Tyrone Williams -
Wide Receiver - 1996 - Western
of the Rings - Western alum Tyrone Williams - Ian VanDenHurk
He is the only man to have won a Vanier
Cup, a Grey Cup and a Super Bowl. He has won various awards and been
designated an allstar many times. His resumé is impressive and
comparable to few. But a mixture of bad luck and an enigmatic
decision to prematurely end a promising career has all but ensured
you have never heard of Tyrone Williams.
When a teenage Williams first visited Western on a recruiting trip —
all the way from Halifax — it did not take long for Mustangs
football coach Larry Haylor to realize he had something very special
on his hands. However, it was on a basketball court rather than a
football field where Williams made a great first impression on his
future head coach.
Though it was 18 years ago, Haylor can still vividly recall
Williams’s performance in an exhibition basketball game with the
Mustangs football team. Flying all over the court, the lanky
Williams unleashed his superior athleticism, dunking the basketball
over his soon-to-be teammates.
In 1988, Williams transferred his talents to the football field and
began his career as a wide receiver for the Western Mustangs.
Williams’ impact was immediately felt, and after four seasons he
owned the Mustangs’ career records for most receptions and most
receiving yards, records which stood for nearly two decades until
current Western star Andy Fantuz surpassed them.
Williams, four-time Ontario allstar and two-time Canadian all-star
in university, was an impact player who showed up when the Mustangs
needed him the most. In 1991 he helped lead Western to victory in
Canada’s university championship — the Vanier Cup. On the national
stage against his toughest competition, Williams was dominant,
racking up 157 yards and a score while hauling in the Ted Morris
Award as the game’s most outstanding player.
“Tyrone was our go-to guy,” says Haylor. “We threw at him when we
needed it. He was the guy we took the ball to when we had to make a
Williams was head and shoulders above his competition and the
professional scouts noticed, including those representing the
National Football League. Scouts flocked to London to get a glimpse
of the Canadian superstar, and in 1992 Williams was drafted in the
ninth round of the NFL draft by the Arizona Cardinals.
Williams headed south, but his NFL career did not start off
smoothly. Williams’s work visa did not arrive until two weeks into
Cardinals training camp, and after falling behind the competition in
Arizona, he was cut.
Fortunately for Williams, he was picked up by the Dallas Cowboys,
though the receiver never dressed for a game. Instead, he waited in
the wings on the practice squad. And while Williams watched, the
Cowboys rolled to a Super Bowl championship.
The following year, it looked as though Williams might get a better
chance to make an impact in the NFL, as he dressed for the last five
games of the season with the Cowboys. But a twist of fate robbed him
of the chance to dress in the single biggest game in professional
“I was supposed to [play in the Super Bowl],” says Williams, 34,
from his Mississauga home. “I had dressed near the end of the year,
but then Emmitt [Smith] got hurt.”
As a result, the Cowboys dressed an additional running back as
insurance for Smith, and Williams was relegated to the inactive list
as the Cowboys captured their second consecutive world championship.
When he speaks of it, there is no bitterness in his voice, with
Williams simply claiming, “That’s the way the ball bounces.”
Good luck would continue to elude Williams throughout the rest of
his brief NFL career. In 1994 he joined the Chicago Bears, but was
released during the team’s final cuts. Williams attempted to
resurrect his NFL career one last time to no avail.
“After I left Dallas, Chicago picked me up but I didn’t make it
there,” Williams recalls. “I sat out a year and went to Buffalo’s
training camp the next year and didn’t make it there, so I said ‘OK,
it’s time to go back to the CFL and play some.’”
Williams did just that, joining the Calgary Stampeders for the
second half of the 1995 CFL season as the team marched to the Grey
Cup. The wideout was virtually a non-factor in Calgary, and was
traded to the Toronto Argonauts in the off-season. It was a move
that Williams welcomed, and in Toronto his professional career
seemed like it would finally get on track.
In 1996, Williams helped the Doug Flutie-led Argonauts to a Grey Cup
championship, playing in every game of the season and catching 60
passes, racking up nearly 900 yards, and reaching the end zone eight
times. With the Grey Cup victory, he capped off his championship
triple crown and his career was beginning to reach the lofty
expectations he had earned at Western.
But then his story took a bizarre twist. In the middle of his
athletic prime, after persevering through years of frustrations,
bouncing back and forth between different clubs and leagues and
finally blossoming into the star he was expected to be, Williams did
the unthinkable. He quit.
The reasoning behind his sudden departure is cloudy and to this day
Williams doesn’t wish to discuss the details of his early exit,
though he notes many factors played a part in his retirement.
Haylor can only speculate as to why Williams decided to walk away
from the game when things were finally starting to gel for the
former Mustang, noting that Williams had suffered injury problems,
especially with concussions, which was an issue that Williams and
the medical staff had to consider.
Haylor also cites the adjustment it must have been for Williams when
he made the transition from the NFL to the CFL, a move that Haylor
suggests many would unfairly consider as a step backwards.
“I think probably it must be a little difficult to come from the
world champions and kind of come down [from the NFL] — though maybe
‘down’ is not a fair word — and not have the same kind of
experiences he had in the NFL,” Haylor says, though he points out
that he can only guess as to what Williams’s motivations were.
While outside observers might question Williams’s strangely sudden
retirement, he doesn’t seem to doubt his decision. His past seems
firmly entrenched behind him.
“It’s not difficult coming to terms with it at all. I decided to
step away from the game earlier than I needed to,” Williams says. “I
could have kept playing if I wanted.
“That first year away, once in awhile I second-guessed [retirement].
But I came to terms with it and there was no looking back.”
Though Williams may be willing to distance himself from the past,
there is no doubt he left his mark. To this day, Haylor contends
that Williams belongs in the upper echelon of great players who have
come under his tutelage — a great compliment from a man who has
coached hundreds of talented athletes.
Perhaps most importantly, Williams says that even if he could go
back in time, he wouldn’t change any of the decisions he made during
“It’s the facts of life and you deal with it,” Williams claims.
“[But] if I did it again, I’d probably do the same thing. Here we
are, and I don’t really have regrets.”