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Cyclone Gridiron Greats: Catching up with Gene Williams

An interview with one of the guys that blocked for one of the best running backs in Iowa State history.

Gene Williams and his brother Jason
Courtesy of Gene Williams | Gaines DuVall Sport Portraits (1990)

This interview was conducted on February 5, 2020.

Jared Larson: Blaise Bryant told me to tell you that you are either a good guy and a great player, or a great guy and a good player.

Gene Williams: Thanks, Blaise.

JL: Yeah, “great player, good dude.”

GW: I’ve never seen someone run a football like him until I saw him just break off for a long run, and I went “Oh my god that dude’s special.” It was awesome. It was those California guys. Being from the Midwest and Nebraska, you don’t see dudes like that very often.

Courtesy of Gene Williams

JL: How did you come here from Creighton Prep? Even though you were named Lineman of the Year? Like, how did Criner pull you away from Tom Osborne?

high school
Courtesy of Gene Williams

GW: *laughter* Criner didn’t want me. That’s a funny story. Criner had an O-Line coach, Jim Williams. He’s a legendary coach, right? Coached at Dowling, head coach at Simpson College? I actually went to Iowa State’s football camp when have they had week-long camps or two week long camps, stayed in the dorms— I went to Nebraska’s football camp. Their athletic strength coach was not impressed with my body type. The Gen Xs coming in had a different type of body. You know, called “non-steroids”. We all had these butts and on these hips and these bad bodies. We didn’t look like— I wasn’t chiseled or anything.

Courtesy of Gene Williams

I remember T-O calling me up, Tom Osborne, and basically saying, you know, you’re a good football player. You may not be quite as tall as we like. I want you to walk on, and try to earn a scholarship. And at that point, Jim Williams is already basically used up his last scholarship at Iowa State on me. I mean, there’s no doubt about it. He wanted me, Criner didn’t. He ended up getting fired before I even got there. So I basically ended up in Iowa State because that was the only because Division One scholarship I was offered and Nebraska really didn’t want me.

Even though, I’m pretty sure they’d probably give a scholarship to anybody that won Lineman of the Year there. I’m better off for it. Actually, it was good for me to be a balance offense, run pass offense, what Walden brought in. So for me, it worked out. I don’t think I would have made it to the NFL, but it be option offense with, you know, an I-form running back behind me, run blocking and cut blocking all the time. That wasn’t the style of the NFL. And what we did as Iowa State was getting closer to it looks so it prepared me much better.

JL: Well, good. Do people still call you The Freezer, ever?

GW: I’ve never been called The Freezer, where the fuck did you hear that?

JL: SO, I am reading an Ames Tribune article from August 16th, 1986. And Dan Davenport was calling you The Freezer because (paraphrased) “Gene Williams has the same number as The Refrigerator, but he’s a little smaller. So I’m going to call him The Freezer.”

GW: Who said that?

JL: Dan Davenport.

GW: That was probably the only time I was mentioned in that article. I mean, I’ve been named a lot of big nicknames in my life. That was actually the most complimentary.

Most of them are quite derogatory to my body shape. A dude named Ron Wolfley, from the Browns. He was a special teams player probably gave me half my nicknames because you couldn’t even print some of the nicknames I was given. Probably the best ones were from Richmond Webb, left tackle for Miami.

Keith Sims, me and Richmond Webb after I got traded from Miami to Cleveland
Courtesy of Gene Williams

We got done with practice, first couple weeks after training camp and I was getting ready to take a shower and he just saw my bad naked body just like “Damn Gene, you look like just messed up cake batter. I’m gonna start calling you cake mix.” That was my nickname when I played for the Dolphins, just to let you know the bad lumpy body like a lumpy cake batter. So the whole “Freezer” nickname never took hold. Actually, is that the same article where I lost 16 pounds in one practice?

JL: It talks about Ben Mitchell.

GW: Ben was big, from Detroit. He was heavily recruited compared to me.

JL: You know, I think, this is the one where you lost a metric f-ton of weight.

GW: So what is this interview all about?

JL: So for a class I’m writing about Cyclones in the Super Bowl, so I’m just trying to contact every Cyclone that’s played the Super Bowl. But the website is an Iowa State fan site. We’re called Wide Right Natty Lite, like because of missed kicks. And Natty Lite because, Larry Eustachy, you know, likes to party. So the fact that you’re drinking Heineken. Come on, man. It’s not for the brand.

GW: I switched to Foster’s later. Two for $4. Shut up. I’ll do what I want.

JL: Okay, fine. Give your balls a tug.

GW: It’s better than the Milwaukee’s Best Ice drink I had when I was at Iowa State.

JL: Well, good to know. Do you have any specific Super Bowl memories or from that season or—

GW: That fucking white claw you millenials, no, you’re not a millenial, you’re Gen Z’er, holy shit you’re young.

Super Bowl memories? A lot of shit happened in the Super Bowl, what do you want to know? I mean, I had a safety that got a hooker that night before the game or tried to, and get arrested.

You know, it was a crazy game I got in a fight on an extra point with Neil Smith, who used to play for the University of Nebraska. That was literally, the first time I had faced him since freshman year. At Nebraska he was literally the first guy I played against my first thought was against Neil Smith. I hated him, he was just a dick, just a bully. And, you know, I was out there on my first fight.

Courtesy of Gene Williams

He was talking all sorts of fucking crazy shit. I was just like I really hate this motherfucker. Wouldn’t you know it, fucking like 10/11 years later, he hadn’t changed a fuck bit. He was still a fucking dickhead.

And I guess the funniest Super Bowl memory is like, you know, Eugene Robinson got busted the night before for whatever he was doin’. The first long pass over Eugene for a touchdown and I looked at my left tackle like “dude we might have to score 60 tonight.”

We were moving the ball, but we weren’t scoring points. Tim Dwight, from University of Iowa, ran the kick off all the way back. We went to go line up for the PAT, Neil Smith, still a dick, after all these years looks at me and goes “do the dirty bird now, motherfucker,” I don’t know dude, some sort of weird rage came over me.

Coming from Iowa State, we didn’t win a lot, but we probably set the record straight. Such as, bench clearing brawls my senior year and just fights in general. We were a scrappy bunch of nobodies. We were constantly fighting people.

Then, when he said “do the dirty bird, motherfucker,” I think I just went back to my senior year in college cause I just lost my shit. I was just like “you’re dead” and I snapped the ball and I just grabbed him by the face mask and threw him down. I started choking him. Just started punching him as hard as I could. Then, when his teammates pulled me off, the ref pulled me off I elbowed the ref right in the chest because I didn’t realize it was a ref and just turned around, waited for him to throw me out of the game and he didn’t. I just walked to the sideline. I was asked, “what was that all about?” “Just shit from freshman year.” But you know, that was one memory at the Super Bowl.

Another memory was, I think KISS was lip syncing to open up, they were the opening act for the Super Bowl. They weren’t plugged in at all. That’s disappointing. What else? Eugene got the hooker. That was a hell of a memory.

I blew out my teammates knee in the first quarter, I ruined his Super Bowl. I was so filled with adrenaline. It’s your first Super Bowl, and you never think you’re going to one playing for Atlanta. You don’t know how you’re going to react when you get out there. Once the national anthem was over and walked off the field, I was completely blank. I don’t remember anything. At all.

I looked down. My teammate, my center Robbie Tobeck, was laying on the ground holding his right knee and I walked back to the huddle and our backup center was there. “What the fuck are you doing here?” He’s like, dude, you just blew out Robbie’s knee and apparently I was trying to block Neil Smith. He was coming around on some sort of stunt and I saw him I just went to go cut block him.

Fortunately for Robbie, he went to Seattle years later when he played in another Super Bowl, so he got to lose two Super Bowls, lucky that he didn’t get hurt. At least he didn’t get hurt in his last one.

Those are three memories, I distinctly remember. I don’t remember what I ate. I don’t remember what I wore. It was a great memory and a highlight in my career. You really just kind of go blank that whole week because it’s just so much shit to do.

My wife was nine months pregnant, so she had to get special permission to fly to the game. You know, just, you know, have to be close to a doctor the whole time. As well as have access to my medical staff because she was so pregnant. A lot of shit going on. Dealing with your parents. Dealing with their parents. Seventeen other people you give tickets to. Then you got to prepare for the game. Do all the media shit. Which I pretty much tried to avoid.

JL: There’s a picture of you just on your cell phone in the bleachers.

GW: Yeah, yeah.

I was actually supposed to talk to Howard Stern that morning. My wife did a radio station 98.5 WNCX in Cleveland. A DJ I was friends with who actually introduced me to my wife, had set it up so I could talk to Howard Stern. But I chickened out.

My coach, Dan Reeves, wouldn’t appreciate me talking to Howard Stern. Howard Stern was Howard Stern back then, so I just kinda pussed out. I didn’t make the call. So I’d probably be more famous now, had I? But oh, well, it is what it is.

JL: So do you have any Iowa State memories that are nefarious enough that you’d like to share? Doesn’t have to be family friendly.

Courtesy of Gene Williams

GW: I loved playing at Iowa State, especially my senior year. If we played today, I guarantee half my team would’ve been suspended for the year for, whatever, targeting or whatever the rules are.

My senior year we had fights against: Iowa, I remember that one really well, Oklahoma State and Missouri was a big fight because they went after one of our coaches on our sideline and it was crazy. My junior year, we were a really good football team. We should have had a better record than 6-5, we were killing it on offense.

We were pretty good on defense and we should probably have gone to a bowl game that year. We always produced pretty good offenses, we enjoyed playing at Iowa State it was a lot of fun.

Once I ran gassers naked. After I got drafted in the NFL, I came back to hang out with my center (George Tsiotsias) who is now a trauma surgeon. He was graduating and I came back and I spent a bunch of money at his house we threw a raging kegger party. Don’t worry, we I.D.’d everyone. They were all legal, I swear. We definitely Ubered to the Olsen Building. Back then, it was just the Olsen Building it wasn’t the big fucking megaplex like it is now.

JL: I thought you were gonna say back then it was called called taxiing, not Ubering.

GW: *laughter* However we got there, some girl named Monica probably drove us there. The Olsen Building had one of these perky flaws to it. You go to the double doors and if you pulled in a really weird way, they would just open up and you had access to the entire Olsen Building, the entire field. We went in there and went “you want to run some gassers for old time sake?” So I did gassers on that field, well, not that field but you know what I’m saying.

JL: It was AstroTurf then, yeah?

GW: It’s still Turf now, right?

JL: Actually no, it’s Kentucky bluegrass (Poa pratensis).

GW: That’s awesome! Good for them!

JL: Do you have any closing thoughts on this part of the interview?

GW: I have no regrets, but I do have bumps and bruises. It does make it difficult to travel sometimes. I hate flying I don’t want to be on a plane, hurt.

(now, for the WRNL Brand, we talk about alcohol)

GW: Everybody, and their grandma gets fucked up on beer, wine and White Claw.

JL: get that shit out of here *laughter*

GW: *laughter* What do you kids drink now in Iowa?

JL: So I just try to find whatever the hardest cocktail is, and I drink that. Like an Adios Mother Fucker, those are good, as are Jamaican bobsleds.

GW: I’ve heard of that one! I hope you stay away from tequila?

JL: I kinda like Margs and Daiquiris sometimes.

GW: We used to do a bottle of Cuervo every semester as fast as we could. Someone and I did one in 18 minutes.

JL: Damn, dude. I had a Blue Razz Four Loko (14%) at a party over the weekend in ten minutes, that was a time.