Damien Williams bounded down the tunnel at Arrowhead on Saturday afternoon, leaping his way to the field as his name reverberated around the snowy stadium.
As giant flames flanked him, the running back stomped his feet, clenched his fists, arched his back and yelled.
This was the moment, before the Chiefs beat the Indianapolis Colts 31-13, that he’d been working toward for years. And now, here he was, announced as a starter for the No. 1 seed Chiefs in the divisional round of the playoffs.
But for Williams, it was about more than that. It was also about the team standing on the other sideline.
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Less than a year ago, Williams was almost an Colt. And that almost-path motivated him to a touchdown and a team-high 154 all-purpose yards in the Chiefs’ win, setting up an AFC Championship Game date with the Tom Brady and the New England Patriots at Arrowhead next Sunday.
“It felt good because at the end of the day, they offered me, but then they took the offer away because of the shoulder,” Williams said. “That stirred my pot.”
Coming off the shoulder injury and surgery suffered when he was playing for the Dolphins during the 2017 regular season, Williams hit the free-agent market in the offseason. With Williams’ injury history, teams were hesitant to sign him, and he wasn’t getting many looks. Eventually, it came down between the Chiefs and the Colts, he said.
He came to Kansas City on a visit, where he met with Chiefs general manager Brett Veach and offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy.
While he was with the Chiefs, Williams felt pressured get to Indianapolis for his next visit.
Once he arrived in Indy, he realized they still had concerns about his shoulder injury, more than anything the Chiefs expressed.
“They were rushing me to leave here and come up there and visit with them,” Williams said. “Going up there and just feeling their vibe once I got up there, you can kind of tell that they were sure, but they were still kind of unsure. When I took the visit here, it was like, ‘Look, this is what we need, this is what’s going on. Are you on board?’”
Even though the Chiefs’ backfield was stacked, Williams signed with Kansas City because the team wasn’t as concerned about his shoulder.
The rest, of course, is history as Williams stepped up to take a bigger role in the final games of the season following the release of Kareem Hunt and injury to Spencer Ware.
“You see the energy he brings, the way he runs, the physicality,” tackle Mitchell Schwartz said. “He’s got some juice to him, too. He’s able to break some tackles out in space and really complete player. The stuff he’s doing on screens is awesome, pass protection. He’s telling guys where to go. You only see the big splash plays from the running position, but his ability to do everything, we don’t have a third down back here. All the guys can do everything.”
Williams anchored the ground game against the Colts, gaining 129 of the Chiefs’ 180 rushing yards — the team’s second-highest total all season and fourth-most in franchise postseason history. And his first-quarter touchdown was one of four rushing touchdowns scored by Kansas City.
He was also Reid’s weapon of choice in converting fourth-down situations, powering through to pick up a handful of them in the first half.
“When you have a coach of that caliber, all you can do is give it your all,” Williams said of the fourth-down plays. “You know, he’s letting you know he trusts us. We’re going to go out there and we’re going to finish the job.”
Afterward, Williams grinned when he was asked about his history with the Colts.
“I owed them a little something,” Williams said.