensive linemen who went before him.

"To get here and learn of the things accomplished and all the games they won and how great they were as a front, and then to have [Chris] Doleman and Johnny and all those guys – [Chris] Hovan and others – who played the D-line position here, those were big shoes to fill," Williams said. "If you're a D-lineman and you come to Minnesota, you've got to hold your own. You're following some great guys that really played the game well."

He recalled his first days at the team's Winter Park training facility after being drafted. Longtime Vikings equipment manager Dennis Ryan had presented Williams with available jersey numbers – "I don't remember but guessing not many other 90 options but a few 60s and 70s, which weren't favored by defensive players," Ryan says 18 years later – and Williams opted for 93.

Ninety-three. The number worn by Randle, an undrafted free agent in 1990 who exploded onto the scene for Minnesota and became a seven-time Pro Bowler and six-time All-Pro on his way to the Vikings Ring of Honor and Pro Football Hall of Fame.

But for a kid from Arkadelphia, Arkansas, the number didn't immediately stand out as significant to Williams.

"I picked 93 not knowing any of the tradition. I didn't follow the Vikings. We didn't get to see Vikings games in Arkansas, so I didn't know anything about it. And then you get here and find out, 'Oh my goodness, Johnny wore 93.' And I never said it to anybody, but I'm like, 'I can't be a bust here. I have to get out there and get after it and perform.' That kind of battle I fought with myself to be successful, and here we are today."

Well, consider that battle won.

"It worked out," Williams agreed, nodding. "It worked out, but man, those were big shoes to fill following those guys – all the great D-linemen that played."

A brotherhood and fatherhood

Williams doesn't get too high or too low – he never has – but he also doesn't take such an honor for granted.

He reflected on the day's whirlwind of activity.

"I mean, I was just excited to see the facilities and get back around the guys and the team and everything, and then to walk in the room and you've got your execs and your owners … and they're looking at you, you're like, 'What? What did I do?' And then it kind of got – I'm not going to say 'emotional,' I try not to cry too much – but it was kind of emotional to see those guys kind of showing you the respect and honoring you with going into the Ring," Williams said. "I know Viking tradition is rich with great players, and I tell my buddies all the time, 'I've got time. There's more guys. A lot more guys to go ahead of me.' To be honored with that, it was real humbling and kind of surreal."

Williams is thankful for the many people who helped him along the way:

He mentioned former Vikings assistant coaches Karl Dunbar and George O'Leary.

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

Vikings teammate Lance Johnstone shared insight and perspective with Williams upon his arrival in Minnesota.

Billy Lyon was only with the Vikings in 2003, but he first started calling Williams "Little Ticket" as a nod to Kevin Garnett's "Big Ticket" nickname. Once Garnett departed Minnesota, Williams got upgraded to "Big Ticket."

His list includes "each and every one" of the 2003 Vikings defensive linemen who shaped his first pro season.

And don't forget Pat Williams who, upon being signed by Minnesota in 2005, formed the other half of the "Williams Wall" – a moniker coined by "Voice of the Vikings" Paul Allen.

"Pat's my brother, man. I talk to him probably once or twice a month still today. I think we'll both tell you that our careers both escalated and took off when … he came here," Williams said. "I always joke and tell him, 'You didn't make the Pro Bowl until you played with me, so you've got to appreciate that.' But he of course is gonna argue that. Man, we hit it off the very first day we met. He came to my wedding.

"It was a brotherhood," Williams continued. "The internal battles that we had with each other about who's going to outplay the other one kind of fueled both of us. And then to add Jared [Allen] to the mix, he just came along and did the same thing. So it was kind of all three of us competing every Sunday."

Come this fall, Williams will officially be inducted into the Vikings Ring of Honor during a game at U.S. Bank Stadium.

He's a big deal in the NFL world; there's no denying it. But at home, he's still just "Dad" to his four children, aged 16, 12, 10 and 6.

And that's OK with him.

"I'm just an ordinary guy to them. And that's how I try to roll," Williams said. "Everybody knows I'm not too high, not too low. I'm not trying to be better than anybody. I'm just a normal guy trying to play football and come to work."

"[My kids will] probably be like, 'Good job, Dad … but can you make me [lunch]?' " he added with a laugh. "They're kind of laid-back, like me. I think they'll appreciate it more when they're older. My youngest will probably tell me, 'I'm going to be better than you.' That's his mindset. He thinks he's the best in the world already, at everything. So this will give him something to shoot for."