Bernard Williams received an unexpected call this week.
The former Philadelphia Eagles offensive tackle, who played one season in the NFL before stints with the XFL, AFL and CFL, was officially waived by the Eagles on Thursday. It was news to him that he was even on the team’s roster.
Plenty of people saw the move on the NFL’s transaction wire, but it was initially hard to believe it was that Bernard Williams. He then confirmed it was the case over the next couple days, telling the Philadelphia Inquirer and InsideTheBirds.com’s Andrew DiCecco that he was driving a delivery route for Amazon in Atlanta when he received a text from an NFL scout he coached in high school.
“I was actually at work when a kid I coached in high school, Ventell Boulware — a scout for the Packers — called asked when was the last time I did anything with the NFL. I told him I had just applied for some benefits recently, and he said, ‘Well your name just came across the [transaction] wire.’ I’m like, ‘For what?’ And he was like, ‘The Eagles released you.’ I had some kind of idea, but they never released me. And I always wondered what happened with that.
“When I went to Canada, the Eagles kept my rights through all of that. They never released my rights. But I had no idea that I was still on the roster 29 years later.”
The Eagles selected Williams 14th overall out of Georgia in the 1994 NFL Draft. His career looked promising after he started all 16 games at left tackle in his rookie year, but then he tested positive for marijuana. The NFL, which has since loosened its policies on the drug, responded by suspending Williams for the entire 1995 season.
When players are suspended by the NFL, they usually must apply for reinstatement to be eligible to play again, even if their suspension was for a set amount of time. Williams apparently never did that, so he just remained in the league’s database, for nearly three decades.
An Eagles spokesman told NBC Sports Philadelphia the Eagles only waived Williams after NFL officials told the team his name has surfaced while they were clearing out decades-old players on various reserve lists.
Bernard Williams’ life didn’t need the NFL to be interesting
Williams told the Inquirer he began smoking marijuana in college as a way to cope with a string of tragedies in his personal life. His father reportedly died when he was in high school, while his grandparents and cousin died when he was in college. He had a friend who was shot as well, and an aunt who was arrested on drug charges and sentenced to life in prison.
From the Inquirer:
“It was about me dealing with personal stuff,” Williams said. “A lot of grief at that point in my life that I hadn’t dealt with. I really needed to take some time off, but I couldn’t. Marijuana was my crutch during that time. Pretty much, I just wanted to be home. I applaud the young athletes like Simone Biles who are taking time off to deal with their personal issues and mental health. If I was given that opportunity back then, I think I would’ve played a lot longer than I did.”
Williams apparently enjoyed a colorful life after being suspended, as the Inquirer reports he socialized with Julius Erving, Patti LaBelle, Notorious B.I.G., Thomas Hearns, Mike McCary and Penny Hardaway. He also took care of his mother before death in 1997. He eventually returned to football, playing seven seasons for the BC Lions and Toronto Argonauts in Canada, as well as the XFL’s Memphis Maniax and the AFL’s Detroit Fury.
He also has another NFL connection, as his nephew is former Kansas City Chiefs safety Eric Berry, whose last NFL game was in the 2018-19 playoffs. Somehow, Williams outlasted the All-Pro on the NFL’s books.
Now, Williams is reportedly back in college working toward a psychology degree while driving for Amazon and restoring cars. In addition to Berry, he has a daughter, Dahlia, who plays volleyball at Clark Atlanta University and a nephew, Alex Whitmore, who plays football at UNLV.
He still apparently watches his old tape, but told the Inquirer he isn’t sweating what some might think as a wasted career:
“I think I could’ve played 10, 15 years and been a Hall of Fame player,” Williams said. “I think my talent was that great. But I also think football isn’t life and it’s never been for me. I do love football, but I love myself more. I think about the $50 million down the drain, maybe $100 million down the drain, but when I was rich I wasn’t happy. The money doesn’t bother me.”