Asmussen | Local man helps Illini great Williams achieve another milestone

Asmussen | Local man helps Illini great Williams achieve another milestone

On his eighth birthday in March 1985, David Brauer sat near the Assembly Hall court for an Illinois basketball game. At halftime, Illini receiver David Williams was presented with his All-American plaque.

Williams was already an Illinois icon, setting a school record with 101 catches in '84 and grabbing another 92 his senior season.

As Williams walked by, Brauer asked for an autograph.

"He said, 'Sure, hold this for me,'" handing a stunned Brauer his All-American award.

Williams signed "Happy Birthday, David. David Williams #1."

It was a huge thrill for Brauer, who kept the piece of paper. He has it framed and on display as part of his memorabilia collection.

"Growing up in Tolono, David Williams was my favorite player," Brauer said. "I went to some of those games in the 1983 season. I gravitated toward him because he was the star player, (and) we had the same name."

Change of venue

Williams was a third-round pick by the Bears in the 1986 NFL draft. But it was a short stay in Chicago for Williams, who was cut before the season.

He spent the rest of '86 with the Tampa Bays Buccaneers and played for the Los Angeles Raiders in '87.

Williams found pro football success starting in '88. In another country.

He signed with the B.C. Lions and had a monster season, catching 83 passes for 1,468 yards and a record-tying 18 touchdowns. He was named the CFL's Most Outstanding Player.

And he wasn't done. Williams had 1,446 yards and 14 TDs on 79 catches in '89 before scoring 12 touchdowns with Ottawa in '90.

Injuries limited him the next three seasons. But he came back in '93 with Winnipeg to catch 84 passes for 1,144 yards and 15 touchdowns.

Thanks to ESPN's extensive coverage of the CFL, Brauer was able to follow his favorite player from the States.

In 101 career CFL games over nine seasons, Williams had 439 catches for 7,197 yards and 78 touchdowns.

Were they Hall of Fame numbers? Longtime fan Brauer sure thought so.

While working on a book about the league, Brauer joined with the Canadian Football Research Society.

He later became the vice president of the group and was put in charge of the newsletter.

"I thought, 'David Williams had a pretty good career up there and I kind of feel he ranks among the best, but doesn't get that credit,'" he said.

In 2016, Brauer wrote an article about Williams for the newsletter "The Rouge."

Titled "The Unsung MOP: Williams' Career Overlooked," the story detailed why the former Illini deserved more recognition.

Making his case

Brauer did a deep statistical dive on Williams' career. He compared the receiver to other CFL greats on a per-game basis.

Williams averaged 5.67 catches during his career, the most in CFL history. Williams has the most TDs per game of any player in CFL history.

"I was always hoping one day somebody would compare apples to apples," Williams said.

Brauer asked a colleague about nominating Williams. Williams went on the CFL Hall of Fame ballot for the first time in 2017.

"The selection process is quite a bit different than what we're used to with Canton or Cooperstown," Brauer said.

The third time was a charm. On April 24, word went out that Williams is part of the 2019 Hall of Fame class.

It's a Hall of Fame-heavy year for Williams, who goes into the Illinois version in September.

First, Williams will attend the CFL Hall of Fame ceremony Aug. 9 at Hamilton's Tim Hortons Field.

"I've never been," Williams said, "I'm excited to go."

The timing works well for Illinois graduate Brauer, who is about to move back to the Champaign area with his wife, Kendra, and kids, Nic (10) and Reagan (7).

Brauer, 42, will soon go to work as director of communications for Champaign's Unit 4 school district. He plans to attend the CFL Hall of Fame ceremony.

"I'm not going to claim I got him in," Brauer said. "But I'd be proud to say I had any small piece of involvement with that."

Williams is thankful.

"I think David Brauer should get a helluva lot of credit," Williams said. "Without him, I don't know if I'm in."

That makes four halls of fame for Williams, who was already in the College Football Hall of Fame. There are no more halls to conquer.

"That's it," Williams said. "I'm done."

Bob Asmussen can be reached at 217-351-5233 or by email at asmussen@news-gazette.com.

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