As a new starter with the San Francisco 49ers at the age of 25, Alex Boone wanted to make a big impression against then-32-year-old Kevin Williams, already playing in his 10th NFL season.
It was Week 3 of the 2012 season. The 49ers were 2-0 and a primed NFC contender. The Vikings were 1-1 and not expected to make any sort of noise in the NFC North. “I remember thinking the whole week, ‘Who is Kevin Williams and what the hell could he do to me,’” recalled Alex Boone outside his Mankato dormitory on training camp check-in day. “I’m like, ‘Dude, I’m young, he’s old, I’m good looking, he’s not. I got this sewn up.’ First time ever I thought I had it.”
As it turned out, Williams had the last laugh as he and the Vikings’ defensive line made life very hectic for quarterback Alex Smith and the 49ers’ offense. Smith was sacked three times and threw an interception, the team was held to under 100 yards rushing and the Vikings won 24-13 at the Metrodome. It wasn’t even close.
“I went out there,” said Boone, “and he whipped me like a little boy, and I remember that game. I remember every play from that game, and I remember exactly what he did to me. I never slept on him ever since then.
“I remember I watched more film on Kevin Williams than I did on anybody because I was just so afraid he was gonna pull something out of his bag.”
The former 2003 first-round pick retired as a Viking on Wednesday, signing a one-day contract with the team for which he started 171 games over 11 seasons. Williams made six Pro Bowls while wearing purple (matching Hall of Famer John Randle), recorded 60 sacks and made five All-Pro teams. His five interceptions with the Vikings also tied an NFL record for defensive tackles. “I had a great time with the Vikings and appreciate them giving me a chance,” Williams said in a statement released by the team. “They drafted a small town kid from Arkansas and the organization, the city, the whole state really, helped raise me into a man. I appreciate them for that and look forward to coming back and doing some things with the team.”
Williams overlapped for one year with defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd, who learned under Williams as a rookie in 2013. “He was a great guy, great player, great teammate, one of the great leaders of the Vikings and did a lot of great things in Viking history. I was glad to see him go out a Viking and always going to be a Viking.”
The Oklahoma State grad also spent four years playing with Everson Griffen, who joined the team in 2010. Griffen served as a situational inside rusher at times during his four years as a backup, usually lining up next to Williams, who calmed the energetic youngster. “’Young buck, I got you,’” Griffen remembers Williams telling him. “He told me what to do, man. I loved Kevin. He was a humble man; he didn’t say too much. He was an excellent player, and the game’s going to miss somebody like him.”
Williams was one of the anchors of the team’s impermeable rush defense from 2006-09 under head coach Brad Childress and helped the Vikings reach the postseason four times. He played in one NFC Championship Game with the Vikings and one Super Bowl in his lone year with the Seattle Seahawks, losing both games in heartbreaking fashion. Nonetheless, he goes down in Vikings history as one of the franchise’s most durable and disruptive defensive tackles, having set a precedent for how things are done in the trenches. “I had some great coaches, got to line up with some great players, and we did a lot of good things,” Williams said in his statement. “I look back on that line we had with Pat, Jared, Ray, B-Rob and Fred — I hope we set a standard for how you do things up front.”
At minimum, Williams taught the Vikings’ left guard a valuable lesson on that September Sunday back in 2012. “He’s probably the most respected person that I respect in this game because of what he did to me,” said Boone. “I thought he was just old; he ain’t got it anymore; he’s not gonna do anything. And he just beat me all up and down that field.”