Ricky Williams' long, strange trip included a one-season stop in Toronto, where he rediscovered the fun in football and revived his roller coaster career. He played for the Argonauts of the CFL in 2006 and remembers 4 1/2-hour workdays, friendly people and a homeopathic shop near his downtown residence. In short, it was a good way to serve an NFL suspension. Now he's back with the Miami Dolphins, who play the Buffalo Bills in Toronto on Sunday.
I'm looking forward to it,'' Williams said Wednesday.I really enjoyed my time there, and it will be nice to meet up with some old friends.''
When Williams signed with the Argos, there were doubts he would ever return to the NFL. He had violated the league's drug policy for the fourth time, resulting in a one-year suspension that began in April 2006.
In the wake of his 2004 retirement and 2005 comeback, Williams was widely dismissed as a selfish pothead. He found refuge in Canada, and once with the Argos enjoyed a daily regimen less rigorous than in the NFL.
It seemed like everyone was having fun,'' he said.Win, lose or draw, we worked hard, but we had a good time and we really liked each other. For me it was a different experience.''
He found Canadians different, too.
They all seem very nice and honest,'' he said.As far as Canadians versus Americans, in America I think sometimes you're frowned at when you try to be an individual and be yourself. From my experience, that's something that's appreciated in Canada. Obviously I'm not going to fit in everywhere I go, so I really enjoyed it up there for that reason.''
From Hamilton to Regina to Calgary, fan loyalty impressed him, too.
Each town that we went to, including the hometown fans, when you go to a game the people there are true fans,'' he said.Sometimes, especially in Miami, you get people coming only when you're winning.''
He has stayed in touch with Argonauts owners David Cynamon and Howard Sokolowski, and former team president Keith Pelley.
I had a dream last night about Keith Pelley,'' Williams said.He was working in New Orleans, and he was complaining about how hot it was. That was pretty much the whole dream. But it was pretty nice to see him.''
Williams missed two months of the 2006 season with a broken arm, but still rushed for 526 yards in 109 carries. Rejuvenated by the experience, he was reinstated by the NFL in November 2007, and this season he has helped the Dolphins make a surprising bid to get into the playoffs for the first time in seven years.
After going 1-15 in 2007, Miami is 7-5 and has won five of its past six games. Williams talks about this season with the same enthusiasm he expresses about his year in Toronto.
We're having a good time,'' he said.That's one of the reasons I think why we're playing so well - everyone here likes each other.''
Williams has contributed to the positive chemistry. He joined the Dolphins in 2002 and predates everyone else on the roster, but he's much more of a leader since returning from Toronto.
What's different this year is he seems more into the guys, easier to approach, easier to talk to,'' defensive end Vonnie Holliday said.He engages other people, whereas before he might have been more of a loner.
``I remember a time when only a few guys could go up and talk to Ricky. Other guys had to force the conversation. Now that's not the situation.''
Once a workhorse, the 2002 NFL rushing champion is now the backup to Ronnie Brown. Williams has carried just 120 times this season, meaning plenty may remain in his tank for the final month of the regular season.
After playing only 13 games with Miami from 2003 to 2007, Williams has recently showed signs of shaking off any remaining rust, averaging 5.3 yards per carry over the past month. In Sunday's win at St. Louis he carried 12 times for 54 yards, many of them hard-earned.
Little by little I've been noticing it more and more each week as he prepares for these games - you can see a different look in his face,'' coach Tony Sparano said.I see a great burst out of him in practice right now. I saw it in the game in St. Louis. He was the guy who was really pushing the pile forward.''
Williams will try to do the same thing in Toronto. Most of the crowd will be Bills fans, but Williams expects a favorable reaction if he does well.
I assume that they'll be happy because there's some kind of connection,'' he said.The only team I played for in the CFL has been the Argonauts, so they have no reason to boo me.''