20-Year Phiniversary: Ricky Williams Shines in Dolphins Debut

AP Photo

As with most franchises, offseason acquisitions have been a mixed bag for the Miami Dolphins over the years. Successes include Irving Fryar and Brent Grimes while Eric Green and Jack Del Rio would constitute failures.

The acquisition of running back Ricky Williams from the New Orleans Saints was a glowing success. On this day 20 years ago, Williams shined in his Miami debut as the Dolphins knocked off the Detroit Lions, 49-21.

Setting the Stages

Coming off back-to-back 11-5 seasons and playoff appearances, the Miami Dolphins arrived at Pro Player Stadium for their season opener on Sept. 8, 2002. Miami had been a ball control team over the previous two seasons with Lamar Smith leading the ground attack. The Dolphins were willing to part with Smith to make way for Williams.

The Detroit Lions had finished just 2-14 in 2001 under first-year head coach Marty Mornhinweg. Tasked with changing the trajectory of the franchise was quarterback and No. 3 overall pick in the 2002 NFL Draft, Joey Harrington.

Williams and Dolphins Dominate

From the opening kickoff, Miami felt little resistance from Detroit. Stealing the show was Williams.

Scoring the first touchdown of each half, Williams led a Miami ground attack that finished with 182 yards. Williams carried the ball 20 times, accounting for 111 yards.

Both of Williams’ touchdowns were short ones, but he had a long run of 27 yards and also opened up the door for the Miami passing game. Jay Fiedler had an efficient day, throwing for 207 yards and touchdowns to Randy McMichael, Chris Chambers and Robert Edwards. The Dolphins did not commit a turnover.

Defensively, Miami held the Lions to 257 yards and forced a pair of turnovers. Brock Marion grabbed an interception to go with a team-high seven tackles. Rob Burnett forced a fumble.

Mike McMahon struggled at quarterback for Detroit but accounted for two total touchdowns. In addition to catching a touchdown, Edwards rushed for a score for the Dolphins as well. Trent Gamble also recovered a muffed punt in the end zone for a Miami touchdown.

Box Score:
Pro Football Reference


In Hindsight

As many expected, Detroit finished just 3-13 in 2002. Miami, however, took a step back.

After dropping the season finale to the New England Patriots, the Dolphins finished 9-7 and missed the playoffs for the first time since 1996.

As for Williams, he enjoyed the greatest season ever for a Dolphins rusher. Williams finished with a team record and league-leading 1,853 yards rushing and 16 rushing touchdowns.

Williams made his only Pro Bowl in 2002 and was actually named the game’s MVP. After solid seasons in 2002 and 2003, Williams briefly retired in 2004 before returning in 2005. In 2006, Williams was suspended for violating the NFL’s substance abuse policy. In 2009, Williams returned close to form, going for 1,121 yards on the ground and setting the NFL record for longest stretch in between 1,000-yard rushing seasons.

Over seven total seasons with the Dolphins, Williams rushed for 6,436 yards and 48 touchdowns. Both rank second in team history behind Larry Csonka. Williams’ Miami debut came on this day two decades ago.

Mike Ferguson is the managing editor for Fifth Quarter. Be sure to follow Mike on Twitter at @MikeWFerguson. Follow all of Mike’s work by liking his Facebook page.