It was 15 years ago that Aeneas Williams finally made a Super Bowl. After 10 years with the Arizona Cardinals, he was traded to the St. Louis Rams in the 2001 offseason. Under the moniker, "The Greatest Show on Turf," the Rams reached the final Sunday for the second time in three seasons.
Williams, now a Hall of Fame defensive back, prepared to face a 24-year-old second-year sixth-round pick: Tom Brady.
"We had played the New England Patriots during the regular season," Williams says. "We knew how good they were. Regardless of whatever the point spread was, we knew there was a possibility after our regular-season game, that if we did what we're supposed to do, we could see them at the end of the season."
The Rams had beaten the Patriots 24-17 in Week 7 in Foxborough, and Brady threw two interceptions. But it was the last time the Patriots lost that season as they went to beat the Rams in Super Bowl XXXVI 20-17, and Brady won his first of three Super Bowl MVP awards.
Williams played three more seasons with the Rams before retiring. Rather than go back to Arizona or his birth city of New Orleans, Williams stayed in the St. Louis area. In 2008, he and his wife, Tracy, became founding pastors at the Spirit Church in a neighboring city: Ferguson, Missouri.
In 2014, when protests formed in the city after the police shooting of Michael Brown, the Williams' new job took a turn. Members of the congregation turned to Williams for healing.
"If you have opposing people, opposing communities on separate sides of the street, walk down the middle of the street and find a way to connect them," Williams says.
"We begin to grow and grow from the standpoint of diversity, where all ethnicities started coming to the church because of the message the lord was giving me and continues to give. It's the simplicity of the gospel and God is all about people. What happened in some of the municipalities, the council or the mayor, not that this is the case, but it's happened before, municipalities determine what sort of city or municipality they want, but sometimes they don't have people in the lower-income areas at the table. That's what they learned, what civic discourse was in causing a community to heal."
While the election of Donald Trump has triggered many Americans, notably people of color, to express skepticism toward the new administration, Williams goes to church on Sundays with a calm sermon.
"The message still is God is about people," he says. "When it comes down to a nation, it's about reminding people it's the United States. We were to never, according to scripture, make judgments based on the color of a person's house. In this case, people's skin color and all of those things. What we found out when we can create environments with civic discourse, what they end up finding out, particularly if they grew up in different areas, different backgrounds, when they come together and talk, they are able to find out many of them have similar needs. If I pick you, you're gonna bleed red, I'm gonna bleed red. You want to have safe communities, I want to have safe communities. When that sort of discourse takes place, that's when you really see cities grow.
"We're in a great country, where people are still attempting to get here because they can change the trajectory of their entire family in one generation, here in the United States. So, my prayer is that we all unify, regardless of who is in the office of the President. You pray for that person, in this case President Donald Trump and his cabinet and the lawmakers, the Supreme Court justices. That's what the scriptures encourage us to do. Then use our communication skills and our language to talk more about what we have in common and what are some of the common goals we want to see in this country."
Sports figures such as Steve Kerr, Gregg Popovich, Michael Bradley and Mo Farah have spoken out against Trump's recent travel ban on select nations. Williams says he doesn't know enough about the details of the issue to comment.
"I'm a proponent that there are people in positions that know things that we as citizens don't know," he says. "I like to make informed decisions. I know the hot button with the protests and everything, but I don't know. I don't know what the CIA knows. I don't know what the FBI knows. All I know is our world now has changed. The goal in this country has always been to be a country that accepts people. But now it's a matter of how do you continue to do the things that need to be done to the best of your ability from a leadership standpoint to make sure the country is safe. What that looks like, I have no idea. But I know it's some critical, unpopular decisions that many times have to be made by leadership that sometimes, many of us not truly understand."
As for players at the Super Bowl, he cautions them to watch their hot mics and stick to football.
"It's not the time," Williams says. "When you're playing games like this, championship games and Super Bowls, guys have to be focus. The only reason men or women fail is broken focus. This is not the time to get caught up in things you haven't researched yourself or you're not clear. And you're given statements based on how you feel and what others have said."
Williams appeared on ThePostGame Podcast from radio row in Houston. Williams was helping Kay Jewelers, the official jewelry store of the Pro Football Hall of Fame, publicize its 18th year as a partner with St. Jude Children's Research Hospital.
Showing off my Hall of Fame ring with Aeneas Williams (@aeneas35). It's been 15 years since he prepared for a 24-year-old Tom Brady in Super Bowl XXXVI. The legendary #NFL defensive back is now a pastor in Ferguson, Missouri. #SuperBowl #azcardinals #cardinals #rams #profootballhof @profootballhof #tombrady