Williams savoring 'unbelievable' Super Bowl trip
Even with two days to let the idea sink in, former USF linebacker and Giants playoff star Jacquian Williams still was getting used to the thought of actually playing in Super Bowl XLVI in Indianapolis.
"It's unbelievable," Williams said by phone Tuesday afternoon. "I even asked myself, 'Am I really going?' I'm still shook up about it."
To simply be a part of a Super Bowl team as a rookie would be a thrill, but Williams played a huge role in the Giants' overtime win against the 49ers on Sunday, forcing a fumble on a punt return that put New York in place for Lawrence Tynes' winning kick.
"It was a battle between offense and defense, and somebody needed to make a play," the Riverview graduate said. "I had the opportunity to knock the ball out of his hands."
Williams, 22, nearly let 49ers return man Kyle Williams past him, but he dived and reached his right hand out, poking the ball out of Williams' hands and into the arms of special-teams player Devin Thomas.
"He gave me a good move, and as he was passing me, I saw the ball and stuck my hand out," Williams said. "I'm lucky to have long arms. I saw DT just catch it. It was fast. I didn't know what was going on for a split-second, but I started celebrating."
The forced fumble has put the unheralded rookie in the national spotlight, but the sixth-round pick has been making plays all season for the Giants. His 78 total tackles put him second among NFL rookies, behind only the Bucs' Mason Foster, and his three fumble recoveries are the most of any first-year player. In the entire league, only Vikings star Jared Allen had more, with four.
Williams went into a lockout-shortened preseason camp uncertain of a roster spot, knowing that special teams was the easiest way to make a name for himself, seeing the returning veterans on the Giants defense. He filled in with two starts on defense, but he said it was fitting that his biggest play would come on the kickoff coverage unit.
"I take a lot of pride in special teams. A lot of games, including our game, you win or lose on special teams," said Williams, who learned a lot from another Giants rookie, first-year assistant special-teams coach Larry Izzo, who collected 275 special-teams tackles in a 14-year career that included three Pro Bowl appearances and three Super Bowl rings with New England.
Williams, having grown up and played high school and college football in Tampa, knows he has a fanbase rooting for him and fellow former Bulls star Jason Pierre-Paul next week against the Patriots. He said the calls and text messages that came after Sunday's win were something he won't forget.
"Tampa always showed me a lot of love, but now, that's a true blessing from my hometown," he said.
Sunday's win came at the expense of former USF coach Jim Leavitt, another NFL rookie in his first year as the 49ers' linebackers coach. It was Leavitt who first used Williams on special teams in his first year with the Bulls in 2009, and Williams was grateful to see his former coach before and after the game.
In the minutes after his play helped send the Giants to the Super Bowl, he got a phone call from his mother, Theolanda, in Tampa, and he's excited to be able to bring her and other family members to Indianapolis for another chance at football history on Feb. 5.
"That," he said, "would be special."