Thursday, May 24, 2018
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John Williams: Super experiences for Libbey grad

In Their Words is a weekly feature appearing Sundays in The Blade's sports section. Blade sports columnist Ron Musselman talked with John Williams, a Libbey High School graduate who was an All-Big Ten offensive tackle at Minnesota and played in two Super Bowls with the Baltimore Colts and Los Angeles Rams. He retired from the NFL in 1980 after 12 seasons.

John Williams participated in two of the most exciting Super Bowls in NFL history. He was on the winning side in one, on the losing side in the other.

Super Bowl III might be the most storied Super Bowl of all. New York quarterback "Broadway Joe" Namath guaranteed a win the Thursday before the game, then went out and led the AFL to its first Super Bowl victory.

Namath was named the game's outstanding player after leading the Jets to a 16-7 triumph over Williams' Baltimore team, which had lost only one of 16 regular-season games.

Two years later, in Super Bowl V, Williams and the Colts got some revenge.

Rookie kicker Jim O'Brien hit a 32-yard field goal with five seconds left to lift Baltimore to a 16-13 victory over the Dallas Cowboys. It was the first Super Bowl ever played on artificial turf.

The 6-foot-3, 256-pound offensive lineman played four seasons with Baltimore, which selected him No. 1 in 1968. Williams played in two Super Bowls for the Colts and played eight more years with the Rams.

He was injured and did not play in Super Bowl XIV for Los Angeles against the Pittsburgh Steelers in January of 1980.

Williams first honed his football skills at Libbey High School.

He was an All-City pick in both football and basketball for the Cowboys. He also played baseball and threw the shot in track. He had six 100-yard rushing games as a senior fullback, and also played linebacker.

His size and defensive play were his ticket to Minnesota, where he played fullback, defensive end and offensive tackle.

Williams was an All-Big Ten pick as a senior tackle for the Golden Gophers in 1967, and was named to various All-American teams.

NFL scouts and general managers compared him to former Scott and Ohio State star Jim Parker as a collegiate blocker.

In 1968, Williams played for the College All-Stars against the Green Bay Packers at Soldier Field.

He graduated from Minnesota in 1969 with a B.S. degree in education. He attended Maryland during the off-seasons between 1972 and 1974, and graduated from the school of dentistry in 1978.

He holds a private pilot's license and was inducted into the City League Hall of Fame in 1994.

Williams, 60, lives in Minneapolis with his wife. They have three sons.

"I COULDN'T AFFORD to buy equipment to play football as a youngster. I was one of nine kids and we just didn't have the money. I only played sandlot football until I got to high school.

"I played junior varsity football as a freshman at Libbey. My junior and senior years, we also had a huge offensive line. It was probably bigger than Ohio State's at the time. I was a 6-3, 215-pound fullback, and I was bigger than most of our offensive linemen back then."

"I HAD PLANNED to go to Ohio State to play football in college. I was all set to go there and then I changed my mind at the last minute.

Someone from Minnesota called and said, `Why don't you come up and give our school a look? If you like it, come here, and if you don't, we'll see you on the field.' I went there, fell in love with the place, and it's worked out well for me. I am still here."

"I PLAYED FULLBACK my sophomore year at Minnesota. I remember the first time I touched the ball, I ran for 27 yards. But then I tore my hamstring and missed a lot of time. My junior year, I had eaten my way out of the backfield, I was 245 or 250 pounds, and I moved over to defensive end, and played there for a season. I finished the season No. 2 in tackles for losses in the conference, ahead of Bubba Smith.

"My senior year I moved to offensive tackle and had a great season. I came along very quickly. I probably should have been playing there earlier. The big debate was, `Who had a better right side of the offensive line, Minnesota or USC?' "

"I GOT DRAFTED in the first round by the Baltimore Colts in 1968, which was something, considering I had only played on the offensive line for a year. I started half the games as a rookie with the Colts, then became a full-time starter my second year.

"We were favored by 17 points in Super Bowl III against the Jets, and I think it became a psychological thing. I think it affected us as a team, and made us feel like we had an easy foe.

"Joe Namath was foot-loose and fancy-free, and he just happened to make that prediction which made him famous. Joe was a heck of a quarterback and the Jets had a heck of a team. It was a crowning moment for the AFL, which finally beat the NFL."

"IN SUPER BOWL V, it was a jubilant feeling to win one. I can still see Jim O'Brien's field goal going straight through the uprights. He had had a lot of trouble with consistency throughout the year, but he was on when we needed him most. It was a great ending to a great game.

"I was with the Rams in 1980, but I was injured and didn't play in Super Bowl XIV against Pittsburgh. I retired after that. In football, you can be here today and gone tomorrow, so that's why I acquired my dental degree when I did. It was something nobody could take away from me. It was a lot of work, but I have had my practice here in Minneapolis now for 27 years, and I'm proud of that."

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