After a disappointing loss amid a disappointing season, Caleb Williams jumped into the first row of the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on Saturday night and began crying in his mother’s arms.
The USC quarterback had accounted for four touchdowns, but it wasn’t enough. The Trojans lost 52-42 to Washington and fell to 7-3 on the season.
“I don’t know,” Williams said after, trying to explain what caused the emotional outburst with his family. “Like, we lost the game. Something you work hard for throughout months, years, to have big games like this, try and go win and play your best, each and every one of us.”
— Yahoo Sports (@YahooSports) November 5, 2023
The 2022 Heisman Trophy winner and potential No. 1 pick in next year’s NFL Draft has found both support and a pillaging online for crying after a game. For those who see it a sign of weakness, well, so be it. Those minds are unlikely to change.
More notable, perhaps, is that it was just two weeks prior — after a USC loss to Utah that effectively ended the Trojans' national championship hopes — Williams began hearing public calls that he should consider quitting college football to concentrate on the draft.
“The risk of playing FAR outweighs the reward,” current FS1 analyst and former NFL linebacker Emmanuel Acho stated on social media. “Business decision.”
Others followed, arguing that Williams had nothing to play for since it was unlikely he would repeat as the Heisman winner and now couldn’t win a national title. As such, he needed to protect his “future.”
On a spreadsheet somewhere, this probably made sense.
On the edge of the Coliseum bleachers Saturday, it clearly didn’t.
What did Williams have to play for?
Whatever it was that was causing him to cry after a tough loss.
Maybe it was his commitment to his teammates. Maybe it was pride in his school. Maybe it was seeing all his hard work come up short on a scoreboard, which he still valued more than his eventual bank account. Maybe it was just being drained after giving everything he had to win the game. Maybe it was just his competitive instinct.
Most likely it was all of those things combined.
Money is important. No one is disputing that. And Williams is a very valuable commodity. Last year’s top NFL pick, Carolina quarterback Bryce Young, received a $37.9 million guaranteed contract. If Williams is as capable as he seems, his second deal will top a quarter billion.
Yet money isn’t everything, or at least it wasn’t everything to Caleb Williams. He didn’t just bail on the program the moment a perfect, dream season was no longer possible. He didn’t just walk through late-season contests, just playing out the string.
Williams is a football player and USC is his team. He is part of something greater than himself, and that clearly still meant something to him.
Even if you are the type who can’t stomach a football player actually crying — and by the way, you should see what the losing locker room of the Super Bowl looks like — you have to appreciate that this guy wanted something so bad that he risked his future to try to get it.
Maybe a win over Washington doesn’t fill a bank account, but that can’t be the only thing in life.
It’s not like Caleb Williams is destitute, either. He’s the only child of Carl Williams and Dayne Price, raised in the middle class of Washington D.C. And Caleb doesn’t play in the old NCAA, where even a star such as him was limited to tuition, room and board.
In the name, image and likeness era, Williams has numerous endorsement deals and is estimated to be making well over $1 million this year alone. He appears in national television commercials for Wendy’s, Nissan and Dr. Pepper.
There is also his future that doesn’t involve football. Clearly his best chance at earning incredible amounts of money is by playing in the NFL. He should wind up an extremely wealthy man.
That said, this isn’t some zero-sum equation. Williams has always carried himself as a highly intelligent, determined, hard working and resourceful person. He is taking classes at a world-class institution. If football ceased to exist tomorrow, this isn’t a person who anyone should worry about.
Football isn’t his only chance at “making it.”
If anything, the character that was represented in that emotion Saturday night suggests he has far more to give than just throwing touchdown passes.
Why is Caleb Williams still playing when he supposedly has so much to lose?
Perhaps because he understands he still has so much to gain.