The Pittsburgh Steelers figured they had their inside linebacker room set. Then Vince Williams suddenly informed the team that he would be retiring, on the eve of training camp. And yes, it took everybody off-guard, especially his teammates, even those on the other side of the ball, like quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.
“I spoke to Vince about a week ago, maybe two, and we were both excited to come back”, he told reporters on Thursday. “And then I saw it. Shocked. I loved playing with Vince. What a great teammate, what a hard worker. A guy that, literally every time the ball was in his area he was gonna pop someone pretty hard, and he had some big hits in that stadium. I’m gonna miss playing with him, both as a football player, and as a brother and teammate”.
Drafted in 2013, Williams earned his eight hard-fought years on the roster, and even climbed his way into a starting position over the course of time, biding his time behind first-round talents, as a sixth-round scrapper out of Florida State.
While he had to prove himself on the field time and again, it didn’t take much to win over his teammates, who always readily saw the kind of person and player that he is. As I’ve written before, he embodies so much of not just what it means to be a Steeler, but to be a football player. T.J. Watt saw it the same way, and on this day, he was just grateful for the opportunity to have known and played with him.
“I’m happy he did it how he did it, on his own terms”, he said of Williams’ retirement. “Just very grateful to have shared the field with a guy like that. Vince is the epitome of a Pittsburgh Steeler, an absolute dawg on the field, very vocal. Every time he was on the field, he brought confidence and instilled confidence in every single guy that he played with. Just very happy to have had the opportunity to share the field and locker room with him”.
After 121 games, and 69 starts—after more than 20 sacks, and nearly 500 tackles, even with an interception of Tom Brady as a cherry on top—Williams is calling it a career. At least as a player. Perhaps one day, maybe even not far from now, he’ll pick up the whistle and get into coaching.
As is always the case, however, the league moves on, and the Steelers have Devin Bush and Robert Spillane in the starting lineup, with Ulysees Gilbert III and rookie Buddy Johnson ready to step up into backup roles, and Marcus Allen, Miles Killebrew, Jarvis Miller, and Tegray Scales competing for scraps.