By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
Since October 12, Williams has received calls only from Hitzges, McDowell and Keith, and an e-mail from Miller. From the guy who got his Hardline blessing and who has since slid into Williams' No. 2 role on the show? Not a word.
"I thought me and Corby were beyond friends," Williams says. "Even on my best day I think about him turning on me. Nothing hurts worse than him not at least taking one minute to call. We'll never be friends."
Davidson declined to be interviewed for this story.
There's also no ignoring the brutality of the Williams-Rhyner break-up. The former partners last talked shortly after the November 21 summit, when Williams called via olive branch.
"I wasn't bitter," Rhyner says. "I just told him how I felt, and he told me how he felt. That was it."
Stubbornly, Williams hopes to one day resume their relationship, if not their friendship.
"If he calls me at 3 a.m. broken down in Waco, I'll go without question," he says. "He can't do anything to change how I feel about him...But I take full responsibility. I ruined our friendship."
Says Rhyner, "I'm still really pissed about all this. I hope there comes a day when I can recall our time together more fondly and think about him in friendlier terms. But not yet. Not after how it all went down."
Despite the ugly divorce, The Hardline appears softer but remains popular. The show conducted tryouts (Full disclosure: I twice sat in Williams' vacated chair), but those ultimately fizzled and, in fact, prompted increased roles for Davidson and Balis.
With the latest boffo ratings and Rhyner's seemingly renewed enthusiasm, it appears the show's DNA won't be altered anymore—at least no in the immediate future. In the winter '08 ratings book, The Hardline clobbered its lone sports-talk competition, ESPN Radio, by an almost 2-to-1 margin.
Without Williams, The Ticket's Super Bowl trip wasn't as high-jinksy and the annual compound week not as unpredictable, and the program's unique candor seems forever tainted. But to the majority of its fans, the beer-guzzling, boob-gawking, ball-bouncing boys' club is still the best thing on radio.
"I'm not sure what shape we'll ultimately wind up in, but I'll be here," says Rhyner, 57. "Just because The Hardline isn't the same doesn't mean it isn't good. It's evolving, and I'm excited about the direction we're headed. I've found my radio voice again."
Says Boggs, "They can play all the drops they want, but it's not Greggo. It's not The Hardline."
As the sun goes down on his lake house and his Memorial Day party heats up, Williams encourages his guests to eat, drink, be merry and drink some more. Seems like cruel and unusual punishment for an addict to tease himself with the lure of alcohol on his own porch. But with his friends slamming tequila shots, gulping Jägermeister snow cones and his girlfriend cutting up more limes for more Coronas, he surveys the scene and accepts his fate.
"I can't drink, because I'm an addict. Not one beer," Williams says. "Look, I've been clean since October. It's 9 o'clock on May 24. I can just about say I've whipped this day's ass. But tomorrow, if I don't watch it, I could go tumbling right down again."
Thanks to Rosenbaum, he's back on his medication, seems relatively healthy, is considering marriage and is working on getting closer to his 26-year-old son, Derek. Though he still has a legion of fans—some who infiltrate Ticket events with "Where's Greggo?" signs—Williams knows his image has been plundered. He was the ultimate hypocrite, gallivanting down the same decadent path he sanctimoniously lambasted athletes such as Michael Irvin, Roy Tarpley and Steve Howe for taking.
At 48, he could retire. Williams has been smart with his money, and the profits from selling a condo or two could keep him afloat for years. But he desperately wants to return to radio. "For my credibility and sanity, I've got to get back on the air."
He says he could start tomorrow working afternoons in Phoenix or mornings in Pittsburgh, but he's not about to leave home. Since March he's been in negotiations with ESPN Radio about a weeknight 7-10 p.m. show.
Though ESPN program director Tom Lee will only speak about hiring Williams in vague terms—"He's definitely on our radar"—Williams talks about the job in terms of when, not if. He says he's already undergone an extensive background check, agreed in principle to a one-year contract without benefits and at about a seventh of his Ticket salary, and expects to debut this month during Cowboys' training camp alongside ESPN regular RJ Choppy. He already has theme music, has Rosenbaum working on a Web site and even recently bought a fuel-efficient Ford Focus for the nightly commute to Arlington.
"I'm humbled, but I know I can still do winning radio," Williams says. "I've got a lot left in me, and I've got a lot to prove to myself and everyone else."
Williams knows he will likely never win back all of his fans or half his friends. But in a sports town that cheers Josh Hamilton and forgives Pacman Jones, his reputation just might be salvageable.