Take one wild guess why former 11-year NFL running back Ricky Williams was in Cambridge on Friday morning.
Yes, he was helping open a new marijuana dispensary, Commonwealth Alternative Care. Williams also introduced his brand of recreational marijuana, Highsman, which will be hitting select stores across Massachusetts.
Getting into the marijuana business was natural for Williams, now 45.
“The one thing I was always looking for as a football player was, how do I make myself significant beyond just being a football player?” Williams said. “And I had no idea it looked like this, but here we are.”
When Williams played (1999-2011), he was widely vilified by the NFL and its fans for his marijuana habit. He was suspended for nearly three seasons and became a national punchline as the pothead who threw away his career. No one seemed to listen much when he said that he smoked marijuana to deal with anxiety and mental health.
Now marijuana is legal in 37 states, the NFL has essentially “decriminalized” it, and the league is even funding studies into cannabis and pain management.
“I feel a sense of pride that my sacrifice wasn’t in vain,” Williams said. “And at the time I didn’t see it as a sacrifice. I was trying to figure things out.”
A Heisman Trophy winner. The guy Mike Ditka traded the Saints’ entire draft for in 1999. Massive success with the Dolphins. Multiple marijuana suspensions and a surprise retirement that cost him millions. Living in a tent in Australia, and getting mental health treatment at McLean Hospital in Belmont. Returning to the NFL for five more seasons and finishing with 10,009 rushing yards.
Williams spoke with the Globe about his fascinating journey and new venture (answers condensed for space and clarity):
Q. Peoples’ attitudes toward you seem to have changed a lot.
A. “It’s funny, I was up here [in Boston] a few weeks ago for a soiree where we really launched the brand. And I had to give a five-minute speech, and I said, ‘This was the first time I’ve been up here on stage and people weren’t booing me.’ Cannabis is something that people are becoming more open to. For better or for worse it’s been attached to my name, so I’m utilizing the opportunity to have a platform to spread the good word.”
Q. When did you get into the business?
A. “In 2016, I did a deal with Weedmaps and I consulted with them for a year. Then I launched my own brand, which was more in the CBD and health and wellness side. And then as I was visiting dispensaries and talking to people, everyone’s like, ‘Where’s the weed at?’ So then about a year ago I took my first step into the recreational market.”
Q. You really lean into your persona, instead of running from it.
A. “I’ve tried to run away from it, but every time I tripped back into it. When I first got into the industry, my former teammate Kyle Turley called me up and said, ‘There’s a big cannabis conference in Phoenix, why don’t you come out and tell your story?’ I said, ‘They have cannabis conferences?’ I said no, but I hang up the phone, everyone probably thinks I smoke anyway, so I called him back up and said I’ll do it, and that was what really got me launched.”
Q. Do you ever lament that you came too early for the NFL?
A. “That’s kind of the point. When I started consuming cannabis, I started realizing I didn’t care about having a long career as a football player. I cared about the platform and the people it allowed me to touch, and that’s what I’m leaning into now.”
Q. You’re still smoking?
A. “Of course. Daily. I’m still smoking this morning. It’s really part of my daily self-care routine. I feel like people refer to me as an advocate for cannabis, but I really feel more like I’m an advocate for introverts.”
Q. How do you look back on your career?
A. “That 10,000-yard rushing mark for me was a big milestone. To have the ups and downs, spend almost three years out of the league, and to still average almost 1,000 yards a season, I feel pretty good about it, considering I didn’t start the last half of my career.”
Q. What else are you doing now?
A. “I’m really into astrology. That’s my job, really. Yesterday was the craziest day. I had a big cannabis conference in Chicago, flew in here, landed at midnight, woke up and did a radio interview, then did four dispensary visits. I launched an astrology app, so I had a meeting with my product manager for an hour, and then after that I had a 90-minute reading. So it was like a 12-hour day of all the different things I’m into, all jammed into one day, and in the middle I got to call my wife and talk to my 1-year-old.”
Q. Do you watch football?
“I went to the Rams-Bills game.”
Q. So you go to games?
A. “I’ve become pretty good friends with Dwyane Wade in LA. He has a suite, so they pretty much invite me to almost every game, so I went to two or three last year.”
Q. The Super Bowl?
A. “I didn’t. I had a Super Bowl party, and I was so focused on that game, my wife was like, ‘Who are you?’ Because she’s never seen me get involved with watching football.”
Some coaches missed the call
The AFC West has so much talent that all four teams are competitors for the playoffs and the Super Bowl. But a couple of head coaches made some head-scratching decisions in the last week to put their teams in the loss column.
Broncos coach Nathaniel Hackett had one of the worst coaching debuts in recent memory with Monday’s 17-16 loss in Seattle. The Broncos were sloppy, with 12 penalties and two fumbles on the goal line. And Hackett butchered clock management at the end of the game — sitting on all three timeouts, letting the time dwindle, then opting for a 64-yard field goal attempt instead of a fourth-and-5 play with Russell Wilson, their $49 million quarterback.
Hackett’s decision was terrible enough, but his responses to it the next few days were even more baffling. Hackett claimed that Wilson tried to draw the Seahawks offside, which simply wasn’t true. He also said that the Broncos decided in pregame that the 46-yard line would be the limit for kicker Brandon McManus, without explaining why. The kick had about a 4.9 percent chance of being converted, compared with about 49 percent for fourth and 5.
“Looking back at it, if you missed the field goal, you’re always going to wish you would have gone for it,” Hackett said. “If you would have gone for it and not gotten it, you wish you would have given him a chance. So that’s the crazy thing about this game.”
Sorry, but it’s hard to think anyone would have said, “Why didn’t the Broncos try a 64-yard field goal?” Hackett’s explanation couldn’t have been too satisfying to new Broncos owner Rob Walton, who bought the team after Hackett was hired and has no emotional attachment to him.
Then on Thursday night, Chargers coach Brandon Staley looked like a shell of his former self in his team’s 27-24 loss to the Chiefs. Staley went 4 for 4 on fourth downs but was unusually timid on several opportunities — kicking a field goal on fourth and 2, and punting twice from midfield on fourth and 2.
“Just wanted to give our defense a chance to compete,” Staley said. “I felt like we were aggressive when we needed to be tonight, converted all four of our fourth downs. But felt like with who’s over there and the way our defense was playing, field position would be a big edge for us to pin them back there.”
That’s a far cry from last year, when Staley consistently went for it on fourth down, even deep in his territory. It’s fair to wonder if the Chargers’ owners talked to Staley this offseason and told him to rein it in on fourth down, which would be a shame because Staley’s decisions were mostly correct and the NFL is more fun when teams go for it on fourth down.
Not expecting much from Tagovailoa
When Sean Payton and Ryan Fitzpatrick talk about the Dolphins, I’m listening. Payton was in talks with the Dolphins this year to be their head coach, while Fitzpatrick played in Miami from 2019-20. They clearly know a lot about the team.
And neither Payton nor Fitzpatrick is too keen on Tua Tagovailoa, the Dolphins’ polarizing first-round pick from two years ago (over Justin Herbert).
Payton, appearing on “The Colin Cowherd Show,” said, “I think at some point we’ll see two [quarterbacks] in Miami. Teddy Bridgewater, I’ve had before, he’s an outstanding player.”
And Fitzpatrick, benched for Tagovailoa in 2020, doesn’t see special talent in his former teammate.
“If you’re a top-10 quarterback, you have to have at least one trait that is absolutely special, something you can do that nobody else can do,” Fitzpatrick told Dan Le Batard’s podcast. “With Tua, it’s not the arm strength. It’s not the ability to run. It’s not the ability to scramble or get out of trouble … The problem is, sometimes you have to create, and he’s not going to be able to scramble around, escape the pocket, and make the big plays down the field.”
Changes to be made?
Payton also told Cowherd that he counted eight teams where he expects multiple quarterbacks to play this year because of performance, not injury.
We already know the Dolphins are one. But it’s not so easy to guess the other seven.
The 49ers are obvious — there’s a reason they kept Jimmy Garoppolo behind Trey Lance. The Steelers also seem obvious, with rookie Kenny Pickett waiting behind Mitchell Trubisky. The Giants are probably another team, though Daniel Jones would have to be a disaster to get replaced by Tyrod Taylor. The Falcons are probably another,with journeyman Marcus Mariota staving off rookie Desmond Ridder for now.
Payton probably counts the Browns as another team, with Jacoby Brissett eventually giving way to Deshaun Watson. The Seahawks could be another, with Geno Smith beating out Drew Lock for now. Or maybe the Panthers, with Baker Mayfield starting ahead of Sam Darnold. Perhaps Payton also includes the Jets, who are going with Joe Flacco until Zach Wilson comes back.
Prime time for a deal
The NFL began a new frontier on Thursday night with the launch of its “Thursday Night Football” package on Amazon Prime, the league’s first exclusively streaming broadcast deal.
While many of us dinosaurs aren’t thrilled by the move, the NFL said it is important to follow viewing trends, particularly for younger fans.
NFL executive vice president Jeff Miller compared the Amazon package to the NFL’s deal with ESPN in 1987 for “Sunday Night Football.” At the time, ESPN only had 45 million subscribers.
“This is the 21st century version of that,” Miller said. “We’re hoping as we look back several years from now that our relationship will resemble the positive relationship we’ve had with ESPN.”
Guardian Caps did the job
Those Guardian Caps that players wore in training camp were cumbersome and looked goofy, but according to the NFL they worked really well. All offensive linemen, tight ends, defensive linemen, and linebackers were forced to wear the Guardian Caps — extra foam padding on top of their helmets — in practice through the second preseason game.
The NFL reports that just 11 players from those positions suffered concussions during practices, down from an average of 23 in previous years. And six of those 11 concussions were the result of a blow to the face mask, which isn’t protected by the Guardian Cap.
“The benefits of the Guardian Cap exceeded our expectations so far,” Miller said.
Boy, was there a lot of drama in Seattle the last several years. Seahawks coach Pete Carroll, speaking Tuesday on ESPN 710 after defeating the Broncos, acknowledged that beating Russell Wilson was sweet. “I wanted to win for all of the reasons that come along with this one — maybe as much as anything is representing the guys that have played before,” Carroll said. “It meant a lot to those guys. I was so thrilled to be able to hug those guys up and see them and look them in the eye.” When asked why it was so meaningful, Carroll answered, “You figure that out.” Wilson won a Super Bowl in 2013 and went to another in 2014, but the Seahawks seem thrilled to be done with him … You can’t improve your lie in golf, or in football, either. Bears punter Trenton Gill was flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct at the end of the first half last Sunday when he brought a towel onto the field to dry the spot for Cairo Santos’s 47-yard field goal in a monsoon … There are five games this Sunday that opened with double-digit favorites — Rams over Falcons, 49ers over Seahawks, Broncos over Texans, Packers over Bears, and Bills over Titans. It marks the first time since 2007 that there were five games with double-digit pointspreads within the first four weeks of the season … Note to defensive coordinators: Don’t do what the Cardinals did. They blitzed Patrick Mahomes on 54 percent of his dropbacks, the first time he faced more than 50 percent in his career. He finished 15 of 21 for 137 yards and four touchdowns against the blitz in the Chiefs’ 44-21 win … The Browns are 1-0 for the first time since 2004 … Sunday’s Patriots-Steelers game is the first time the teams are kicking off at 1 p.m. in their last 16 meetings. The last early kickoff was the 2002 AFC Championship game (12:40 p.m. kickoff), and the last 1 p.m. game in the regular season was in December 1998, a 23-9 Patriots win … The family of the girl who was put in a coma by former Chiefs assistant coach Britt Reid, son of Andy Reid, is furious that Reid brokered a deal that caps his prison sentence at four years. Reid pleaded guilty this past week to being legally drunk in February 2021 when his truck slammed into the back of a car at high speed. Ariel Young, then 5, was in a coma for two weeks and still is recovering. Reid is no longer coaching in Kansas City, but the Chiefs should be held responsible by the NFL, too, particularly because it’s possible that Reid was drinking at the team facility. The Chiefs agreed to an unspecified settlement with the family, but the NFL had no comment this past week on any potential punishment for the organization.
Ben Volin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.