American football player
Running back Ricky Watters scored five touchdowns in a National Football League playoff game and three in a Super Bowl. He also helped Notre Dame win a national collegiate championship from a different position, wide receiver. So it was no surprise that as the 2002 playoffs beckoned, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and other NFL teams tried to coax Watters out of retirement. No one, however, could come to terms with Watters and his agent.
Watters in 10 seasons rushed for 10,643 yards while helping the San Francisco 49ers, Philadelphia Eagles, and Seattle Seahawks make the playoffs. He became the first NFL running back to rush for more than 1,000 yards for three different teams and qualified five times for the Pro Bowl, the NFL's all-star game.
Helped Irish Win Title
Watters, born and raised in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, was twice an all-state running back at Bishop McDevitt High School, where he also lettered in basketball and track. At Notre Dame, Coach Lou Holtz switched Watters to wide receiver and Watters helped lead the Irish to a national championship with 15 receptions for 286 yards and two touchdowns. In the decisive Fiesta Bowl against West Virginia, Watters caught a 54-yard pass that set up Notre Dame's final touchdown in a 34-21 victory. While at Notre Dame, Watters also returned a 97 yard punt for a touchdown, one of three punt-returns touchdowns he had for the Irish.
Drafted by 49ers
San Francisco took Watters in the second round of the 1991 draft, but he missed the entire season when he
broke his left foot in the first week of training camp. He made up for his disappointment the following season, rushing for 1,013 yards, the most ever by a first-year 49er. He was selected to the NFL squad in the Pro Bowl, and he also led the team with nine rushing touchdowns. A year later, Watters rushed for an NFL-record five touchdowns in an NFC divisional playoff game in San Francisco, which the 49ers won 44-3. But San Francisco, as it did the previous year, lost the NFC title game to the Dallas Cowboys and ended their season one victory short of the Super Bowl.
Super Bowl Champs
In 1994, the 49ers scored 505 points, a 31.6 pointsper-game average, during the season while sporting a 13-3 mark. They set a record 131 points in three postseason games, averaging almost 44 points. And, they finally emerged from the Cowboys' shadows, defeating Dallas 38-28 in the NFC championship game in San Francisco.
Super Bowl XXIX was played in Miami, and San Francisco lived up to its billing as a heavy favorite, scoring four first-half touchdowns in a 49-26 rout that was even more lopsided than the score indicated (it was 49-10 late in the fourth quarter). Watters scored on touchdown passes of 51 and eight yards, and rushed for a nine-yard score in the second half; he rushed 15 times for 47 yards. "After you work so hard and finally attain it, it is just a beautiful thing," said Watters, who performed rap impersonations at the interview podium. "It's a dream come true, and it seems like I'm going to wake up and realize we haven't played yet. And I don't want that to happen." He added: "I hope we rank up there with the best of them. I think we put ourselves in a position to be ranked up there. But I'll leave that to those fat guys on ESPN who sit around and talk about it."
Helps Eagles, Seahawks
Unfortunately Watters and the 49ers parted amid acrimony. He criticized the front office and offensive coordinator for lack of respect; the team said he was selfish. Watters was a transition free agent, and the Eagles signed him to an offer sheet that San Francisco chose not to match. He helped lead the Eagles into the NFC playoffs for two consecutive years. In 1995 and 1996, Watters rushed for 1,273 and 1,411 yards, respectively, in the regular season and a combined 24 touchdowns. Some media and fans, however, criticized him for his attitude.
|1969||Born in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania|
|1987||Graduated from Bishop McDevitt High School in Harrisburg; enrolled at University of Notre Dame|
|1991||Graduated from Notre Dame with B.A. in design; second-round pick by San Francisco 49ers in NFL draft, but missed entire season with broken left foot suffered in first week of training camp.|
|1992||Selected to first of five straight Pro Bowl squads after rushing for 1,013 yards, most ever by a 49er rookie|
|1995||Signed with Philadelphia Eagles as transition player when 49ers did not match offer sheet.|
|1998||Signed as free agent with Seattle Seahawks|
|2001||Retired after playing only five games for Seahawks that season; missed his first start after 116 games due to shoulder injury|
Awards and Accomplishments
|1988||Converted from running back to wide receiver and helped Notre Dame win national championship|
|1989||Returned punt for 97-yard touchdown, a Notre Dame record, against Southern Methodist|
|1993||Scored NFL-record five touchdowns in playoff game against New York Giants|
|1994||American Cancer Society's Man of the Year|
|1995||Scored three touchdowns as San Francisco 49ers routed San Diego Chargers 49-26 in Super Bowl XXIX|
|1998||Became first NFL rusher to gain 1,000 yards with three different teams|
In 1998, Watters became a free-agent and signed with the Seattle Seahawks. He gained more than 1,200 yards in both 1998 and 1999, and in his second year with the team, Mike Holmgren , who had been his offensive coordinator in San Francisco, became the Seahawks' head coach. Seattle surprisingly won the AFC West title that season. Beset by injuries, Watters played but five games in 2001.
Watters sat out the entire 2002 season, rejecting offers from several teams because he wanted more money. He often emphasized that he would retire rather than play for the minimum base salary. "People might think he's bluffing but, believe me, he isn't," agent Ralph Cindrich said in August, 2002. "He feels he has a value beyond the minimum. If that's all teams are going to offer him, then he's going to sit, and that will be it. Ricky will be retired and he is at peace with that." In early 2003, his future in football remained unclear.
|PHI: Philadelphia Eagles; SEA: Seattle Seahawks; SF: San Francisco 49ers.|
Worthy of Enshrinement?
Michael Lev, senior editor of Pro FootballWeekly, wrote in 2000: "Ricky Watters deserves to go to the Hall of Fame. And he shouldn't have to pay to get in. Watters' teams win games. Funny how the 49ers, Eagles and Seahawks made the playoffs despite having a supposed locker-room cancer dragging them down. Watters' reputation for selfishness and immaturity precedes him. No one can forget his alligator-arms maneuver with the Eagles, when he failed to reach for a slightly overthrown pass for fear of getting clocked and basically said afterward, 'Why should I?' But how bad of an influence could Watters have been (especially early in his career) if the teams he played for kept winning?"
Lev, Michael. "Watters Works: Ricky's Résumé is Worthy of Future Hall of Fame Debate." ProFootball-Weekly. http:/archive.profootballweekly.com/content/archives/features_2000/lev_071000.asp, (July 10, 2000).
NFL.com, Ricky Watters Profile, http://nfl.com, (January 2, 2003).
Pasquarelli, Len. "Watters Sitting and Waiting." ESPN.com, http://espn.go.com/nfl/columns/pasquarelli_len/1421908.html, (August 23, 2002).
"Watters Puts on Show during and after the Game." Nando Times, http://cgi.nando.net, (January 2, 2003).
Sketch by Paul Burton