MINNEAPOLIS — The eyes of Williams are upon you, all the livelong day. Click . . . whirrr . . . hummmmmmm . . . zoom! “Jumpy Geathers. Say hello to the people.”
“Eric Williams, my best friend . . . NOT!”
Click . . . whirrr . . . hummmmmm . . . zoom!
“Ricky Ervins, say hello to the people.”
“Eric, what are you doing?”
“How tall are you, Ricky?”
“I’m 5-9 3/4.”
“Don’t lie on camera, Ricky!”
Click . . . whirrr . . . hummmmmm. Eric Williams moves through the crowd, the videocam pressed against his eye, like a pirate looking through a spyglass. Ahoy! There’s a group of fatty reporters, sucking on their pens. Ahoy! There’s his defensive linemates, muscles bulging, rolling their eyes. Ahoy! There’s the crew from a D.C. TV station, in their corduroy pants and dazed expressions, running around with wires and plugs, trying to take in this mad rush, this awesome sports blitzkrieg, 47 real live Washington Redskins to be divided up by 2,000 media beasts, all circling like some Bizzaro World cocktail party.
Who’s talking to whom? Who knows? Once upon a time, it was the press that asked the questions at the Super Bowl and the athletes that gave the answers. Now, we are in a house of mirrors, linemen taking snapshots of photographers, linebackers filming TV reporters as they approach — “Whachyou gonna ask me, Mr. Reporter? Huh? Don’t lie. You’re on my camera now!” — and amidst all this Marshall McLuhan techno- jungle, Eric Williams, the Washington defensive tackle with the crooked smile and his upcoming cooking show — “The Gridiron Gourmet,” a working title — Eric Williams, of all people, 290 pounds of fun and frolic, has been selected by CBS, the Super Bowl network, to capture this week from a player’s perspective.
Make a movie, they told him.
They sent him a Sony camcorder.
Now he is Felini.
“Here’s Richie Petitbon,” Williams narrates, dropping to one knee as he zooms in on his defensive coach. “Look at him talking. He’s lying as usual. He’s lying! Don’t believe him! He’s lying!”
Petitbon glances over, grins, and goes back to his converstaion.
Click . . . whirr . . . hummmmmmmmmmmmmmm . . . Not your average Redskin
Now, understand that the Washington Redskins are not the world’s most colorful football team; they sort of pride themselves on how many members go to church and who can invoke the name of God most often during interviews. Their head coach, Joe Gibbs, smiles on the religious fervor of his warriors, and makes a habit of sleeping three nights at week at the Redskins’ practice facility so he can get more work done. His football focus is so complete, he thinks “Hook” is a pass play. He thinks Thelonious Monk is Art’s younger brother. Gibbs can tell you what blocking scheme the Dallas Cowboys use on third and short, but when asked last October who he liked in the World Series, he sheepishly admitted he had no idea who was playing.
So you get excitement right from the top with the Skins, and it trickles down to a group of disciplined veteran players who don’t say much, and say even less to the media. Enter Williams, 29, whom CBS is hoping will capture a different side of his teammates, a side they will only show to one of their football brethren. The network plans to air Eric’s film — an edited version
— before the game on Sunday. Shoot it, big man! Lights, camera . . . uh, lights?
“Can’t shoot in here,” Williams says during a breakfast press stampede.
“Look at the lights. Too bright. Guys who are losing their hair don’t like when I shoot them in this light. Shows too much skin.”
Click . . . pause . . . stop. What is Williams doing on this team? He has always been a frat dance guy, a laugher, a cut-up, never a party too late or an adventure too wild. In Detroit, where he played for six seasons, he was, you know, visible, in the bars, on the TV shows. The team may have stunk, missed the playoffs, year after year, but he did his best for the esprit de corps. And then . . . gone. He was traded to Washington after a contract holdout in September 1990. When he joined the Skins, Gibbs took him into his office, and told him he had run a character check on him. Said it was standard procedure for all Redskins acquisitions. Check with college coaches, high school coaches, check the police blotters, the university records.
“I was stunned,” Williams admits. “I didn’t know they did that. I asked Joe what he found out. He said, ‘We found out you’ve had a lot of fun over the years.’ “
You gonna hold that against a guy, Williams wondered?
As it turned out, the answer was no. As long as there were no drugs or arrests — you know, the bad stuff — Eric was OK, although he found the Redskins’ locker room so pious that after a month he asked a reporter in private if maybe talking religion would make him more accepted.
“We’re not a dull team, but we’re a gentlemanly team,” Williams says now, smiling. “I mean, if having parties and wild times are how you define fun, then I guess we’re a dull team.”
Of course, fun is in the eye of the beholder.
Or, in this case, the director. Mirror, mirror Click . . . whirrr . . . hummmmmmmm. “Here we are looking at a reporter,” Williams says from behind the Sony. “Where are you from?”
“Texas,” the reporter says.
“OK. I’ll talk slowly.”
Hummmmm . . . click . . . zoom! “Here’s a group of Japanese reporters,” Williams narrates. “Where you guys from?”
“Uh, we are from Tokyo.”
“How you like the food here? Found any sushi?”
“Hahahaha. No like sushi. Like barbecue rib.”
This is what the Super Bowl has come to: Players interviewing reporters interviewing players. Every man with his own camcorder. Alice through the looking glass, through the looking glass. Of course, it is up to Williams to make it interesting. Redskins in Wonderland.
Click . . . whirrr . . . hummmmmm. “Let’s see what I got already,” Williams says, reviewing his tapes. “I got Art Monk with a pillow case over his head, singing a Haagen-Dazs commercial.
“I got Darrell Green and Monte Coleman doing a make-believe talk show. That was funny. I also got a make-believe phone call from George Bush.
“I had all this stuff with Julie Brown from MTV. But when I went to look at the film, all I had was a shot of the ground. A big picture of artificial turf. I don’t know what happened. I pressed the red button and everything.”
He shrugs his big shoudlers.
Technical glich. He has artistic control There is no telling how this masterpiece will come out. You’ll have to watch Sunday. But this much is undeniable: If Williams can make the Redskins seem fascinating, then he has accomplished more than most of the 2,000 reporters here. Even Ted Turner would have trouble colorizing this bunch. Right now, quarterback Mark Rypien is telling a crowd,
“We, this team, have come together as one” and Darrell Green, the cornerback, is talking about “working with children” and Wilber Marshall, the linebacker, is saying, “We feel our defense can control the no-huddle offense” and Gary Clark, the wide receiver, is talking about a migraine headache he had. Joe Gibbs is out there somewhere, thanking the Lord.
Williams looks around the room, the Sony just a finger away from action.
“I get final say in what goes on the air,” he says proudly. “They promised me that much. Said they would air five minutes of it. That’s a lot of air time, five minutes, huh? It’s international too, not just national, so I’m pretty jacked about that.”
He is asked what he gets for all this work, for spending his first-ever Super Bowl week filming the filming, shooting the shooted, taking six of the most over-hyped, over-reported, over-scrutinized days on the sports calendar and capturing all its marvelous lunacy within the celluloid-stuffed cassette of a Sony model TR-81.
“What do I get?” he says. “I get to keep the camera.”