Cadillac Shows Tice, Vikings What Might Have Been
If there was one NFL coach who wanted Cadillac Williams more than Jon Gruden, he was the guy standing with the headset on the Vikings' sideline. Minnesota coach Mike Tice, who openly admits he would have drafted Williams if he had slipped to No. 7, watched helplessly as the rookie back from Auburn gained 148 yards on 27 carries Sunday.

Williams capped his pro debut by blasting through a hole off left guard for a 71-yard touchdown dash, securing Tampa Bay's 24-13 upset victory in a tense season opener. With only 12 preseason carries, Williams was a bit of a mystery to Bucs fans, but Gruden couldn't wait to unwrap his shiny new gift when it counted. "Cadillac's kind of been protected and secluded in Tampa, but he had a great game today," Bucs tackle Todd Steussie said. "We knew what he had, but it was kind of neat to see it."

Only one Buccaneer, Warrick Dunn with 210 yards against Dallas in 2000, has gained more rushing yards in a game than Williams since 1994. It was the eighth-biggest rushing day in franchise history and the clinching 71-yarder ranks as the fifth-longest run in 30 years of Bucs football. The only time Williams looked like a rookie was when he flung his touchdown ball into the stands. "I threw it to a Viking fan, but I want to thank that fan for giving it back," said Williams, who said he was additionally motivated by constant trash-talking by Minnesota defenders. "To be honest, my dad and I were talking and I was telling him I wanted 150 yards plus. I didn't quite get 150 yards, but I am looking forward to next week."

After they stopped chirping and started trying to tackle their elusive target, the Vikings walked away rather impressed. "He's a tough kid and he's going to be a heck of a back for them," said free agent safety Darren Sharper, who made a dynamic debut for Minnesota with eight tackles and an 88-yard interception return for a touchdown. "He runs hard, he has good vision and he can carry the load. We didn't see him get tired at the end."

Unable to achieve offensive balance in his first three years in Tampa, Gruden approached this game with 20-20 vision: he ordered up 20 pass plays and 20 runs as the Bucs dominated the opening half and built a 17-7 advantage. The Bucs relied on Williams so heavily, Michael Pittman disappeared from the offense, failing to register a carry or a reception. "I was fresh, but a little tired at the same time," Williams said after posting the fifth-biggest rushing day by any NFL rookie in a season opener. "Overall, it was a great feeling to be out there and it is a wonderful situation to be the face of the team as far as running back."

Williams showed power between the tackles and quickness off the edge. "That kid runs behind his pads and he's a good runner already," Vikings defensive end Lance Johnstone said. "I think a lot of people thought he was a finesse runner coming out of college. Watching films, we didn't feel that way. There's no question about his speed, I can tell you that."

When the Bucs took possession at their 20 with 1:45 remaining and a four-point lead, Gruden put his faith in a 5-foot-11, 217-pound rookie who had seen two runners selected before him in the draft before the Bucs called at No. 5. Two runs gained 9 yards before Williams burst up the middle and left a group of beaten Vikings trailing behind. "There's not a better feeling in football than delivering a knockout blow like that," Bucs guard Sean Mahan said.

Even the people who pay the bills couldn't help but notice. "That was a great way to start the season," Bucs executive vice president Joel Glazer said. "What can I say about Cadillac? That's what you want to see at the end of a game."

Unless you're Mike Tice, who went to bed Sunday night thinking about what might have been.

Ira Kaufman, The Tampa Tribune 12 September 2005