Finally, a postseason for Rams' Williams

Saturday, January 19, 2002

ST. LOUIS -- Though Aeneas Williams is heading to his seventh Pro Bowl, his career has been short on team glory.

Until now.

The St. Louis Rams' cornerback is in the playoffs for only the second time and the first with a team that won its division. He's never before entered the postseason with such possibilities.

"We would ask him, 'Now, how far did you go with the Cardinals?' to remind him that this is all new to him," fellow cornerback Dexter McCleon said. "He is excited. This is what he came here for."

Williams was named to the NFL team of the 1990s along with Deion Sanders, Darrell Green and Rod Woodson. He led, or shared the lead, in interceptions in the NFC among cornerbacks three times in his 10 seasons there.

But his only previous playoff experience came on a 9-7 team in 1998. The Cardinals won a wild-card game over the Cowboys and then lost by 20 at Minnesota.

Now, he's on a team shooting for its second Super Bowl win in three years. The Rams, who led the NFL with a 14-2 record, are a double-digit favorite to beat the Green Bay Packers on Sunday, which would put them in the NFC championship game.

"With this group of guys, I've just kind of been in question and answer mode, just kind of asking the guys about the experience," Williams said. "I'm very excited."

Teammates are excited for him.

"It's something that he has been waiting for since he walked through that door for the first mini-camp," McCleon said. "He can't wait, we all can't wait. We want to all get there for him."

The Rams got Williams cheap, paying only second- and fourth-round draft picks. In return, they got an instant leader with a nose for big plays.

This year he made a career-best 100 tackles with four interceptions, three fumble recoveries and one forced fumble. He returned two of the picks for touchdowns.

He's fourth on the active list with 50 interceptions, eight of them for scores.

"I've enjoyed the season," Williams said. "I think there's so many things I've gotten better at."

Defensive coordinator Lovie Smith loves Williams' intensity, and not just on game day.

"In practice he's intercepting balls and scoring. He's running on and off the field and he's always taking notes," Smith said. "I can go on and on about the things he's done. He really acts like a rookie trying to make the team."

Teammates have noticed, voting him the team's annual Spirit of the Game winner.

"The way he practices and prepares for each game has been the same from Day 1 up to now," McCleon said. "And it is not going to change. That is just the way he approaches this game."

Now he gets to take on Brett Favre. Williams is looking forward to the challenge posed by a fearless quarterback he describes as a bit awkward in style.

"He has the touch but he also has the ability to put it in some tight situations," Williams said. "He's so confident that he's not afraid to attempt to get balls in situations maybe where someone else wouldn't try to do it, but he's had so much success."

Williams made the Pro Bowl six straight years from 1994-1999. He credits the Rams' No. 3-ranked defense for helping him get back to that level. Players like the simplicity.

"Coach Lovie's job was to get us ready to play and not have a bunch of guys running around wondering what they were supposed to do," Williams said. "It allows the guys to better use their talents and their speed as much as possible without having to think a lot."

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