It might be a bit much to call Willie Williams, a former Steelers cornerback on two-different Super Bowl teams from two-separate eras, “forgotten,” but he certainly had a unique career in Pittsburgh.
The Steelers made Willie Williams their sixth-round pick out of Western Carolina in the 1993 NFL Draft.
After biding his time for two seasons, Williams emerged as a starting quarterback for the Steelers 1995 squad that lost its top corner and all-around best player, Rod Woodson, during a Week 1 overtime win vs. the Lions at old Three Rivers Stadium. Williams started 15 games during the regular season, two more in the playoffs, and was one of the fortunate players to have his name announced as he ran out of the tunnel before Super Bowl XXX.
That’s right, that 1995 Steelers team made it to the Super Bowl, and Williams played an underrated role in getting there.
Not only did Williams record seven interceptions in ’95 to help lead the Steelers to an 11-5 regular-season record, but he may have made the most important play in the Steelers victory over the Colts in the AFC Championship Game at TRS.
Everyone remembers Jim Harbaugh’s Hail Mary pass on the game’s final play that ALMOST settled into the arms of receiver Aaron Bailey before falling to the Astroturf. They talk about the 37-yard pass from quarterback Neil O’Donnell to receiver Ernie Mills that set up the Bam Morris game-winning touchdown plunge moments earlier. I mentioned Woodson’s injury. Carnell Lake, an accomplished safety heading into ’95, rightfully gets a ton of credit for transitioning to corner during the season and going on to have another Pro Bowl year.
But none of that would be as memorable today, or just plain would not have happened, if not for a tackle that Williams made on running back Lamont Warren late in the AFC title game with the Colts facing a third and one and clinging to a 16-13 lead. Williams recognized the run from his left-cornerback spot and raced into the backfield to make the very definition of a shoestring tackle; it was a good thing, too, because Warren had nothing but Astroturf in front of him and could have easily gained 15 or 20 yards. With precious few minutes remaining, it could have been the difference between the Steelers making it to their first Super Bowl in 16 years or once again going home losers after falling to a huge road underdog in the AFC Championship Game.
Williams was again a full-time starting cornerback for the 1996 Steelers, as Pittsburgh advanced to the divisional round before getting blown out in New England.
Like most Steelers free agents in the 1990s, Williams bolted for more lucrative pastures and signed with the Seahawks. Williams started 74 games over seven seasons in Seattle and recorded 17 interceptions.
Williams quietly signed back with Pittsburgh just prior to the Steelers 2004 season. He began the year as a backup but became a starter when Chad Scott suffered a season-ending injury. Williams started 10 games at cornerback for a Pittsburgh defense that was the most dominant in the NFL. Williams started two more games in the playoffs before once again having his postseason journey end in a blowout loss to the Patriots–this time at Heinz Field.
- That would be the final postseason game of Williams’ career.
This isn’t to say he wasn’t on the roster in 2005, as the Steelers overcame long odds to finally capture their One For The Thumb after a 21-10 victory over the Seahawks in Super Bowl XL. Unfortunately, after appearing in four games and starting one during the regular season, Williams did not play in any of Pittsburgh’s four postseason games.
- Williams was released after the season and officially retired from the NFL.
- But he did so after finally earning a ring.
Williams started 115 games during his career but only 41 with Pittsburgh.
However, seven of Williams’s 10 career playoff appearances came as a member of the Steelers–including three in the AFC title game.
Seven of Willie Williams’s eight career playoff starts came as a Steeler–including two in the AFC title game.
Only nine of Williams’s 26 career interceptions came as a Steeler, but the seven he had during the Super Bowl XXX campaign were the most he had in any single season.
And he was a starter in Super Bowl XXX.
- How many Steelers can say they played during two different Super Bowl eras? No one besides Williams can.
Willie Williams did a lot of heavy lifting for two different Steelers teams that came close to winning it all and was essentially a non-factor during a year when he finally earned a Super Bowl ring.
But while Willie Williams didn’t do much to help the Steelers win their fifth Lombardi trophy, he contributed enough to a couple of earlier contenders that he can certainly wear his Super Bowl XL ring with pride.