Heading into his fourth year in the NFL, former Cardinals cornerback and New Orleans native Aeneas Williams was afraid to return to Arizona.
It was 1994, and Buddy Ryan had become head coach of the Cardinals. Ryan put his cornerbacks on an island, and Williams feared he wouldn’t be able to handle the assignment.
But — at the urging of his wife, Tracy — Williams returned to the Cardinals to work under defensive backs coach Rob Ryan, one of Buddy’s sons and now the defensive coordinator for the New Orleans Saints. And, in his first year with the Cardinals at the time, Rob Ryan gave Williams the words of encouragement he needed to make his first All-Pro team, the cornerback recounted in his Pro Football Hall of Fame induction speech on Saturday.
“The first time I went back and he got the job as defensive backs coach, (Rob Ryan) put his arms around me and he said, ‘Aeneas, you can lead this league in interceptions, because I saw you do it in college,’” said Williams, who tied the NCAA Division I-AA single-season record for picked-off passes with 11 his senior year at Southern University in Baton Rouge.
Williams went on to make a personal-best nine interceptions and earned Second-Team All Pro honors for the first time in his career after his pep talk from Rob Ryan.
Williams on Saturday said, “Thank you, Coach Rob. … Thank you.”
Williams distinguished himself with the Arizona Cardinals and St. Louis Rams during a 14-year NFL career that began in 1991. The cornerback and safety had 55 career interceptions for the Cardinals and Rams, was First-Team All-Pro three times and went to eight Pro Bowls. He attended Fortier in Uptown New Orleans for prep school.
Rob Ryan, who became the Saints’ defensive coordinator in 2013, attended Williams’ induction ceremony in Canton, Ohio, on Saturday. He received loud applause when Williams expressed his gratitude toward him.
Ryan was at the Saints’ annual intrasquad scrimmage just hours earlier, which this year was held at The Greenbrier resort in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia, site of the initial portion of New Orleans’ 2014 training camp.
He commanded a Saints defense that allowed the fourth-fewest yards in the NFL last year.
Rob Ryan and his father were in Arizona from 1994 through 1995. Williams left the Cardinals for the Rams in 2001, last played in the NFL in 2004 and was chosen for induction into the Hall of Fame in February.