Microkhan by Brendan I. Koerner

The Legend of Big Rich

April 22nd, 2010 · 11 Comments

Whenever the NFL Draft rolls around, we’re reminded of one of the most thought-provoking stories ever produced by the annual ritual: the 2002 saga of Richard “Big Rich” Williams. A star offensive tackle at tiny Gardner-Webb University, Williams was such a muscular force that he played himself onto the pro scouts’ radar. After a strong showing at a post-season all-star game, he was projected to be a top-100 pick, a slot that would have guaranteed him a signing bonus in the neighborhood of $500,000, not to mention a lucrative multi-year contract. The future appeared golden.

And then, seemingly out-of-nowhere, Big Rich turned down the dream. He pulled his name out of the draft, electing to finish his degree and become a teacher rather than earn millions on the gridiron. A criminally hard-to-find Miami Herald article from 2003 quotes Williams on his reasons for switching gears:

“This could be kinda cool,” I thought to myself, driving to the airport. “Half the guys in America would kill to be in my shoes. But my excitement evaporated as soon as the flight attendant pointed out my seat. I’m 6-3 and weigh 340 pounds, yet the Miami Dolphins flew me on coach! I squeezed into the middle seat between an old man and a big woman. By the time I arrived, my stomach was growling. But nobody offered lunch. I bought crackers from a vending machine.

All day, I sat in my undershorts while doctors poked and probed me, and scheduled me for X-rays. When I produced a urine sample, they made some guy stand and watch to be sure I wasn’t manipulating them. At dinner that night, my steak tasted good. But I didn’t like the Dolphins’ cocky attitude. All they talked about was their team and how great they were. I just sat there, nodding my head. The Dolphins noticed because afterward, they told [agent] Brian [Parker] that I was “too quiet.” As soon as I got home, we talked about it.

“It’s like Sin City down there,” I said. “Anything goes. I don’t fit in.” That night, I lay awake with my head spinning. You hear about professional athletes snorting cocaine, beating up their wives and getting convicted of DWI, and these guys are complaining about me! As long as my football skills measured up, why should I have to change my personality?

So what’s Big Rich been up to since making his fateful decision? See the clip above. It’s taken from a demonstration by Team Impact, a youth ministry that employs feats of strength to win souls.

Personally, we would have gone for the NFL cash before dedicating our lives to showing off our ability to withstand nail beds. But we’re obviously made of weaker stuff than Big Rich.


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11 Comments so far ↓

  • scottstev

    Long-term, he’s probably better off. One of the striking things I got from Stefan Fatsis’ was how much pros hate their jobs. I started to relate when I read about the regimented lives and arbitrary and unfair discipline of the Jimmy Johnson Era Cowboys. I don’t think I could stand assigned plane seats and roommates after age 28 or so.

  • Jordan

    Man, that is one BIG dude. Like “hope I never run into him in a dark alley” big.

    With that said, beds of nails usually aren’t what they’re cracked up to be. From what I understand, the pressure is sufficiently spread out that no one nail has enough force on it to break your skin or even hurt all that much. On the other hand, having another big guy and a log on top of you can’t be very comfortable, bed of nails or not.

  • Brendan I. Koerner

    @scottstev: That’s a good point. I don’t think most fans realize what a grind it is to be a professional athlete. And in the NFL especially, the post-career health issues are far from trifling. Big Rich obv. couldn’t have cared less about the non-monetary perks, but it took a lot of guts to pass up the big payday. Even if he’d only played for a couple of years, he could have been set for life. More power to him for sticking with his ideals.

    @Jordan: Your comment naturally led me to look this up:


  • Brendan I. Koerner

    @Jordan: Also, yes–Big Rich’s nickname is richly deserved. He’s a physical behemoth. But I think if you ran into him in a dark alley, he’d probably just hand you some devotional literature.

  • Jordan


    Much like the creepy dude who used to pass out Chick Tracts by my middle school back in the day, I think being handed devotional literature by a very large man would be frightening in its own way. A little coercive, you might say.

  • Brendan I. Koerner

    @Jordan: My favorite Chick Tract ever (complete with anti-Druid sentiment):


  • Jordan

    We’re throwing a party! And sacrificing a cat! Why? Why not!

    Yeah, that was seriously random. But then Jack Chick has never been known as a very stable guy.

    Alternative fun: Cthulhu Chick Tract


  • scottstev

    @Brendan @Jordan, I wouldn’t have been able to tell which was the parody track if one wasn’t on the official chick publications website. I don’t remember being this stump since last week’s “Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me.”

  • Jared

    Great to see people remembering Big Rich. I’m not sure, but I don’t think Big Rich has toured with Team Impact in a while. He’s has progressed to be arguably the strongest all around American strong man. There are a bunch of videos of him at this year’s Arnold Classic dominating some of the demonstrations amongst some pretty elite company. I hope he’ll end up competing for WSM (World’s Strongest Man).

  • Brendan I. Koerner

    @Jared: Many thanks for the update on Big Rich. I guess in the end, strength sports were his true passion, rather than football. I admire the fact that he followed his heart into a much less remunerative line of athletics, rather than fake his way through a few years of the NFL just to earn money. Not many people would have the guts to make that choice.

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