Aeneas Williams, August 2, 2014:
"I'll just take a moment to soak this all in. The moment to be here, and I will start out by telling you this, how in the world do you go from walking on your junior year a week before the season starts, your junior year at the Southern University, that's right, Ohio State, it's the Southern University.
There are so many people that I could thank, teammates, coaches, mentors. There will be some I'll call, but some I just want to right now up front say thank you so much to every teammate at Arizona and every teammate in St. Louis. I could not and wouldn't be here without you. But as I sought this journey, and I don't want to sound morbid or anything like that, I want to tell you something, this is an intentional journey. I am No. 287 and because my name is the last name Williams, I am the last one in my induction class, but I also want to say thank you to the 32 owners, Roger Goodell, DeMaurice Smith of the Players Association, and here's why, because tough decisions have to be made that are unpopular, but the success and promotion and enjoyment of this game with the fans is because of the important decisions that are made that allow us to be here and celebrate with you the fans and all of these great Hall of Famers that I get an opportunity to sit up here with.
I've got two statements, if you don't remember anything I say. Two statements if you don't remember anything else I say. Begin with the end in mind and die empty. Begin with the end in mind and die empty. So let me tell you about this journey. It all starts at home. And I wouldn't be and could not be without the foundation. See I've heard a lot of speeches, I've listened to them, believe me. But I want to tell you it starts with Lawrence and Lillian Williams in New Orleans, Louisiana. Mom and Dad, I need you all to stand up. Dad is up here as a presenter, my mother is seated there. Now these Hall of Famers and all, they've all been voting on who is going to cry.
Now you know that two of the guys, my first two haven't cried. Now I'm going to cry. I'll be you up front, I'll give you notice. I think it was General Schwarzkopf, in an interview with Barbara Walters, and Barbara Walters said, “a big general like you, are you going to cry? General Schwarzkopf said I'm afraid of a man that won't cry.”
To the dais with the induction, being in an induction class with the first punter. I've been seeing all these guys that lift their legs for a living around Canton, Ray Guy. Also to be in an induction class with three from the Historical Black Colleges. Michael Strahan, Texas Southern, Claude Humphrey, Tennessee State, and that's right, yours truly, the Southern University. Now let me begin to give thanks where thanks is due. I never had to look outside my home for role models. My two older brothers, Malcolm Williams, Achilles Williams, stand to your feet, brothers. Malcolm's debonair president of his high school class was about 5'7 or 5'8. He was one of the toughest linebackers you ever wanted to see. Achilles, my role model 18 months older than I was. I really modeled my life after Achilles. I followed his example, and I'll tell you a little bit about that later.
But I wanted to personally and publicly thank you guys for being my role models and allowing me to see, because more is caught than talk. Thank you, guys. You may be seated.
To the Phoenix, Arizona Cardinals
. That's right. All of these Giants, Buffalo fans. You see I was in New York when I found out I was number one. When I stepped outside and I came out from warm up, and I stepped on to the stadium, and a whole section in the Giants Stadium, a whole section stood up and told me I was number one with the middle finger. So thank you for letting me know I'm number one Giants Stadium.
Michael, to Mr. B (Bidwill), your dad, Larry Wilson who is also here on this stage with me as the general manager with the Arizona Cardinals, Phoenix Cardinals at the time. You and the family, thank you guys so much; 59th pick in the third round, thank you, thank you. Arizona Cardinals, baby. That's right.
Then for my family. They're all here. Friends are here from New Orleans. See, I've got two, I want the number two to stay in your mind. Here's number two. I am the second from New Orleans, Louisiana, that's right, 504, the "Who Dat Nation," Marshal Faulk was the first. Aeneas Williams the second. And what we have in common is both of us sold popcorn, peanuts and Coke in the Superdome. So I say to any young kid that wants to get to the Hall of Fame, you better go to the Superdome and become a vendor and get some of this magic or this thing that God has blessed us with, it's called hard work. Thank you, Marshall.
Number two, I'm the second to be inducted into the NFL Hall of Fame. The first is Mel Bount, one of the biggest corners that I admired for a long time at Southern University. For my teammates and all of those that came from New Orleans, I honor you guys. There are some special people from my church that I get to stand up. The spirit church. With flashlights every Sunday, and get to inspire them. Thank you.
The St. Louis Rams
who traded for me, the late Georgia Frontiere, Mr. Stan Kroenke, Kevin Demhoff, and the entire Rams family, Coach Mike Martz, Coach Lovie Smith
, my defensive coordinator, thank you guys so much.
Begin with the end in mind. How does this all start? As I said, I walked on a week before the season started my junior year in college, but it was at Harrell Park in New Orleans, Louisiana. My teammates, Coach Mimms who made Harrell Park, that's in Hollygrove Pigeontown, it's in an area where there is a whole lot going around, all around, danger outside the park. But Coach Mimms allowed it to be a safe haven, and it was at Harrell Park where I learned how to tackle and see what you hit. It was at Harrell Park where I started and I wanted to address because I've been hearing a whole lot of parents, and even our beloved president who I love and pray for saying that if he had boys he doesn't know if he'd let them play football.
But I want to say, the game of football I started when I was 4 years old, and there are some things I learned about the game of football that I wouldn't change for the world. And yes, there are some inherent dangers to playing football, but there are some distasteful elements in every assignment of every job that anybody tries to do.
So here we go, begin with the end in mind. I've already written my obituary. Don't get scared. If I would ask you where can you find the most talent? Don't tell me Fort Knox. Don't tell me money. Don't tell me a house. I tell you where we can find the most wealth, it's in the cemetery. Because most people go to the grave full instead of empty.
You see, I was on Southern University's campus, freshman and sophomore year. And if you had told me Aeneas, you have the potential to be one of the best cornerbacks, or within 24 guys to be inducted into the Hall of Fame as a defensive back, I would have thought you were crazy and hit you with the right hand.
The reason I was a walk on is because I had a good and awesome role model, Achilles. Achilles is a numbers guy. You give Achilles a calculator and a pad, he's a bean counter. So all I did was graduate in May and immediately wasn't thinking about football, wasn't highly recruited. All I wanted to do was get to Southern University where my father was an alum and Achilles was already. I was going to have an apartment in June as a freshman with a junior. He and I were going to have an apartment. Achilles majored in accounting and so did I. The fraternity, Kappa Alpha Psi, Achilles joined, I joined.
Achilles got me to join the student government association, and I don't even like politics. He majored in accounting and so did I. Here was the unique thing. My dad never pushed sports as a way out. See, Dad gave the boys, the three boys, I'm the youngest of three growing up in New Orleans, he gave me some alternatives growing up. He said, Son, if you all ever have to choose between me and the police, choose the police. Here's the other thing I want to tell you. I don't want to stand up here and let you know and tell you and make you believe it was all easy. It's not. See in Arizona, we didn't win a whole lot of games, but here's what I know. See Dallas, Mr. Jerry Jones, Michael Irvin, you guys wouldn't have that beautiful stadium if we hadn't upset you in 1998 where I had to cover Michael Irvin. If he went to the restroom, I had to go flush it. But Michael, thank you. Because I wouldn't be here without you, and without Jerry, and without as many awesome receivers that I had to face.
But let me tell you something, why do I say that? Dallas, the Cowboys got a thing for the stadium because you guys remember the old stadium had the hole in the roof, and they used to say that's God's team. After we upset them, I had two interceptions against Troy Aikman. They told me it took ten years for them to plan and build the current stadium. So I did the math because I talked to the architect that built the stadium. They told me it took about ten years. I did the math, and I said that’s about the time we is upset them when Jerry, Mr. Jones, figured out God must not be with us anymore (laughing). Pun intended. Love, Jerry, much love, much love. Had to do something for all these Cowboys. Begin with the end in mind. I've got to wrap this up. Begin with the end in mind.
Hey, let me tell you first thing, begin with the end in mind. People say what's it like to be up here? I'm going to tell you what it's like. I learned write down what's in your heart. See, growing up I grew up in church, but I never gave my life to Christ. I didn't understand how God related to everyday life. When I was growing up, I thought church was a religious deal. You go sin for six days, then on the 7th day, empty your sin bucket and go do it again.
But I'm going to tell you something, I was on pace to graduate with my degree in accounting in three years and I don't even like numbers. My brother Achilles graduated with his degree in accounting in three and a half years. He called me back and he said little brother, slow down. You'll be working the rest of your life.
Ladies and gentlemen, I tell you, it was at that time over the two years, freshman and sophomore year my uncle William and a guy named Michael Lindsey who was on Southern University's football team who also played with me in high school. He would always, and my uncle would always say, they called me Nicky in New Orleans, so if I hear Nicky, I know you know you're from New Orleans. And they would say, why don't you play football? I'm going to tell you why I didn't play football because I didn't know how God talked to you. I would hear people say God talk to me. I was standing next to them; I didn't hear anything. I tell you how you know. A week before the season started my junior year in college, it was different. Unlike the freshman, sophomore year.
In September, you football guys know when the weather changes. It goes from dead hot summer to the fall. We all know because it's getting time right now. We’re itching right now on this stage. We know it's getting ready to be football season. Yeah, you fans know it's getting ready to be football season. So how do you know? Some people say you got to be a Christian to know God talks to you. No! God is talking to us all the time.
How do you think I got on defense? Troy Descano, when I was playing 95 pound ball, and we decided I was a big bad running back. I emulated Larry Csonka. I went out running, and we decided we hadn't lost a game, and we decided we're big and bad, we're going to play the 110 pound guys, and Troy Descano was at the 110 pound guys. I came through the hole, Troy hit me so hard. I was on the ground wondering when I'm going to catch my next breath. It was at that time God spoke to me. You know what he said? He said, "You got to be better hitting people than getting hit."
So I'm telling you pay attention to the signs God's giving you. Back to the story, all of a sudden when it comes down to God talking my heart changed a week before the season started. That's what happened. All of a sudden, it entered my heart to walk on the football team a week before the season starts. Made no sense, but the first sensible thing I did was didn't tell my parents. I'm already on my parents' dime. I'm getting ready to finish, and I didn't tell my home boys who were from New Orleans. I walked on, started my fifth game Bayou Classic, that's right, Bayou Classic, all you State people, it's Southern University. God's favorite color is blue.
It was after the Bayou Classic after my second year playing, I read in the newspaper one of my coaches said, "Aeneas Williams is a good player, but I don't think he'll ever go pro because, at best he runs a 4.6, 40."
Ladies and gentlemen, this is the difference when I learned the difference between facts and truth. Facts were I did run a 4.6, 40. The truth is I found my teammate Brian Thomas, and Brian, if you're here, if you could stand up. Brian was the fastest guy on Southern University's track team and the fastest guy on Southern's football team. He was a wide receiver, and he was our Usain Bolt, 6'3", and Brian wrote on his practice pants siren is speed, and speed kills. I couldn't cover him. I'd lineup ten yards off Brian and he'd run right by me.
Brian had thing when he'd run by you he'd make this noise (imitating). So when I read that I didn't get bitter. Some people spend their whole life to prove people wrong. The goal is not to prove people wrong. The goal is to reach your potential. The first thing I did was went to Brian Thomas because mentors are critical. You have to find credible others. I didn't go to the offensive line. I went to Brian. I went to Brian after we had upset Grambling. I said, Brian, can you help me get faster. Brian Thomas looked me in the eyes like I'm looking at these Hall of Famers. He said, Aeneas you can run a 4.3, 40. It baffled my mind because all my life I've been a long distance guy. They said you can't have speed, you either got it or you don't.
I said, Brian what do I do? He said Aeneas, walk on the track team. Now I'm in graduate school. I'm going into January. I'm going to finish my final season while in graduate school in the fall. I said, Brian, what do we do? He said get next to me because more is caught than taught. I said, Brian, and we running, we working out. All of a sudden we're finished running, and Brian is walking like we hadn't worked out. I'm on the ground and my legs are telling me, Aeneas, you can keep this up or we through. Ladies and gentlemen, by April of that spring, the scouts came and I ran a 4.3, 40. I was the number two rated cornerback in all the country.
As we go to the pros, thank you every coach. The late Jim Johnson, my first defensive back coach, great coach. Thank you to every agent, every equipment guy, every personnel person that sometimes doesn't get the recognition, thank you. As I close, guys, Rob Ryan
. Rob is here somewhere, Saints defensive coordinator. See Rob, and I didn't miss my wife, see Ray Guy, it's only fitting because all these punters are here. Tracy, stand up, lady. I didn't forget you. I just had you in the script. And I wanted to include what a lot of guys I think need to hear. I had Rob Ryan and Tracy stand up because the first time I made All-Pro was going into my fourth year. I had just become a restricted free agent. Buddy Ryan, Rob's dad had become the head coach. And I had said to my wife, we were in Champaign, Illinois, and I was serving my wife. She was getting her masters, her MBA at the University of Illinois. I told my wife when Buddy got the job, I said I'm not going back to Arizona. And you would think wives would be like, okay. But my wife wouldn't stop there.
How many of your wives ask questions? Some guys call that nagging, but I'm going to tell you guys, that's part of your vision. She said why? I said, truth is, I'm afraid. See I used to deal with fear. I was afraid because Buddy Ryan put his cornerbacks on an island. Cornerbacks by themselves. See, much love to Revis Island, but it started with Aeneas Island. And Rob Ryan, the first time I went back and he got the job as the defensive back coach he put his arms around me and said Aeneas you could lead this league in interceptions because I saw you do it in college. Thank you, Coach Rob. That was the first year I made All Pro and Pro Bowl. Thank you.
Tracy, I can't thank you enough. 21 years. Thank you, lady. Thank you so much. I love you. We just got back from Houston because three of my children have been competing in USA Nationals, Junior Olympics. All you guys stand. Saenea, Tirzah, Lazerus, and Cheyenne. That's who I'm serving now. That is the team I'm coaching. Thank you, love you guys.
So, as we say, die empty. I can't close this story without saying Gill and Marilyn Bird. When I wrote down I wanted to be one of the best cornerbacks to ever play the game, I wrote it down when I was a second year player. I started calling up, some of these guys were already in the Hall of Fame. Michael Haynes, I paid my money to go see Kenny Houston.
I talked to Ronnie Lott because where you want to go and where you have to find credible others who have already been there. Then I befriended Gill Bird who was an All Pro corner with the San Diego Chargers
after the game. I said, Mr. Bird, can you help me learn to play the cornerback position? I got his phone number after the game.
My wife and I flew out to San Diego, and Gill Bird taught me how to play the cornerback position, but I didn't set a goal to be the best cornerback to play the game. I set a goal to be one of the best husband's and best men that I could be. Gill and Marilyn Bird modeled not only how to be a great corner, but Gil and Marilyn, thank you. From the bottom of my heart from Tracy and I on helping us know what it's like to be married in the NFL and raise your children loving and serving your children. Love you guys so much.
Begin with the end in mind. Here's what I want to do. We're in the stadium and I've talked for over 20 minutes, but we're going to commercial. I want everybody over here to shout begin with the end in mind. Everybody on this side, I want you to shout die empty. See, Hall of Famers, we die empty. See, we left it on the field. To the current players, it's your turn. Your career right now is like wet cement. My cement is already dry; so are ours. We've put our handprints in it. It's your turn. You do what you're supposed to do because God has given you a blessing.
My one life assignment is to help people go to the grave empty. So this side and Hall of Famers when I say, "go to the grave empty," so this side, "begin with the end in mind." Hall of Famers on this side, "die empty." Y'all ready? I said, you ready?
This side, "begin with the end in mind" say it. Hall of Famers on this side."Die Empty."
I can't hear you.
Hall of Famers.
"Begin with the end in mind" I can't hear you.
I can't hear you.
God bless you guys. I love you, thank you."
Former Cardinals and Rams defensive back Aeneas Williams delivered a Hall of Fame speech to remember on Saturday night in Canton. Here is a transcript of that speech, via the Pro Football Hall of Fame's website.