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The New York Times

The New York Times

SPORTS

Roy Williams Will Play By Rules, Including His Own
By ERIC O’KEEFE
Published: May 27, 2005

DALLAS, May 26 – Roy Williams was backpedaling as fast as he could. Williams, an All-Pro safety, was not at the Dallas Cowboys' minicamp. He was not even dressed for practice. Williams had just arrived at a stylish function at an upscale Dallas jeweler called Bachendorf's to promote his Roy Williams Foundation, and he was doing his best to distance himself from the National Football League's ban on the horse-collar tackle, a decision that has been christened the Roy Williams rule.

"I play by whatever rules the N.F.L. lays down," Williams said. "If there's a type of tackle that's legal, I'll use it. If it's not legal, I won't. It's as simple as that."

The horse-collar tackle is a technique in which a defensive player brings down a ball carrier by grabbing the back inside of the opposing player's shoulder pads and yanking him to the ground.

N.F.L. owners voted, 27-5, Tuesday to make the maneuver a 15-yard penalty when the tackle is made in the open field. In the event of egregious violations, the league may also impose a fine.

Five franchises - Dallas, Detroit, New England, New Orleans and San Francisco - dissented, citing the difficulty of having officials make such a call. Williams said it was only after Tuesday's vote that he learned it was being called the Roy Williams rule.

In having his name affixed to the decision, Williams joined an elite group of Dallas Cowboys players whose names are ascribed to an assortment of N.F.L. rules and regulations.

There is the Emmitt Smith rule, which makes it illegal for players to take off their helmets while on the field, as Smith was known for doing to celebrate a touchdown; the Deion Sanders rule, which prevents a team from circumventing salary caps by combining a high-signing bonus with a low-base salary; and the Mel Renfro rule, which permits an offensive player to touch the ball after it has touched a teammate without a defensive player's touching it in between.

Many team owners became concerned with the horse-collar tackle earlier this year after it was blamed for causing a higher rate of injury than more traditional tackles. During the 2004 season, several offensive players were sidelined after being horse-collared: Titans wide receiver Tyrone Calico (sprained knees), Ravens running backs Jamal Lewis (sprained ankle) and Musa Smith (compound fracture of the right tibia), and Eagles receiver Terrell Owens (fractured right fibula and torn ligaments). All were brought down by Williams.

But the horse-collar tackle has been used by many N.F.L. players, and all of them applied it legally. Those four tackles by Williams, though bruising, comprised a miniscule percentage of his 94 total tackles during the 2004 season.

Throughout his three-year career with the Cowboys, Williams has tried to steer clear of the reputation that hard-hitting defensive backs like Fred Williamson of the Kansas City Chiefs, who was known as the Hammer, and Jack Tatum of the Oakland Raiders purposely cultivated.

Instead, Williams has developed into one of the league's premier defensive backs while maintaining a low profile. The eighth overall pick in the 2002 draft, he has been a starter at safety for the Cowboys since his first day in training camp.

C. Don Bradley, who recruited Williams to play at Oklahoma and now runs his foundation, said, "As a friend of Roy, someone who's watched him grow up from a quiet kid to a campus leader at O.U. and a standout in the N.F.L., I can tell you one thing: this is the last thing Roy wants to be known for, a rule about an illegal play that's attached to him."