It's been 15 years since Ross Williams heard the athlete he claims is his son was coming back to Texas. Since then, the 68-year-old retiree in Lancaster has tracked Ricky Williams from Miami to California and back, trying to convince the 1998 Heisman Trophy winner that he is his father.
In 1977, he claims, he and Ricky's mother, Sandy Williams, were seeing each other -- had been, on and off, for two years -- while they were both managers at the Red Velvet Club, a South Dallas spot at the Lamar Street end of Forest Avenue (four years before it became Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard). Ross says Sandy told him she was pregnant with twins, and even showed him the sonogram after one trip to Parkland Hospital, but two weeks before Ricky and his twin sister Cassie were born, she left town. "I tell you what -- it tore me apart," Williams says. "I never knew what she was going through to make her bitter."
"His mother knows that I'm the father of those kids, but she just doesn't want them to know," Williams says. All he heard at the time was her family took her back to California. He says he discovered later that she'd been married the whole time they were together here.
Harvey Greene, senior vice president of media relations with the Miami Dolphins got back to us with Ricky's comment: "There's no truth to it."
Greene declined to say whether the team was aware of the cross-country hunt Ross Williams and his family have been on to meet Ricky, and he wouldn't pass along the question to Stu Weinstein, head of the team's security, with whom Ross Williams says he's had a few good heart-to-heart chats over the years.
With nothing but denials from their side -- we couldn't reach Sandy Williams, but Ross says she's long denied having even lived in Dallas before -- the question becomes why this family has made such a long-running cause out of a prodigal son who's done nothing but deny he has any ties to them or to Dallas.
Update Friday at 6:34: Sandy Williams wrote today to let us know that Cassie submitted to a DNA test "a few years ago," that proved Ross Williams wasn't her father. For his part, Ross Williams maintains the test was done on a sample from Cassie's sister instead. We'll have a more detailed follow-up next week.
After years of unanswered birthday cards, dead-end road trips to stadiums and, he says, threats from Sandy, Ross Williams put his grievance down in a lawsuit last week, filed pro se in the Northern District Court of Texas. The former airline worker, music promoter and guitarist is asking for $2.5 million in unspecified damages from Ricky and Sandy Williams.
Really though, he says, it's not about the money. "I've been dragging this for years, and I'm tired of it," Williams says. "My family does not want me to let it go." What he wants is a DNA test: "Eyeball to eyeball, cheek to cheek. I wouldn't have it done any other way."
I sat down with him last week at a corner table at a Luby's south of Dallas on I-35, along with his two daughters, Patricia, a special education teacher, and Vernice, a nurse.
"We just want a relationship with him as a brother," Patricia says at one point. Ron's older brother Ray sits down with us and chimes in. "He's had some problems over the years," Ray says. "I still think family is where you get your support."
Patricia says she and Vernice even talked with Sandy in an autograph line outside Texas Stadium back in 2003, and that they had a nice time catching up. Sandy still remembered them, she says. "She's always nice to us," Patricia says, "but for some reason, my dad..."
Williams wasn't there in the autograph line talking to Sandy -- he'd been warned by league security during the game not to get too close. In a worn manila file folder, he's got a photocopy of the man's business card.
The rest of the stack is a collection of printed-off web pages -- a Ricky Williams bio that, meaningfully, includes the line, "Father: Unknown?" -- news clippings about Williams's own high school track and football accolades and phone records of calls from a blocked number Williams says was Sandy, calling to talk him to give up the hunt.
Williams says he'd been in touch with Sandy's friends over the years, and was even the one who suggested naming the twins Ricky and Cassie. (Though his lawsuit alleges, "She never informed me she was pregnant," today Williams says that isn't correct.) He says he named one after his brother Ricky, a college administrator in New Mexico at the time, and the other Cassandra, after Sandy herself.
He knew only that she'd left for somewhere in California, he says, and after he wrote to Sacramento to track down their birth records years later, he'd learned their names had been changed -- he says, to throw him off the track. At one point when Ricky was 13, he says Sandy sent a message through friends that Ricky was going through a hard time, and he offered to raise him here in Dallas. He says he never heard back.
Williams says he's tried to reconnect with Cassie as well, and that over the years she's even called and spoken to his daughters and to his wife. "Last time I found out, she was in Oakland," he says.
But for his football star son, Williams says he's made multiple trips to connect in person -- tracking his could-be son's career as he finished high school in San Diego, ran for an all-time college rushing record at Texas, and flamed out in a series of injuries and failed drug tests in the pros.
He made multiple trips with his daughters to try to meet Ricky in Austin -- he says Sandy called the police on him during one trip -- and in 2003, they all drove out to Miami. He says he spoke players and coaches and eventually, got a message from Ricky himself, passed along by Weinstein, the Dolphins' head of security. "Ricky sent word to get the hell out," Williams says.
"A few years after that, I went out to Baton Rouge, Louisiana -- when they had that real bad tornado -- I drove down and I got the chance to talk to him 'cause I had both my daughters with me," Williams says. "He told me, 'You know what? She never told me.' I said, 'Well, I am your father.'"
"I have tried like hell to get to him, to try to talk to him... But hey, you're not respecting me at all over here," Williams says. "It really hurts my heart after driving all those miles, because I seen where he was headed if he didn't get away from what he was doing.
"If I had to do any kind of managing with him, I would've shown him right then, look man, you need to be putting some money aside, buying some Pizza Huts or some chicken huts or some apartments, to have something to fall back on," Williams says.
Instead, Ricky Williams, one of the most candid, introspective players in the league, a yoga instructor, Ayurveda enthusiast educated in acupuncture and massage, has spun one of the most promising careers ever into a low-ball contract with the Saints -- "How in the hell did he get mixed up with Master P?" Williams asks -- and a disappearing act before the 2004 season, off to a tent in Australia. "At the time, Ricky had the whole world in his hands, and he just gave it up."
That candidness, Williams says, is one of the reasons he's so committed to setting the record straight about where Ricky comes from. In Run, Ricky, Run -- a documentary produced for ESPN's 30 For 30 series -- the player confides that he'd been sexually abused by his father, Errick Williams Sr., when he was 6 years old, just before his parents split up. "What Ricky needs -- he needs somebody to help steer him in the right direction," Williams says. "He needs to know on this side of the family what great people he has."
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After years of telling his friends and family about his famous and talented son, NFL running back Ricky Williams, Ross Williams says the allegations reflect poorly on him. His brother Ray says he hears it all the time now: "'Man, I didn't know your brother was like that.'"
If it were all about making a quick score, cashing in on bigtime NFL fame, you'd have to admit Ricky Williams circa 2010 is an odd choice. Time and again, the Williamses insist it's about reconnecting him with their proud family tradition. "I don't have as much as you," Williams says he'd tell Ricky. "But hey, whatever I got, you're welcome to it. You're part of the family."
In the early '60s, Ross Williams says he and his brother Ray were both standout athletes at the Blackshear High in Odessa, a school that dissolved when the district was integrated in 1966. He's got the newspaper clippings to prove it. "It's like the Manning brothers. That's where he got the athletic ability," Williams says. With a family of ministers, athletes and academics -- Cherokee ancestry, too -- he wants Ricky Williams to know what a strong lineage he's got backing him up. "He needs to find out what kind of a man this is, trying to get to know him."
"He was running around trying to find his identity," Williams says. "Well, just take a look in the mirror and look at yourself."