GREEN BAY - On Dec. 26, 1993, an impromptu leap by Green Bay Packers safety LeRoy Butler rewrote the etiquette for celebrations at Lambeau Field. Ever since then, after Butler jumped into the stands following a defensive score, players sporting green and gold have faced an important question when they cross the goal line in their home stadium: To leap or not to leap?
The same predicament saddled rookie running back Jamaal Williams during Sunday’s win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Williams, a fourth-round pick from Brigham Young, had propelled himself into the end zone for a 1-yard touchdown in the second quarter, grinding his way through the chest of safety Chris Conte. He climbed to his feet, high-stepped away from the pile of bodies and pre-empted his first Lambeau Leap with the kind of celebration his teammates undoubtedly expected
“Dude likes to dance,” left tackle David Bakhtiari said.
With the ball in his right hand, Williams raised both arms above his head and swiveled his hips in a manner Elvis Presley might have enjoyed. He gave three quick squirms, flashed a smile and jogged through the end zone for the obligatory leap. In a season when celebrations have become spiced with creativity, there is something charming about Williams' simplicity.
“That’s just what I do,” Williams said. “I just like dancing. I just like having fun. The older dudes, they’ve been seeing it since I got here that I just like fun.”
A spate of injuries to running backs Ty Montgomery (ribs, wrist) and Aaron Jones (medial collateral ligament) has enabled Williams to apply his fun within the context of the Packers’ offense. He was thrust into a larger role against the Chicago Bears in mid-November when both of his aforementioned teammates dropped out, and the Packers have built their offense around Williams ever since. He is averaging 117 total yards per game over the last three weeks and topped 100 yards rushing for the first time in his career against the Buccaneers.
At the forefront of Williams’ success — alongside his bruising running style and admirable durability — is the playful personality that seeped into the locker room shortly after his arrival in early May. Williams, 22, has stiff-armed the notion of blending into your surroundings and embraced his time with the Packers the way many of us approached youth sports: by smiling, laughing, singing at his locker and dancing before crowds of thousands — regardless of which veterans might be watching.
“It just takes time for people to get to talk to me, get to know me and stuff like that,” Williams said. “I’m really just grateful to be on a professional team and for them to just let me do what I do and have fun with it. Even (this week) in practice, people were joking around how I was doing my shimmy.”
The Packers were introduced to the Jamaal Williams experience during organized team activities and training camp, when the rookie used water breaks as moments of personal expression. Each stoppage of practice is known as a “TV timeout” to prep the players for the longer gaps they’ll experience during actual games. Music blares from the loudspeakers as coaches and equipment staffers scurry to prepare the next drill.
Most veterans use their breaks to grab some water and chat with teammates. Williams, though, transformed every lull into a rave.
"Mostly I just try to approach (people) by smiling, having fun, dancing," Williams said. "That’s how I get most of my attention from them."
He would dance alone or he would dance in groups. He danced for the fans and he danced for himself. He danced to rap, country or classic rock.
For a while, outside linebacker Clay Matthews knew Williams only as "The Dancing Dude."
“When a rookie comes in, you know, you’re told most of the time to keep your head down, get in your playbook, make your plays, go unnoticed,” Matthews said. “But Jamaal was making himself noticed by always dancing during our two-minute breaks during practice. So I think it’s a double-edged sword because you look at him and you’re like, ‘Does this guy take this game seriously, or is he just having too much fun out here?’ You’re afforded that opportunity later on in your career.
“But it wasn’t until he got called up to kind of handle the workload of being a starting running back to where he showed what he’s capable of, while continuing the same personality. You learn that’s just the type of guy he is. He’s the type of guy who — The Dancing Dude — I give him a hard time when I see him walking through the halls as far as he’s finally getting sore and getting a taste of the NFL life, having to play a full game now.
“When you have somebody like that who brings a light-hearted approach to the game but at the same time is serious and can back it up, (that) is what you like to see. … It’s very hard to one minute be a jokester but the very next be able to turn it on. You’re either all in or all out. So it’s refreshing to see that because for the most part, you know, your head is down and you’re grinding away. But to see that type of energy not only on the field but outside of it as well is fun to see from a young guy.”
Williams described himself as introverted during adolescence and said he spent the majority of his time alone. Football, he said, became an avenue through which he made friends and discovered more about himself. He always wanted to be the outgoing and gregarious person he has become as an adult, but it wasn’t until his freshman year of college that Williams “started getting my personality."
That's when Williams started dancing, and some of the footage lives on through Twitter.
“I probably was either just — I really didn’t know how to put it into my game or just put it in there having fun with it,” Williams said. “I used to be shy. Now I just honestly don’t let other people’s opinions affect how I am. The only person who knows Jamaal is Jamaal and probably my mama, maybe.
“It just took time, really, for me to understand how I was.”
Now Williams rarely holds back. In games, where Williams has become a staple of coach Mike McCarthy’s offense, he can be seen gyrating across various settings: the end zone, the sideline and the middle of the field after key first downs. In practice, where the stakes are much lower, Williams said he encourages teammates to partake in his favorite dance moves. Cornerback Kevin King and safety Jermaine Whitehead have been known to join on occasion; fullbacks Aaron Ripkowski and Joe Kerridge, however, do not. (At the moment, Williams is encouraging said fullbacks to adopt the touchdown dance he flashed against the Buccaneers and Pittsburgh Steelers.)
Either way, teammates describe Williams' personality as infectious because he recognizes football is meant to be fun. And the fact that he's playing well certainly doesn't hurt.
“I’m all for having guys that want to express themselves and be louder, I guess, than they technically should be — as long as they back it up,” Bakhtiari said. “He’s shown he’s got a lot of energy and he brings the thunder. I like it."