BALTIMORE — Hauling logs with his father at sunrise while growing up in East Texas, Bobbie Williams built his arms into formidable weapons.
Now, the Ravens' veteran offensive guard plans on using them to inflict punishment on his old football team Monday night against the Cincinnati Bengals at M&T Bank Stadium.
Although Williams says he doesn't hold a grudge against the Bengals for not retaining him as a free agent after a season in which he broke his right ankle, he acknowledged the game has extra meaning.
“I'd be telling you a story if I said it didn't,” Williams said with a smile. “I'm truly looking forward to it. It's going to be fun; it's going to be electric.
”Although those are still friends over there, unfortunately they're going to be enemies this game. It will be no love lost when I step on that field. I got to treat them as if I don't know them. After the game, I'll say a prayer with them.“
Signed to a two-year, $2.9 million contract in June that included an $800,000 signing bonus, Williams was installed as the Ravens' starting left offensive guard after the Bengals deemed him expendable.
Respected for his contributions during his eight years in Cincinnati, Williams was allowed to work out in the Bengals' weight room this offseason even though the Bengals had moved on and drafted Wisconsin guard Kevin Zeitler in the first round.
”We saw an opportunity to get younger, but I'm glad to see Bobbie with another team and it's a great opportunity,“ Bengals coach Marvin Lewis said. ”He has been a tremendous player and helped us build our football team in some tough situations. He became the fiber of our team.
“He's a tough guy and won't back down from anything. For an offensive linemen, he is the most revered of any since I've been here. Wherever I go in the community, the public still talks about Bobbie and the great things he did. He is missed.”
Williams is among the older NFL linemen as he awaits his 36th birthday Sept. 25. He's coming off a rocky season in which he was suspended the first four games for violating NFL policy on the use of performance-enhancing drugs and then suffered a major ankle injury against the Houston Texans.
“It was a good run there,” Williams said. “I played my contract out, so it's not like they cut me. Maybe things could have worked out, but I can't say anything bad about the Bengals.”
Few around the NFL would be critical of Williams. The 6-foot-4, 345-pounder owns a strong reputation for his mauling style of blocking. In the Ravens locker room, he is already making an impact by imparting advice to younger players.
“He's a really wise guy,” said rookie lineman Kelechi Osemele, who's pushing Williams for playing time. “He has all the experience in the world. Most things he's been teaching me aren't physical. It's just how to be mentally prepared to go to battle.
”He talks about learning every day, keeping that flame alive. Once you stop learning, you really stop living. One thing he says is: ‘We're all born dying.'“
Raised in the Baptist church, Williams' life is defined by his spirituality. Williams has a Bible passage tattooed on his right arm: ”Yea though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I shall fear no evil.“
”I've been through troubling times, but thankfully God kept me here for a reason,“ Williams said. ”It ain't me. I'm just a vessel. God gave me natural strength and an ability to block people. It's a blessing.“
In Jefferson, Williams was named East Texas Lineman of the Year and was an all-district basketball player and track standout.
”He was a man among boys,“ said his mother, Maxine Williams. ”He has natural talent. I always saw great things in him.“
Born at 8 pounds, 15 ounces, Williams refused to eat baby food. His mother fed him Cream of Wheat as an infant.
”He was always a big boy, biggest in the crowd and always had a big appetite,“ Maxine Williams said. ”We're big-boned people. Bobbie's a real gentle giant, but out on that field, look out.“
Maxine Williams worked as a nurse's aide while his father hauled pulpwood for a logging company, setting an example for the youngest of their five children.
”It was back-breaking work hauling those logs, but it was fun,“ Williams said. ”I didn't think about the dangers. We just put in a hard day's work.“
As a freshman at Arkansas, Williams earned the nickname ”Boss man“ because of the way he roughed up older football players.
It stuck, as Williams had his left forearm decorated with his nickname tattooed in large letters.
”I won't be intimidated,“ Williams said. ”One thing I learned a long time ago is be humble, and every man must be respected as a man. Some of the older players were like, ‘You're the boss.'
“On the field, the intensity kicks in. You flip the switch. I don't hate my opponent, but I try to dominate him. After the game, you say a prayer for him.”
With the exception of last year, Williams hadn't missed a single game since he signed with the Bengals in 2004. Listed first on the Ravens' depth chart at left guard, Williams wants to prove he's still a viable presence entering his 13th NFL season.
“He still loves the game, and he's got more football left in him, a lot more,” Maxine Williams said. “The Bengals better look out, because Bobbie's still got it.”
Distributed by MCT Information Services