1) Southern man
Some players embark on their careers humbly, but some players darn near never start their careers at all. When Williams went to Southern University, he was following in the footsteps of his brother, Achilles, to play ... well ... to play "student." That's right: Williams went to school to go to school.
It wasn't until his junior year that Aeneas Williams decided to play football, walking on with the classification of redshirt sophomore for football purposes -- by his redshirt senior season, he'd become a bona fide star for the Jaguars. During the 1990 campaign, Williams led the entire nation in picks with 11 and earned All-America honors. That success led to Williams being drafted by the Cardinals in the third round of the 1991 NFL Draft. Not bad for a kid who wasn't even going to play football.
2) Buddy Baller
When Buddy Ryan took over the Cardinals in 1994, most presumed that Arizona would feature a defense as dominant as any in the league. Entering the season, that group was headlined by DT Eric Swann, LB Wilber Marshall, DE Clyde Simmons, LB Seth Joyner and LB Jamir Miller, a top-10 pick in that draft. Little did anyone know that a young corner would suddenly emerge as the best of the defensive bunch -- much less the best player on the team. That season was precisely when Aeneas Williams became known around the league, no matter how badly the late, great Pat Summerall butchered his first name. (Take a guess ...)
"Buddy Ball" played to mixed reviews, but within the context of that 8-8 season, Williams played brilliantly, surpassing the team win total with an NFL-high nine interceptions and receiving the first of his eight Pro Bowl nods.
3) Small postseason sample size, huge postseason production
Williams didn't exactly get a ton of playoff experience in his career, but boy did he leave an impression, collecting six picks in six games. In two of those games, he produced two interceptions, off of two all-time quarterbacks, no less: Troy Aikman in the 1998 playoffs and Brett Favre in the 2001 postseason. Moreover, Williams took both errant Favre passes to the house.
Talk about making the most of your opportunities in the spotlight ...
4) The Spirit of St. Louis
Quick history lesson: What's the oldest continuously run pro football club in America? Why the Cardinals, of course. Founded in 1898 as the Morgan Athletic Club, the team that eventually became the Chicago Cardinals played in the Windy City for 62 years before moving to St. Louis in 1960. In 1988, the Bidwill family moved the franchise to Phoenix.
Williams entered the NFL with the Cardinals, then was traded to the Rams -- who had moved from Los Angeles to St. Louis to replace Williams' old team -- in 2001. Confused? Don't be. Instead, be impressed that Williams is the only Hall of Famer to have earned All-Pro honors as a member of both teams. In case you were wondering, Williams' one-time teammate with the Rams, quarterback Kurt Warner -- who should be heading to Canton himself shortly -- made the Pro Bowl for both organizations, but didn't pull off the All-Pro trick.
5) No. 35 in your program, No. 1 in your defensive heart
While the Cardinals and Rams benefitted greatly from the excellence of No. 35, so did the actual number itself. For those of you who dork out over the mundane -- like me! -- did you know that Williams is the only true defensive player to make the Hall of Fame with that jersey number? Yes, Pete Pihos spent a bit of time at defensive end, but he's in Canton for his work on the other side of the ball.
Besides Williams and Pihos, over the course of NFL history, how many truly great players have primarily donned No. 35? Football history buffs might toss out a couple Hall of Fame running backs -- Bill Dudley and John Henry Johnson -- but this is quite an exclusive fraternity indeed.