By TIFFANY HUTTO, Tribune correspondent
He was a Parade All-America, Sporting News All-America and All-SEC first-team member. For three years, he started every game at the University of Florida, was a first-round draft pick in 1989 and played eight years in the NFL.
His football accomplishments were notable. But David Williams, former Houston Oiler and New York Jet, forever will be known for “Babygate.”
In 1993, he was docked a week’s pay by the Oilers for attending the birth of his first child.
On Oct. 16 of that year, Debi Williams went into labor. Husband David was by her side. Debi was in labor several hours before giving birth to a son, Scot, at about 6:30 p.m.
The time of elation quickly turned sour.
Some 17 hours after Scot was born, the Oilers were scheduled to play New England. Williams planned to make the game, but hit a snag.
“The last flight out of Houston was at 6:40 or 6:50 p.m. and I was at least a half hour from the airport. Obviously, I couldn’t make it,” Williams said. “We tried to figure a way to get there [Boston] and found there was a terrible fog problem. Our team flight had to land in New York and was delayed there two hours before they could even fly to Boston. It was just a bad deal.”
Some of Williams’ teammates, along with a travel agent, tried to secure a charter flight. But the fog still was rolling in. The plane would have to land in New York, leaving Williams scrambling to find a way to Foxboro Stadium.
“I basically said the hell with it. At that point, I was tired and exhausted,” Williams said. “We had been up for hours and I did everything I could and I just wasn’t going to make it.”
The Oilers docked Williams one week’s pay ($111,111). Offensive line coach Bob Young was quoted in Houston newspapers as saying Williams could have made it to the game on time. He said Williams had his priorities mixed up and compared the situation to World War II, when men had to miss the births of their children to fight for their country.
“David is a special person and great athlete,” Lakeland football coach Bill Castle said of the former Dreadnaught. “He is a quality person, genuine, never forgot his upbringing, especially when that happened. He went out on a limb for what he believed.”
Was Williams upset about the loss of pay?
“I had no problem with that. I understood I didn’t play [and] didn’t deserve to get paid,” Williams said. “I didn’t care one way or the other. I only have one first-born and family has always been No. 1 with me.”
Houston owner Bud Adams insisted Williams made the wrong decision. The Oilers’ response evoked outrage from women’s groups throughout the country. Even Vice President Al Gore supported Williams’ decision.
Williams said he felt the Oilers handled the situation poorly, but they corrected it when teammate Cris Dishman’s child was born a year later.
“They had a limousine and Lear jet wait for him, ” Williams said. “It was the same circumstance with him as me, but they took care of Cris. They learned their lesson because my situation wasn’t the nicest of events for them.”
What does 6-year-old Scot Williams think about the circumstances surrounding his birth?
“I think he still is a little too young to understand, even though we’ve told him,” Williams said. “But I do let him know he is forever indebted to me as far as chores go, for the rest of his life. He’s got a lot of work to make up for that paycheck, but he was worth every penny of it and then some.”
Up next, No. 42: Before women’s basketball becomes fashionable, Robinson’s Harriet Brumfield matures into one of the nation’s top players at Vanderbilt.
Highlights: 1989 first-round draft pick of Houston Oilers. … Designated Oilers’ franchise player in 1994, but was waived in ’95 to free up money under the NFL salary cap. … Was signed by the New York Jets. Started 25 games at right tackle. Was the stabilizer for the offensive line, enabling Adrian Murrell to rush for more than 1,000 yards in ’96. … Started 95 games during the regular season from 1989-95, played in 116, but saw limited action in ’95 due to back spasms. … In ’91 recorded his first full season as a starter and the offensive line was ranked second in the NFL in sacks allowed and total offense. … Helped the Oilers produce a franchise-best 583 yards total offense with four scoring drives of 70-plus yards vs. Dallas. … Saw postseason play four consecutive years from (1990-93). … Recently named to the All-Century Football Team at the University of Florida, where he started every game from 1985-88. … As a senior, named first-team All-SEC, second-team All-America by Football News (second consecutive year) and honorable mention All-America by The Sporting News. … Chosen to participate in the ’89 East-West Shrine Game. … At Lakeland High, named first-team Parade Magazine All-America at offensive tackle. Named to The Sporting News Top 100 list. … Set a school record in the bench press with a 415-pound lift. … 1993 inductee to the Lakeland High Sports Hall of Fame.
Today: Williams, 33, retired from the NFL in 1996. After moving back to Florida, lived in Tarpon Springs and was a volunteer coach for East Lake High School in 1998. Williams is building his dream house with wife Debi, children Scot (6) and Kara (4) in Central Florida. He hopes to resume volunteer coaching at another school.