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Guest post: Will we ever see another John L. Williams?

Posted by Doug on July 24, 2007

This is a guest post by David Shick! Its purpose is three-fold:

  1. To pass the time until the actual training camp news starts flowing;
  2. to appreciate the under-appreciated career of John L. Williams;
  3. to use the power of the p-f-r blog readership to determine whether Williams was, in fact, the last of his kind.

David's post is inside the quote-mark thingies. I've got a few comments at the end.

Head coach (Ground) Chuck Knox brought his run happy offense to the northwest in 1983. The Seahawks quickly traded up in the first round of Knox's first draft to take running back Curt Warner from Penn State University so Knox would have his featured tailback. Warner set Seahawk records for carries (335), rushing yards (1449), and rushing touchdowns (13) in his rookie campaign, but Knox wasn't happy. He wanted a fullback to complement his new weapon. To top that off Knox must have really blown a gasket when Warner blew his ACL only one game into the 1984 season. Dave Krieg attempted 480 passes that season. This would not do. With the first Seahawk pick in 1985 Knox selected fullback Owen Gill. Gill didn't make it out of training camp on the roster. Krieg attempted 532 passes in 1985. Knox was losing his mind. With the fifteenth pick in the first round of the 1986 draft Knox selected fullback John L. Williams from the University of Florida. Can you imagine your current favorite team selecting a fullback with their first overall pick in back to back years?

Williams had an immediate impact on the Seattle offense. He and starting tailback Curt Warner were both on the field for virtually every down. His career statistics tell the whole story. We're talking about a fullback here. Not a featured tailback. Warner never came close to the number of touches he had during his rookie year. He and Williams literally shared the load. During the bulk of his productive years in Seattle Williams was getting 10+ carries and 4+ receptions each game.

                 |          Rushing         |        Receiving        |
| Year  TM |   G |   Att  Yards    Y/A   TD |   Rec  Yards   Y/R   TD |
| 1986 sea |  16 |   129    538    4.2    0 |    33    219   6.6    0 |
| 1987 sea |  12 |   113    500    4.4    1 |    38    420  11.1    3 |
| 1988 sea |  16 |   189    877    4.6    4 |    58    651  11.2    3 |
| 1989 sea |  15 |   146    499    3.4    1 |    76    657   8.6    6 |
| 1990 sea |  16 |   187    714    3.8    3 |    73    699   9.6    0 |
| 1991 sea |  16 |   188    741    3.9    4 |    61    499   8.2    1 |
| 1992 sea |  16 |   114    339    3.0    1 |    74    556   7.5    2 |
| 1993 sea |  16 |    82    371    4.5    3 |    58    450   7.8    1 |
| 1994 pit |  15 |    68    317    4.7    1 |    51    378   7.4    2 |
| 1995 pit |  11 |    29    110    3.8    0 |    24    127   5.3    1 |
|  TOTAL   | 149 |  1245   5006    4.0   18 |   546   4656   8.5   19 |

Seattle fans loved Williams. He was our special weapon and no one else had one. Perhaps some of the softest hands out of the backfield in the history of the NFL. He caught everything remotely close. In interviews he was humble and soft spoken very similarly to Seattle Mariner DH Edgar Martinez. Produce on the field and finish it off with an "Aw, shucks fellas". My favorite Williams play was from a game in 1986. It was week seven at home against the eventual Super Bowl champion New York Giants. Late in the game with a one point lead Williams got together on the sidelines with QB Dave Krieg and head coach Chuck Knox. He described a problem with the Giant defense that lead to a vulnerability. If they ran a screen in just such a way he would easily get free. It led to a huge gain (fifty yards? I can't remember the exact yardage) setting up a short Warner touchdown sealing the win. That was the last game the 1986 Giants lost before posting twelve consecutive wins including a Super Bowl victory over Denver.

I was explaining Williams' uniqueness to my wife probing for another player similar to Williams in the past twenty years. Her only guess was Mike Alstott, but I wonder if he really counts. Was Alstott a fullback, or just an oversized tailback? I don't recall seeing him in games as a lead blocker on first and second down. The modern day fullbacks like Seattle's Mack Strong and San Diego's Lorenzo Neal rarely get touches. I would love to get some feedback on this concept. I ask because I don't know. Was the Warner/Williams combo really the last two back tandem that was on the field together every down sharing duties? Kiick and Morris? Bleier and Harris? I expect to hear about Bush and McAllister in New Orleans, but again, they're both tailbacks splitting carries. Neither is a real fullback, right?

For what it's worth, here are a few names to start the discussion:

  • Williams' college teammate Neal Anderson was a similar player, and just as good. He eventually transitioned to a more traditional tailback role, but he shared the backfield early in his career with Walter Payton.
  • After the aforementioned transition, Brad Muster shared the backfield with Neal Anderson. Muster wasn't a bad player, but he was no Williams.
  • It seems likely that the Williams role is what the Browns had in mind for Tommy Vardell when they drafted him in 1992. That obviously didn't work out.
  • This is pure speculation on my part, but it's conceivable that William Floyd might have become a Williams-like player had he not gotten hurt early in his career.