CANTON, Ohio — After 14 productive seasons in the NFL and another 10 years removed from the game he played so well, Aeneas Williams turned back the clock Friday.
From an early-morning photo shoot on the steps of the Pro Football Hall of Fame museum surrounded by 106 members of the shrine, to the Ray Nitschke Luncheon, to a solemn Gold Jacket Dinner that capped a busy day, Williams was a wide-eyed rookie again.
Williams, a New Orleans native and former Southern University star, harkened back to his days as a third-round draft pick by the then-Phoenix Cardinals by doing a lot of listening on the eve of his induction into the Hall of Fame.
“Being in that room with those guys,” a smiling Williams said during an afternoon news conference, “I’m a rookie all over again.”
At the same time, Williams wasn’t intimidated by some of the game’s greats, especially not when he was around some of his contemporaries that are being enshrined Saturday night alongside him — Michael Strahan, Walter Jones, Andre Reed and Derrick Brooks — in the seven-man Class of 2014. Oldtimers Ray Guy and Claude Humphrey round out the class.
When asked whether he was comfortable being around nearly a third of the 280 men who have been enshrined in the Hall’s 51-year history, the affable Williams smiled again.
“I’ve always enjoyed listening,” said Williams, who was elected in his fifth year of eligibility and third year as a finalist. “So it’s great to be able to listen; that’s what I’m doing mostly today, just listening to the history. There are very few words.”
Williams pointed to Charley Trippi, one of the oldest living Hall of Famers who attended Friday’s festivities, as an example.
“Charley Trippi is 92 years old, so we’re talking about World War II or something like that,” Williams said. “I mean, I don’t have anything to say. … I just want to listen (to him). All I have to do is enjoy this moment and give some acknowledgments on Saturday night, honor my parents and my wife and everyone that played a part in this. I’m just enjoying the moment.”
When asked what he took from his meeting with Trippi, who starred for the Chicago Cardinals from 1947-55 and was enshrined six months after Williams was born in 1968, Williams again said he just listened.
“That was in deference to the times they lived in and to know where we are today,” he said, stopping briefly to compose himself. “I listen to the pre-1993 guys and think about the tough decisions that have to be made for this game to continue to grow. I think about the players like that who played a role (in the growth) and had the character on and off the field to continue to allow this game to be popular. That why I have a chance to be where I am today.”
As he has for most of his career and certainly in the six months since the Hall of Fame voting was announced on the eve of Super Bowl XLVIII on Feb. 1, Williams weaved some stories of his own for reporters Friday.
“I’m enjoying talking to you,” he said to a reporter standing beside him. “I always tell the current players, ‘Don’t forget the spotlight is on us as players, but so many other people have to do their jobs well in order for this league to continue to grow.’ So I can honestly say I’m enjoying every part of it, and I’m honored that I’m even here to be asked questions.”
As far as the official induction ceremony, Williams seemed relieved it’s almost here after the hoopla of the past seven months.
That included an emotional visit to the Hall of Fame museum in the spring to pose for a bronze bust that will be unveiled Saturday night.
“It’s here,” he said. “I look at it like this: I’m a surfer on a huge wave, and I’ve gotten to the highest point and now I’m being dropped off at the beach. All the people are the sand and they’re looking up to see, ‘OK, how are you going to close this out?’ I’m just enjoying this wave.”
Follow Sheldon Mickles on Twitter @MicklesAdvocate.