Counting down the weekdays to Super Bowl LI on Feb. 5 in Houston, we look back at the 50 greatest Super Bowl competitors from the ASN family of schools as calculated one year ago. Today: 46.
Big plays from Tramon Williams pretty much bookended Super Bowl XLV, the first avoiding potential problems, the second all but clinching Green Bay’s 13th NFL championship.
Williams recovered his own muffed punt inside the Packers’ 20-yard line early in the game against the Pittsburgh Steelers, preventing a scoring opportunity. He knocked away Ben Roethlisberger’s fourth-down pass in the final minute as the Packers held on for a 31-25 victory.
Williams’ performance capped a remarkable season for him and the Packers. He had a top-shelf year at cornerback, in the regular season and playoffs, while the Packers overcame numerous injuries to win the Super Bowl as the No. 6 seed.
“It brought me to reality like, ‘OK, maybe I finally made it,’” Williams told the VMA website in 2014. “I mean, you made it, but how much did you really make it? You made it, but no one still knows you, no one still respects what you do, so how can you get that respect? I think that after all of that, you finally come to the realization that that was a unique year.”
Williams’ roots define humble. He grew up in Houma, La., and received zero recruiting interest, despite playing for a 13-1 high school team with future NFL player Brandon Jacobs. He attended Louisiana Tech as a regular student and walked on to the football team. He was starting by his junior year for the Bulldogs, who then played in the Western Athletic Conference and are now members of Conference USA.
Williams was an undrafted free agent, cut by the Houston Texans as a rookie in 2006. He was picked up by the Packers in mid-season and was a member of the practice squad. The next year he was playing for the Packers, and by 2008 he was starting at cornerback.
From 2008-14, he had 27 interceptions in the regular season and several more in postseason. He left the Packers after 2014 and signed a free-agent deal with Cleveland. The 2010 season was his finest, with six interceptions and 57 tackles.
The Packers won three road playoff games to reach Super Bowl XLV, with Williams playing a prominent role in each. He intercepted Michael Vick in the end zone with less than a minute remaining, clinching the Packers’ 21-16 wild-card win in Philadelphia.
The following week in Atlanta, Williams intercepted Matt Ryan passes on back-to-back possessions. The first was in the end zone, the second he turned into a 70-yard pick-six that gave the Packers a 28-14 halftime lead on the way to a 48-21 blowout. The Packers’ defense held tight in a 21-14 win at Chicago in the NFC Championship game.
In Super Bowl XLV, Williams had six tackles and one key pass defended. He helped shore up the secondary after All-Pro cornerback Charles Woodson suffered a broken collarbone in the second quarter.
Notably, he knocked down Roethlisberger’s pass attempt to Mike Wallace on fourth-and-5, which would have given the Steelers a first down. In the first quarter, his muffed punt recovery might have been crucial. Pittsburgh dug out of 14-0 and 21-3 holes, but had the Steelers recovered that muff and scored first, the game would have unfolded differently.
Williams’ ascent earned him two sizeable contracts, one with the Packers and a second with Cleveland. At 32, he is one of the league’s older cornerbacks.
“Truthfully, it’s funny, because I really don’t care if I’m remembered for the NFL or not,” Williams told the VMA website. “If a guy speaks of my name, I want them to say, ‘He’s a great guy, he’s a family man. I can depend on this guy.’ That’s the things I wanna hear out of people.
“NFL, obviously I want to be the best that I can while I’m here. The NFL is my priority right now, but for that, I’d rather someone say, ‘He’s a great guy. He’s a someone-I-can-depend-on guy. He’s a family man.’ And that’s what I prioritize.”
Dave Fairbank is a freelance writer based in Kill Devil Hills, N.C. Follow him on Twitter at @FairbankOBX.