(On Dec. 8-9, the Buccaneers will assemble most of the players and coaches from their 2002 Super Bowl Championship Team for a 10-year reunion. The '02 Bucs will gather at team headquarters on Saturday, Dec. 8, for a private event, then take the field to be recognized during halftime of the current team's game against the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday, Dec. 9. Buccaneers.com is celebrating this much-anticipated reunion with a 10-day countdown of articles relating to the 2002 team, including a series of "Where Are They Now?" features. First up is Karl Williams, who played receiver and kick returner for eight years as a Buccaneer from 1996-2003.)
Karl Williams was a member of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers 2002 Super Bowl team, and like most any NFL player who has won a ring, that ranks as the pinnacle of his career. Williams also left his mark in the Buccaneers' record book over his eight seasons in Tampa, setting standards that still hold for punt return yards (2,279) and, most impressively, punt return touchdowns (5).
However, that day in January of 2003 when his team won the Lombardi Trophy isn't necessarily his fondest memory of the NFL, and neither are the records his proudest achievements. The moment that still means the most to him came on a day late in August of 1996, and he remembers it primarily for a phone call that never came.
"Every player that makes it in the NFL, their main goal is to win a Super Bowl, so obviously winning a Super Bowl is one of them," said Williams, who finished his playing career with one year in Arizona in 2004. "But I came in as a rookie, a free agent, no one knew me, the odds were all against me making the team. I remember those last phone calls when they were making the final cuts my rookie year. It was me and Jeff Gooch, and we were sitting around waiting for that phone call. We called it the Grim Reaper. Everyone was packing up and getting ready to go home and we were still waiting. Then they came around and said, 'Did you get the call? No? Then you're good.' I remember Jeff and I just falling back and saying, 'Yeah!'"
Indeed, both Williams, a receiver out of Texas A&M-Kingsville and Gooch, a linebacker out of Austin Peay, made the team as undrafted rookie free agents in Tony Dungy's first year at the helm. Both would end up playing eight seasons with the Buccaneers, though Gooch's tenure was broken up by two years in Detroit so he would actually miss the Super Bowl season. Both were underrated role players who made the most out of their abilities, and both also had names that Buccaneer fans grew fond of. Gooch was a favorite for crowds that liked to draw out his last name when it was announced – "Gooooooooooch!" – while Williams was simply known as, "The Truth."
Williams is now back in his hometown in the suburbs of Dallas, "enjoying life," as he puts it and considering the start of a career in coaching. But one thing from his days as a Buccaneer has definitely stuck with him. He's still The Truth.
"I think that's a name that's never going to leave," said Williams with a hearty laugh. "Even my high school friends who used to call me 'Karl' now call me 'Truth.' Even my mom calls me 'Truth,' so I think that's a name that's going to be there for life. That's not a bad thing, though, not a bad thing at all."
Truth be told, there is a lot from his NFL days that are still with Williams beyond an enjoyable nickname. He is financially set from his playing career, which has allowed him time to get involved in local high schools and Pop Warner organizations, counseling kids and emerging athletes. His own story, coming from humble roots and developing into an NFL champion, are there for him to draw from when he's providing encouragement to young players.
"When I tell that story to a lot of people, they say it's a Cinderella Story," he said, laughing again. "I use my experience when I'm talking to kids here in Texas and all over. I tell them that you don't have to go to a big-name school to make it. My dream was to make it in the NFL, and I put it in my mind that I was going to be the only one who could stop myself from doing it. Once they find out who I am, they Google me and their eyes get big. I just talk to them about living out their dreams, whether it's football or whatever the case may be."
Williams, who has a fiancée and three step-daughters from a previous marriage, is using some of his time to run a small gym, but that urge to coach has been tugging at him. That, too, is a leftover from his NFL days. He has drawn offers from a couple small colleges and is carefully considering the best way to pursue this new passion.
"I'm excited about that, to be back on the sidelines trying to help some young players establish their skills for the next level," he said, indicating that he would eventually like to make it to that next level as well. " I know coaching is really time-consuming, so I'm just trying to make sure I'm ready and able to put in the time I need to put in to be a successful coach. I know it's a giant step from being a player to being a coach, so I've been taking small steps and hopefully I'll someday make it back onto the sidelines in the NFL."
He'll actually make it back onto NFL turf in just over a week. Williams and 50 of his former teammates and coaches will be recognized at halftime of the Buccaneers' Dec. 9 game at Raymond James Stadium against the Philadelphia Eagles, the team Tampa Bay beat to make it to Super Bowl XXXVII. There will be plenty of time during that weekend for Williams and his Buccaneer buddies to catch up, and he's looking forward to that opportunity.
"It's going to be great," he said. "I haven't seen or talked to these guys in a while. Just the camaraderie, being around these guys…I'm sure the old days are going to come up. One thing we won't have to worry about is being out there at practice. We'll be able to enjoy it.
"Being with the Bucs, you've got teammates and friends for life. Those were the days. Every time I talk to someone that I was in camp with – whether they were there as long as I was or just went through training camp or a couple years – every time I talk to one of those guys that's all we talk about, the good old days."