TORONTO (June 3, 2006) -- Ricky Williams looked less like an NFL rushing champion and every bit like a running back less than a week into training camp with a new team.
The former Miami Dolphins star was held to just 7 yards on four carries in his first CFL game June 2 as the Hamilton Tiger-Cats defeated the Toronto Argonauts 31-3 in the exhibition opener for both clubs.
"The biggest thing was to see the game, to see the speed of the game and get a feel of what's going to be expected of me," Williams said. "It's hard to do it in a meeting room or the practice field but when you come out here at game speed you have a better idea.
"I did a decent job on pass protection. Obviously I didn't have that many yards running the ball but I felt pretty good about my performance. It felt good, it felt natural. I wasn't nervous, I felt comfortable with the offense."
The game capped a whirlwind week for Williams, who signed a one-year deal with Toronto on May 28.
Williams had been suspended for the 2005 season by the NFL following a fourth violation of the league's substance abuse program.
Williams, a four-time 1,000-yard rusher in the NFL, had just four practices to get acclimated with Canadian football, yet, judging by the hundreds of Miami jerseys featuring Williams' No. 34 present at Rogers Centre, it was clear who many had come to see.
But they had to wait, as veteran John Avery started at tailback. A loud ovation erupted midway through the first when Williams, who is wearing No. 27 with Toronto, was shown on the Jumbotron patiently waiting his turn.
Williams quietly slipped into the game with 5 seconds left in the first and the Argos at their 35-yard line trailing 14-0. Predictably, Williams got the ball on his first play from scrimmage, resulting in a 2-yard gain, but it wasn't until the PA announcer called Williams as the ball carrier that the Heisman Trophy winner received a rousing ovation.
"It's hard to tell with just one quarter of play but they came ready to play," Williams said when asked about the level of competition in the CFL. "It's a team sport and one player isn't going to make much of a difference unless he's able to help everyone else raise their level of play and match the opponents' intensity."
But Williams liked being able to go into motion before the snap, something he has never been able to do in the NFL.
"It's fun because you get a head start on the defense and they don't know where you're going," he said. "It's just learning the game so you can take advantage of it more and I'm sure that will come."
Argos head coach Mike (Pinball) Clemons wasn't surprised with Williams' rushing numbers in his first CFL game.
"It's about what I expected," said Clemons, a former Argos running back. "With a running back like him it's not his first three, four or five touches in a game that are going to make the difference, it's the 10 in the fourth quarter when they wear you down that's going to be the difference for him.
"I think it's good he struggled ... because it's going to let him know to be successful in this league he's going to have to work maybe the hardest he has ever worked to this point in his career."
Fans got a rise out of a vignette in the second that made fun of former Toronto quarterback Joe Theismann's condemnation of the club's signing Williams.
On May 30, Theismann called the move a "feeble excuse" by Toronto to sell tickets, lashed out at Williams and said he was ashamed to have worn the club's old A emblem on his helmet.
During a stoppage in play, a video ran on the Jumbotron showing Theismann wearing a helmet with the A emblem. Suddenly, a giant pencil appeared and rubbed out the A, after which the worlds "Happy Now Joe" appeared, again drawing solid applause.
Ticats coach Greg Marshall downplayed suggestions Williams' presence provided extra motivation for his defense.
"Anytime we play the Argos we don't need any extra motivation," he said. "Personally, I didn't even know when Ricky was in the football game.
"I don't know if our defense was even aware."