CANTON, Ohio — In the beginning, Aeneas Williams knew how he wanted a football career that almost didn’t start to end.
Still, it’s hard to believe he could have imagined it ending where it did Saturday night — with his induction to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
But the charismatic Williams had a plan long before he donned a uniform at Southern University as a walk-on in 1988, three years before he set out on a remarkable 14-year career that began with the Phoenix Cardinals and ended with the St. Louis Rams.
“Begin with the end in mind and die empty. … Begin with the end in mind and die empty,” Williams emphasized early and often during his acceptance speech. “It all starts at home, and it couldn’t begin without the foundation. It started with Lawrence and Lillian Williams of New Orleans, Louisiana.”
That solid foundation was another major theme of Williams’ 25-minute speech, which officially concluded a career that saw him earn first-team All-Pro honors three times and play in eight Pro Bowls while intercepting 55 passes.
Those numbers validated his credentials for inclusion in the Hall of Fame, an honor that has been bestowed on only 24 defensive backs in more than 90 years of pro football.
That ending to his career, Williams said recently, hit home when he addressed the league’s newest players at the NFL Rookie Symposium in June.
He said fellow Hall of Famers Warren Sapp and Cris Carter, who were inducted last year, had a different message for the rookies — saying they would do anything to be in their place and have the ability to put the uniform on again.
“I told them that I understood what they were saying, and I could respect that, but I told the rookies I didn’t want to be in their shoes,” he said. “It wasn’t because I didn’t love the game; it was because I did what I was supposed to do.
“I gave it everything I had for 14 seasons, so I didn’t have any regrets,” he added. “I left it all on the field and I reached my potential. I told them it was their turn … my cement was dry, and I can live with what I have written.”
After 14 seasons, at the age of 36, Williams decided he had played his final down.
“I had something left in the tank, but I knew it was over and it was time to turn the page,” he said. “I knew that time and that season in my life was over.
“My whole NFL career, from the beginning, was played with the end in mind,” Williams said. “I practiced every day as if it were a game. I knew how I wanted it to end, and I wrote it down.”
Saturday night, it ended in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Follow Sheldon Mickles on Twitter @MicklesAdvocate.