DAVIE, FLA. — DAVIE, Fla. - Coach Dave Wannstedt did about the only thing he could yesterday. He tried to remain positive about a Miami Dolphins season that got rocky before it even started because star running back Ricky Williams decided he didn't want to play football anymore.
Wannstedt, appearing weary but composed at a news conference, likened Williams' sudden retirement - first reported early yesterday by The Miami Herald - to any situation where a player is lost suddenly to injury. But there is a difference between losing a player to a broken leg, an inevitable part of the game, and losing the team's top offensive player because he quits days before the season, a development that jolted the Dolphins.
Williams quit even though he still is in the prime of his career at age 27, giving Wannstedt the news with a telephone call Friday night. As a result, Williams leaves the Dolphins in the terrible position of having to compensate for the loss quickly. Travis Minor, who hasn't started a game in three NFL seasons, becomes the starter, and the Dolphins' other options include choosing from among an uninspiring group of free agents or trading for a proven player.
None is an ideal alternative to Williams, one of the top running backs in the league. Though Williams had talked to friends and associates about possibly retiring after the season, his decision to quit now shocked Wannstedt, fans and teammates, who all searched for reasons why Williams would walk away at all, and especially now.
"There appeared to be several of them, but it all added up to a loss of motivation to play football," Williams' agent, Leigh Steinberg, said last night.
Williams could not be reached on his cell phone yesterday.
Williams, who a source said would forfeit about $3.6 million in salary this season, always has had other interests outside football, including traveling and photography. He has often said football is only a small part of his life.
Steinberg said Williams was in Tokyo yesterday, though he expects Williams to return to South Florida by the end of this week.
Steinberg said Williams expressed concern about how the timing of his decision would affect teammates.
"It is unfortunate from the standpoint of its effect on the Dolphins," Steinberg said. "It is a team sport, and his decision has consequences for people other than him."
Will Williams talk to his teammates about his decision at some point? "I would hope so," Steinberg said. "I would encourage it."
Wannstedt stopped short of criticizing Williams for the decision and its timing, saying only that he was "surprised" and "disappointed" by the developments. Some players privately expressed anger at Williams for leaving the Dolphins in such a bad position.
"I can say that I can see how players would feel that way," Wannstedt said. "They're not any more disappointed or surprised about the whole thing than I am. We will deal with it. We will overcome."
The South Florida Sun-Sentinel is a Tribune Publishing newspaper. Sun-Sentinel staff writer Alex Marvez contributed to this article.
What's the rush?
NFL running backs who retired at or near the peak of their abilities:
Ricky Williams: At 27, the Miami Dolphins' star announced his decision to retire after posting the top two rushing seasons in team history and in his career the past two years.
Jim Brown: At 29, after leading the league in rushing in eight of his nine seasons, the Cleveland Browns' star retired after the 1965 season.
Barry Sanders: At 30, and on the verge of breaking Walter Payton's then-career rushing record, the Detroit Lions' star retired in July 1999.
Robert Smith: At 28, he retired after his best NFL season, when he set a Minnesota Vikings single-season rushing record with 1,521 yards in 2000.
- The Miami Herald