Now that it's over,
"All those years, I always wondered if I'd get there,'' Williams, the veteran Vikings defensive tackle, told me this week. "I wondered if I'd ever get the opportunity again. All I ever wanted was to win a playoff game, and get a chance to get to that Super Bowl. Last Sunday against Dallas, I never felt like that before, with that kind of adrenaline. I never felt nothing like that in the whole world out there.''
How'd you like to live with that defeat for an entire decade, knowing it's as close as you may ever come to winning a playoff game? That was Williams' fate until last Sunday, when he finally returned to the NFL's postseason scene, playing in the middle of a Vikings defense that swarmed
"Ten years between playoff games, that was pretty cruel,'' said Williams, who missed Minnesota's first-round playoff loss to Philadelphia last year with a shoulder injury. "I still see that Music City Miracle game on TV once in a while, but I think this year is going to wipe away all of that. My plan is for this year to take care of all of that.''
Preparing for his first trip to a conference title game at age 37, Williams this week is fixated on taking that last big step to the Super Bowl, a game he has watched with more envy than enjoyment in past years. That Sunday's NFC Championship Game in New Orleans will be a homecoming of sorts for Williams, who was raised in Monroe, La., could make the story all the sweeter. The Superdome is the route Williams and the Vikings must take to the Super Bowl.
"It's a huge challenge, and we're taking nothing for granted,'' Williams said of Minnesota's matchup with the top-seeded Saints (14-3). "We're not looking past them, we're just worried about our game plan and nothing else. I'm leaving it all on the field this year. This is my first real chance.''
Williams, a three-time Pro Bowl pick, said he has talked Super Bowl with the likes of Favre, who has both won and lost that game, and Vikings guard
"It's something you've got to feel for yourself,'' he said. "No one can do it for you. I've talked to Brett and Hutch about it, but it's something you've got to play and experience for yourself. I want to know what that's like.''
As well-decorated as the Vikings defensive line is, last Sunday's 34-3 divisional-round dismantling of Dallas was eye-opening. Defensive ends
"All I know is it felt like they were putting us down all week, with everyone talking about big Dallas's offensive line was and how great they were,'' Williams said. "We were taking that personally. During the week, Jared said 'We're going to kill these guys. We're going to kill 'em.' And we just followed his lead. We were teeing off and having fun.
"I've never been on a defense like this. Last week I could just see how focused guys were. I felt the [hunger] in the locker room. When I felt that, I knew we were going to win.''
Williams is the 6-foot-3, 317-pound anchor of a Vikings defense that ranked second against the rush this season, after three consecutive years of leading the league in that department. But this season, Minnesota led the NFL in sacks with 48, and it's that pass rush that probably gives the Vikings the best possible chance of hanging in there against the Saints and their explosive
Williams was the Vikings' priority free-agent signing in 2005, the final season of the team's often controversial four-year
Williams signed with Minnesota in the final days of
"When I came here, there were a lot of good guys, but the chemistry wasn't good,'' Williams said. "After my first year here, I doubted whether I'd made the right decision. When I first came here, it wasn't even like a pro team. It was terrible.
"But since Zygi came in, with the new coaching staff, and an owner willing to spend the money for good players and make things first class, everything changed. They got the chemistry right, and basically everybody fell in and got behind coach Childress.''
With Favre's resurgence front and center, and the team's first playoff win since 2004 already in the bank, this season has been a veritable joyride in Minnesota. Williams said the Vikings locker room will follow Favre's lead as far as he takes them, and one more historic step looms this week in New Orleans.
"He's just fun to watch, so stress free about everything,'' Williams said. "He's going to make something happen out there, and when he doesn't, we've got his back. The guy makes everyone have fun. He's a 40-year-old playing like a 20-year-old. But everyone's feeling young around here this season. That's what winning does.''