Kyle Williams would have preferred a quiet retirement. “Leave out the back door much like I came in” is how he put it.
The Bills knew that was not possible. Williams admitted he was lucky to have people in the organization that convinced him otherwise.
Instead, the team announced Friday morning that Williams would play the final game of his illustrious 13 year career Sunday.
“It’s surreal. I don’t think any feelings have really hit bottom yet,” Williams said. “I don’t know if there’s ever a good time (to leave). It’s going to hurt walking away. There’s going to be a void in my life.”
Williams remarked that he came to Buffalo with his wife Jill, freshly married and 22 years old. Now, he’s 35 and the couple have five kids.
Last spring, he watched too many tee ball games and soccer games via FaceTime. It took a toll. Williams has often talked about putting his family first. The decision to retire is acting on those beliefs.
That doesn’t mean his family is overjoyed, either. Williams and his wife have shared tears about the decision for weeks.
He told the kids on Tuesday. His sons are bummed because they associate football with a chance to play in the Bills fieldhouse. His oldest daughter is still processing the news, like her dad. His second oldest daughter had a two hour screaming fit.
Williams informed Sean McDermott of his decision Monday and the Bills head coach joked that Williams ruined his Christmas Eve.
To which, Williams responded, “You should have been at our house Christmas Day.”
Williams will retire as a surefire Bills Wall of Famer. He’s a five-time Pro Bowler (and an alternate to make it six this season) and has 48.5 sacks.
Five of those sacks have come this year, matching his best total since 2014. If he gets another sack Sunday, it would be the second best season of his career in that category.
It’s clear he can still play at a high level, but the fear of not remaining at that level factored into the decision to retire.
“If I were out there dragging a leg around and not being productive and obviously being an anchor to our team, I don’t know if, emotionally and in my mind, I could handle that,” Williams said. “It’s a good feeling knowing I didn’t let myself slip or I didn’t let my teammates down as I walk away.”
Williams is looking forward to enjoying his final game Sunday free of any indecision or the need to keep any secrets. He’ll have one more day with the fans he calls the best in the world.
“I don’t know if there’s a place that’s meant more to anybody.”
It’s a place Williams remained for the entirety of his 13-year career. Only tackle Joe Devlin played more games in a Bills uniform without playing a game elsewhere.
It’s stunning longevity for any player with any team, let alone a city that often has the reputation of the place no football player wants to go.
“When it was time to leave, nobody wanted to leave,” Williams said. “There’s something about (Buffalo) that gets inside of you and takes hold if you commit yourself to it and if you let it in.”
It’s a feeling that spiked last season in Miami when the Bills finally ended their playoff drought. The Bills took a poll in the spring of what each player thought was the favorite moment of their football career. Every player who was in that locker room, many of whom had previously won Super Bowls and national championships, named that moment number one.
Williams called it a “blessing” to be there and hopes his sons, who joined him in the celebration, will remember it for a long time because dad will, too.
The Bills seem poised to make a run at more playoff appearances in the near future. Williams knows that and it makes the decision to walk away even harder.
“When the GM and coach sit down and share a vision and, literally, it clicks with everything that you want, the kind of teammates you want, the kind of organization you want to be a part of, that is what makes it tough,” Williams said.
McDermott is hoping Williams can remain around the organization in some way going forward. Williams said he’s had plenty of opportunities thrown at him in the last few years with retirement looming. He was non-committal Friday and said he just wanted to get through Sunday’s game first.
Williams says confidently he gave 100% effort every day of his career and comfortable moving on because of that. “I never cheated anybody a day.”
He has one wish for how he would like to be remembered.
“Whether it’s present day teams, past teams or future teams, that our fans, our organization, our people would say, ‘You know who a good guy who be to have on this team would be Kyle’. If that’s the case..; I can rest easy.”
Even if Williams would have preferred to avoid it, Sunday’s reception at New Era Field will prove that Bills fans would always want him on their team.