The world of so-called amateur journalism is full of hacks. People pretending they have what it takes to produce unique content in regards to a subject. Many fail, even with their best effort.
It's not that he doesn't try; it's that he doesn't sound like he's trying. It's the mark of a great radio host. Of the slew of Steelers-themed podcasts available, no one produces better overall content than Williams, and he was goodly enough to spend some time discussing his show, his background and the overall direction of the team.
After some back-and-forth setting up the interview, I get a hold of Williams on his cell phone. The connection couldn't be worse, but minus the crackling background noise, he sounds the same as he does on his show. There's something encapsulating about Williams' voice. It's consistent and smooth, his diction is metered and unrushed, like listening to "Sittin' on the Dock of the Bay" while drinking top-shelf Scotch.
He's the guy you wish you sat next to on a four-hour plane flight. He enjoys talking about the Steelers more than about himself, but he does both in a carefree nature.
His studio mike is off, but Williams is still on, in a sense. The host of one of the best Steelers-based podcasts available, it's the voice of a big-time sports radio show host, yet, it's humble, unpretentious. There's no agenda to Williams; unlike most, if not all, topical podcasts, he doesn't take himself too seriously, but that in itself is an insult to his knowledge of both the game of football and the Steelers. It's as if he forgot sports radio is supposed to be filled with snarky one-liners and yelling. Instead, he speaks almost with a southern drawl, and takes a thoughtful approach to his answers.
He admits to snaking through Bay Area traffic, yet, he speaks pointedly about the team he's followed since the early 70s - when he lived on the North Side - all the while with that smooth, easiness.
He speaks like an 18-wheel semi truck. It starts with something of a verbal transitional pause - "ahhh" or "ya know" - followed by four or five syllables, almost as if he's getting himself warmed up. Shifting gears, he skips the verbal pause, and provides some more, if not better, detail. He then ties it all together with his money statement, something interesting and intelligent. Everything he says has meaning, the skill of someone who speaks for a living.
Williams isn't nervous. He's probably distracted by the sea of cars he's trying to navigate through on his way to pick up his daughter, but he really loves his roots.
I mentioned to him my father grew up on the North Side as well, and his voice went up a half an octave with excitement. North Siders, like the Rooneys, stick together. He spoke of the neighborhood and growing up 10 minutes from Rooney's house in the Steelers' heyday, during an era where players were much closer to the cities in which they played. The bonds formed between those teams and the fans who followed them cannot be comprehended the same today.
But if you can anywhere, it's Pittsburgh.
That "I Was There" credibility flows smoothly through his answers. He spoke almost quietly but passionately about growing up in that area, but the switch flipped on when he was asked about the upcoming draft. He went from frustrated motorist to Mel Kiper in an instant.
"I look at their team and I think what's most needed is help along the offensive line," he said. If you look at their roster, they're just not talented at either guard position. Both (Doug Legursky and Ramon Foster) were tendered with no compensation in return, and no one wanted them.
"I think they should go guard in the first round."
As this draft shapes into one of the more open-ended Steelers first round picks in a while, it's hard to disagree with his sentiment. The main question facing the Steelers - and those trying to predict the 24th selection - is who will be available. Which guard will be there? It seems Georgia G/T Cordy Glenn could find his way to that spot, and pure tackles like Stanford's Jonathan Martin and Ohio State's Mike Adams could be there, but Williams scoffs at the idea of a bookend blocker when compared to the hole he feels exists at guard.
He brings up the man he calls the best guest he ever had, former Steelers OT Max Starks (the man he referred to as "The Future Florida Senator Starks"), and how he's likely to be back when properly rehabbed from a torn ACL in the team's loss at Denver in the AFC Wild Card Playoffs.
"You have Willie Colon back from injury," he started, shifting slowly from first to second gear. He started with a comment on how moving Colon inside to guard has been discussed, but he eschewed that direction midway, instead going with "If they bring Max back, which they probably will, they'd have depth at tackle."
He hits fifth gear, and emphatically declares, like a talk show host, "With Max back there, and Colon at right tackle, (Marcus Gilbert) at left tackle, Starks and (Jonathan) Scott backing them up, they have four decent tackles. Not great tackles, four decent tackles."
Williams was emphatic with his declaration of the Steelers' tackle depth being "decent," thus proving why he feels guard is a bigger priority. Pierced in the middle of this conversation was an alert tone on his phone. It's Myron Cope, excitedly shouting about something I couldn't place.
What else would the current voice of SteelerNation have? He laughs when it goes off, and says sheepishly, "Yeah, gotta have Myron on there."
He's even humble about his ringtone. I figure it's high time to try to shake him up a little bit, so I dive into the most divisive topic in SteelerNation; Bruce Arians.
"I'm not anti-Arians," he started, shifting into second gear. "I didn't think it was all his fault. I just thought that there were other ways to skin the cat. There were times they placated the running game - I grew up with the 'Curtain
and watched them run the ball but I watched them pass the ball at the end of that decade as well.
Fully in third gear, he continues, "I'm not a three-yards-and-a-cloud of dust guy. This offense needed to score at least 24 points a game."
He breaks into a story about the first Cincinnati game of the 2011 season, voice rising, how the Steelers had a lead and the ball in the fourth quarter. "They ran three times in a row off-tackle, I'm sitting there saying, ‘Is he just trying to do this because someone said you should do this? I'm gonna call three run plays with no hope of succeeding?' There were games I didn't get a sense of what they were trying to accomplish."
He glides effortlessly into fifth gear. "Yeah, ya know, maybe I was anti-Arians," he says, breaking into laughter. "I was anti-Arians, largely cuz they didn't score points. For his love and enamor of the passing game, it produced yards but not points. That's like a donut, nothing but empty calories."
The last part didn't come as a crescendo, but rather, a plateau, as if to say, "there's my quote. Write it down."
The ebb and flow of his conversation, along with a silky smooth voice, make Williams an icon. He's the anti-radio show host, and he's got five gears of dialogue on any topic pertaining to the Steelers.