It took another grueling offseason of rehab for Williams to be on the field for the 2009 opener, but it was well worth it after his impressive comeback campaign
For Cadillac Williams, the best thing about being selected as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' Ed Block Courage Award winner in 2009 was that his teammates were the ones who had done the selecting.
Being singled out for the award means that Williams fellow Buccaneers recognized not only what he had done on the field this past season, but all the hard work behind the scenes that had made that season possible.
"It's just a privilege and a blessing to be honored with this award by your peers," he said. "I think that's one of the most recognizable and best groups you can get honored by, your peers. Just to be up here for the Ed Block Courage Awards has been an awesome experience and I'm just taking it all in."
"Up here" was Martin's West in Baltimore, where the 32nd Annual Ed Block Courage Awards were due to be held on Tuesday evening. Williams is one of 32 players from around the NFL - one for each team, and always chosen by their teammates - who will be honored during the banquet for their commitment to the principles of sportsmanship and courage. Winners are also recognized for their work in the community, as the award was named after Ed Block, the longtime head athletic trainer of the Baltimore Colts who was a pioneer in his profession and a respected humanitarian.
Among Williams' fellow 2009 Courage Award winners are New England quarterback Tom Brady, Denver safety Brian Dawkins, Baltimore safety Dawan Landry and Tennessee center Kevin Mawae. Past winners of the Ed Block honor, considered one of the most prestigious annual awards given to NFL players, include Peyton Manning, Joe Montana, Ed Reed, Jerry Rice, Rod Woodson and Dan Marino.
Williams needed a deep reservoir of courage and dedication simply to be on the field in 2009. The severe knee injury he suffered in October of 2007 was considered career-threatening by some, but 14 grueling months of rehab had him back on the field late in 2008. Williams appeared in the final six games of that campaign and was in the middle of an impressive performance in the season finale against Oakland when, horribly, he was struck by another serious knee injury.
A second round of surgery and rehabilitation followed, but Williams surprised the Buccaneers' staff by being ready for the very first practice of training camp. The team originally intended to bring Williams along cautiously in 2009, but he never slowed down and by the end of the year he had registered the first complete 16-game season of his career.
Williams was a force again, too, leading the Bucs with 823 yards on 211 carries and also scoring a team-high seven total touchdowns. He even carved out a bigger role than ever in the passing game, setting career highs in receiving yards (217), yards per reception (7.8) and touchdown catches (three).
In the end, Williams finished second to Brady in the voting for the AP Comeback Player of the Year Award in 2009. As such, he was an easy choice for the Courage Award by his teammates, who voted by secret ballot late in the year.
"It means a lot because I spent a lot of hours behind closed doors just working and working to try to get back on the field," said Williams. "To see a little recognition like this, to come up here and be recognized for all the tough days I have had to overcome, it's been icing on the cake."
The inaugural Courage Award was presented in 1978 to Baltimore Colts' DE Joe Ehrmann. Following the Colts departure from Baltimore in 1984, the scope of the Award expanded to include one player from every team in the NFL. The Ed Block Courage Award Foundation became affiliated with NFL Charities in 1987 and has since expanded its scope, recognition, and charitable efforts to a highly visible national level, focusing on abused children. The creation of a national network through dedication of Courage Houses in NFL cities is well under way. The Foundation has formulated a Courage House National Support Network for Kids through the dedication of Courage Houses in 14 NFL cities.
Recognizing current NFL players for their courage and commitment remains a vital part of what the Ed Block Courage Award Foundation does, and it expands its influence through association with these community-minded young men. Paul Mittermeier, the Foundation's director of communications, believes that Williams exemplifies that sort of player.
"Like anything else, you look for not just what happens on the field, but for what happens off the field, and Carnell has embodied the best of both," said Mittermeier.
For more information about the Ed Block Courage Award Foundation and Tuesday's banquet, visit www.edblock.org.