The Passion of “Big Al” Williams

“I love golf far more than I love football,” says the former CU Buff and Broncos champion

Alfred Williams may be the most passionate, fun-loving athlete in the history of Colorado sports. And that is how he approaches golf, with passion and fun. If you play a round with “Big Al”, he’s going to play with passion and you’re going to have fun. The fun will probably will come with lots of trash talk at your expense.

“Golf with me is not conventional, homeboy,” Williams proclaims. His trademark cackle follows, one that listeners of his sports talk show (with Darren “D-Mac” McKee) on Denver’s 104.3FM The Fan have become accustomed to hearing over the years.

“It’s hard for me to believe that I could love something more than I love football,” Williams says. “I love golf far more than I love football. If it were something that I could do for the rest of my life as a professional, I would work really hard at it.”

For Williams, that’s saying quite a bit considering his list of accomplishments as a football player. He was captain of the University Colorado football team that went 11-1-1 and beat Notre Dame in the Orange Bowl to win a share of the 1990 national championship. In his senior season Williams was voted the Butkus Award winner, given to the nation’s top linebacker. The two-time All-America selection was voted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 2010.

Williams was the 18th player selected overall in the 1991 NFL draft, by the Cincinnati Bengals. He signed with the Denver Broncos as a free agent in 1996, and played an integral role on the Broncos’ back-to-back Super Bowl-winning championship teams.

Williams retired from the NFL after the 1999 season. He was inducted into the Colorado Sports Hall of Fame in 2011. Ever since his retirement, Williams has been honing his golf game. His handicap, Williams says, has been as high as 11 and as low as four. He shot a personal best 71 at Raccoon Creek Golf Club in Littleton. Formerly an Inverness member, Williams now holds a membership at Aurora’s Blackstone Country Club.

Former CU assistant football coach Bob Simmons urged Williams to take up golf. Williams considers it some of the best advice he’s ever received—especially coming from a man he considers to be a father figure.

Simmons helped coach Williams into becoming an All- America football player. He might be responsible for Williams always looking to have so much fun on a golf course, too. “Alfred has no ability, still shanks and can’t putt . . . that whole 4 to 11 handicap thing is a lie,” Simmons says, laughing. “He can’t beat me—I’m still whipping his butt. Really, it’s a lot of fun when we get out there. He’s my second son, always has been.

“Al’s very competitive and has always wanted to be the best at what he does. It would get under his skin whenever I beat him. See, Al would never take lessons. He started taking lessons, getting some fundamentals down. His swing has gotten a lot smoother, the short game is a lot better. Now he’s shooting in the mid-seventies. He competes, which is good.

“He’s grown beyond that football player I coached to where he’s making a living in radio and broadcasting and people like him. But I still remind him that in golf, there are some people you can’t play. He doesn’t want to hear that. You’ll probably ask for strokes and they’ll still cut you.”

Williams grew up in Houston’s tough South Park neighborhood. He was a star athlete at Jesse Jones High School during a time when the city was abuzz over the NBA Rockets reaching the NBA Finals, Major League Baseball’s Astros being led by future Hall of Famer Nolan Ryan, and the University of Houston’s Phi Slamma Jamma led by Clyde Drexler and Hakeem Olajuwon. Williams played basketball too, but football was his primary sport. When it came time to pick a college, he chose Colorado simply because he “wanted different.”

“Everything that I did, all my friends were doing the same things,” Williams says. “My Uncle Ed, he was in the military. He lived in New York, California, Louisiana. He spoke differently. He rode a motorcycle . . . he was so different than his 15 brothers and sisters.

“I wanted to get out and be like Uncle Ed. I didn’t know athletics would take me there. But it did, and Colorado has been so good to me over the years.”

And like so many Coloradans, Williams has found that changes in altitude will play mind tricks with a golf swing.

“I hit the ball a long ways—in Colorado around 320 to 325 on average,” Williams says. “But I’ve found that, at sea level, it’s more like 295.

“My 9-iron distance in Colorado is 165 yards. When I’m in Texas or Florida, it’s my 150- yard club. That’s 15 yards off of one club. It changes your game. I had to work with some pros to get over that, because in your mind you know how you hit the shot. I play 85-90 percent of my golf in Colorado.

“I was playing golf with (former Broncos linebacker) John Mobley recently in San Juan, Puerto Rico. I had to ask him for a club, you know, what’s my 185 club? With a little wind, it changes from a seven-iron in Colorado to maybe a five-iron elsewhere.”

Not all of Williams’ friends are impressed with his golf prowess. “Alfred a golfer? Please. I don’t golf—and he doesn’t either,” Hall of Famer Shannon Sharpe says. “Anybody who’s not on the PGA Tour, or the tour below that, they’re not golfers either. That’s a hobby.”

Sharpe, who literally has never played golf, and Williams have been trading playful jabs with one another for years. Sharpe slapped the nickname “Plate” on Williams one day before a Broncos’ practice. “He was shooting Pop-a-Shot baskets in locker room one day and said, ‘Look at me—I’m Hot Rod Williams.’ He was making a bunch of shots. But he had his shirt off with some shorts on, and his stomach was hanging out. I said, ‘It’s more like Hot Plate Williams.’ And it stuck.”

Sharpe eventually dropped the “Hot” and “Plate” has stuck since ‘96. “I guarantee you won’t find five guys who played with him in Denver who will call him by his real name,” he boasts.

Baskets and bellies aside, Sharpe has always had a respect for his former teammate. He always could count on Williams being ready to play every game.

“On game day he was ridiculous,” Sharpe says. “Running around screaming and yelling. I was trying to conserve my energy. He was putting as much energy into getting himself pumped to play as he was using on the football field. How he was able to do that, I don’t know.

“I played with some guys who were really, really passionate. The thing with Alfred is, you knew he was going to be ready to play. We joked a lot, sure. “When it was time play, it was all business.”

And when it’s time to play golf, the playful Williams is all business. “My game is as good as it needs to be,” Williams says. “With most of my friends, we have an ‘even-for-life’ bet. If they get up and they’re playing well, you can get your head beat in if you’re not ready. So you have to match their intensity and their willingness to practice because the only way you’re going to get better at golf is to practice.

“We have bragging rights among the former Buffs—Kordell Stewart, Marc Walters, Charles Johnson, Blake Anderson, James Hill, Derek West … about 20 guys. And we all love the game.”

The golf course has been a place for old teammates to connect and have a good time. Two of Williams’ newer friendships were nurtured on the links.

“I meet this guy, Phillip Scott, on a golf course,” Williams says. “He owns a construction company, and he’s become a really good friend of mine. He’s old enough to be my dad, and I look at him like a father figure. He’s been one of my greatest mentors because he makes sure I’m right mentally. It’s not about going out and playing hard-core golf. He’s always checking on me. How many friends do you have that check on you, to make sure you’re good?

“Phillip is salt of the earth. We get together during the holidays, Father’s Day, we go out to dinner for his birthday . . . I would play 30, 40, maybe 50 times a year at Green Valley Ranch before I finally got my own membership.

“And then Phillip introduced me to Jason Blanchard. Doc Blanchard and I play at least three times a week. We travel all over the country playing golf. We met through Phillip.” Williams has five children, and he makes a conscious effort to get them involved with playing golf. If he could turn back the clock, Williams would want to make the game his primary sport of choice.

“If I have one regret in my life, one real regret, it’s that I wish I would have started playing golf when I was five or six years old. Like, the same time I picked up a football and basketball for the first time. The landscape and the topography of these different places that you see is just breathtaking. And the people that you meet playing the game of golf, it’s just a different life.

Pictured: Williams with one of his sons at Blackstone Country Club

“I wish more people had a chance to really understand the culture of the game. It’s not just going out there and playing the game. There’s a lot of honor in it. We don’t cheat on the golf course.

“In other sports you can cheat a little. In basketball there’s a little bit of traveling. In football it might’ve been a little holding, but . . . there’s gray areas in other sports. In golf, it’s blackand- white. You’re either out of bounds or you’re not.”

As much as Williams has professed to having fallen in love with golf, he still loves football too. He says there are no golf excursions taken during the football season. Football in Colorado is a rite of fall and winter. Big Al and D-Mac don’t want to miss an opportunity talk to their listeners.

And Williams doesn’t mind leading the cheers for all the local colleges, as well as the Broncos. He’s hoping Colorado and the Broncos will win championships much sooner than later.

“My legacy has been cemented by winning the first national championship team at Colorado and the first Super Bowl with the Denver Broncos,” Williams says. “I’ve always said that sometimes it’s good to be the first to do something, but if it’s something good you don’t want to be the last one to do it. So the quicker they can get back to dominance, the better for me.”

Don’t expect Williams to stand around waiting for those returns to dominance—unless it’s on a tee box.


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CAG Contributor Sam Adams is an award-winning stand-up comedian and journalist.