After 10 seasons and 121 games, Dolphins running back Ricky Williams makes his Paul Brown Stadium debut Sunday in a 1 p.m. game (Cincinnati's Channel 12 if sold out). It is so long ago now; does anyone remember that the Bengals turned down a chance to trade the third pick in the 1999 NFL Draft for the entire raft of Saints picks so they could take Williams?
The Bengals stayed put to draft Akili Smith and at No. 5 the Redskins took the deal that married Williams to then-Saints coach Mike Ditka. Now Williams rolls into town off the second-best season by a running back 32 or older with 1,121 yards. At 33 he's on pace for only 768, but he's averaging 4.3 yards per his 67 carries.
Bengals running back Cedric Benson is noticing because he has been noticing Williams ever since he was growing up in Midland, Texas, and dreaming of running in his Heisman Trophy shoes for the Longhorns. He even imitated Williams's bruising style.
"There's no doubt. I looked up to him. He was an idol of mine in high school. He still is," Benson said before Wednesday's practice. "He played a large role in me going to Texas. The things I saw him doing I saw myself doing some of the same things. It was big-time stuff Saturdays when I was watching Texas when I was in high school."
Williams has been noticing Benson, too, and considers him a friend even though their paths never crossed in Austin and Williams wasn't involved in his recruitment.
"I'm definitely a big fan of his and I was very proud of the way he came in last year and he played incredible," Williams said in Wednesday's conference call with the Cincinnati media.
While Williams racked up the fourth-most 100-yard games in Dolphins history last year with four (he also has the most with 10 in 2002 and seven in 2003), Benson was setting the Bengals record with six with the same pounding style.
Benson smiled and said Williams never had to call him during the recruiting season.
"He didn't know he was doing it; he didn't have to (call me)," Benson said. "He did it all on the field. Seeing that style of football. Between the tackles, power, speed. Able to make moves in open space. Run through arm tackles. It's football. Smashmouth football."
Williams sees it.
"I see it more now than I did when he was in college," he said. "Watching him on film, he does a good job getting downhill and he runs at least 10 to 15 pounds bigger than he really is. It's fun watching him run."
But if imitation was the highest form of flattery, it also caused Benson some pain.
From 2003 to 2007, Williams failed the NFL drug test several times and he retired for a season and was suspended for a season before ending up playing in the CFL in 2006. It was Benson's misfortune to come out of Texas for the 2005 draft with the same kind of dreadlocks and the same kind of running style and he feels his personality and character were wrongly compared to Williams' makeup.
"Going into (draft) interviews that was about the time when things weren't going good for him and he was choosing to do different things," Benson said. "Yeah, I think a lot of it got carried along because we looked alike, same school, same style. Whatever it may be, it was quite childish the questions (from scouts) in reference to what he was doing.
"Coming out (of Texas) and having to deal with that stuff, it was really ridiculous. But I guess that's just the way the world is, huh? Even when I got released from Chicago and had interviews with a couple of teams, I was asked the same question as well."
Now the comparisons continue. While Williams overcame the suspension to be reborn again with the Dolphins, Benson overcame personal problems in Chicago to find a home on Cincinnati's AFC North champions last season. Williams said he thought new Dolphins boss Bill Parcells was going to cut him when he called him into his office a few years ago.
"He's the reason that I'm still a Miami Dolphin. He has a lot to do with my success the last couple years and me enjoying football so much again," Williams said. "He said that he believed in me and wanted to give me a shot. I was very happy to play for him and to be part of the same organization with him."
Williams sees the same dynamic happening with Benson.
"I don't look at is as second chances. I look at it as there's opportunities and there's situations," Williams said. "And sometimes you're in a situation that works for you and sometimes you're not. I think he was able to get through the bad situation he had in Chicago and find a place where he was wanted and appreciated and he flourished."
Benson says he's never really sat down and got to know Williams. But he said they caught up the last time they spoke, which Benson figures is about a year or two ago over the phone.
"Hats off to him. Just very happy for him that's he's happy," Benson said. "Any time a guy comes out and has a great season, or a great game, or overcomes some things or works through things like age and still plays great just because they're happy is great."
Benson hopes to greet Williams before and after the game, two reconstructed Longhorns enjoying the life again. But Benson isn't pleased he's got just one 100-yard game this season and while he's put last week's crushing fumble behind him, he is still stunned by what happened.
With the Bengals driving for the tying touchdown and less than 10 minutes left, Benson simply lost the handle on the ball at the Atlanta 39 and the Falcons kept it for the next five minutes and the winning touchdown.
"It never happened to me in the entire time I've played football. If it had to happen, I'm glad it's out of the way. Unfortunate time," Benson said. "You can't have turnovers in the critical time of games, but we're moving on past that. I don't imagine that will ever happen again.
"What a fluke deal. In a way, it's real frustrating and real heartbreaking at the time, but looking back on it, it's kind of funny. I saw the TV copy that night. Kind of a fluke deal. It just popped out. I think ultimately the biggest cause of it was me trying to do too much. Trying too hard to make a play."
On Sunday, Benson is going to keep trying hard. Having No. 34 on the other side ensures that.
"No doubt it is for me (a challenge)," Benson said. "It is every week, really. Particularly having him on the other end."