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DOLPHINS STAR TURNS OUT TO BE RETIRING TYPE

Imagine your father handing over the keys and pointing toward the driveway, to the shiny new Hummer, and telling you it's yours. Only he wasn't kidding. It's how the news from South Florida sounded Sunday in Bills Nation. It was too good to be true, so pleasantly surprising that it smelled like a hoax.

Ricky Williams is retiring.

Ricky Williams is retiring?

Ricky Williams is retiring!

It's true. Apparently, the eccentric Miami Dolphins running back is set to turn in his walking papers this week and head for heaven knows where. He already has what the Bills wanted to give him two years ago: a one-way ticket off the continent.

He's going to Asia with no immediate plans for coming back. The word from Miami is that he lost his desire to play after five years, so he's hitting the road. He told the Miami Herald that he's free and happy. That's great. So is the rest of the AFC East, which celebrated Christmas in July on Sunday.

Williams is unpredictable and complex. He's a generous sort, but nobody would have guessed he would be kind enough to gift wrap the Bills' best transaction of the offseason. I wouldn't be surprised if London Fletcher reimbursed Ricky for the air fare and Takeo Spikes threw him a retirement party.

Yes, I know Ricky is only one player and the Dolphins have other players and the Patriots are the team to beat and this doesn't change a thing and the Bills had better not take Miami for granted or they can kiss the playoffs goodbye. But you can bet there are a few people along One Bills Drive who are getting more excited about the season, and with good reason.

For starters, Williams isn't just one player. He is, or was, the best running back in the National Football League, a dangerous combination of power and speed who changed many an outcome over the years. He did a number on Buffalo over the past two seasons. He killed the Bills with 42 carries for 153 yards in the first meeting last season and came back with 29 carries for 111 yards in Week 15. The Dolphins won both games.

At the very least, his departure opens up possibilities for Buffalo in the AFC East. The Dolphins built their entire offense around Williams, and teams inside the division have been revamping their defenses with the idea they need to stop him.

I'm sure career backup Travis Minor is a fine back, but I doubt Jerry Gray has lost any sleep over him the way he has Williams. Now that Gray doesn't need to worry about Williams slamming through the line, he can become more aggressive with his pass rush. It takes pressure off the defense, which shouldn't be as weary come the fourth quarter of a tight game.

The Bills should be more optimistic about their prospects now. Williams' departure alone could have a major impact on the playoffs, which has been foreign territory in these parts for the past three seasons.

As you might guess, the Dolphins were none too amused with the decision, which comes a week before training camp and three months after the NFL draft. Had they known Williams was leaving maybe they would have tried to sign Eddie George before he joined the Cowboys.

The Bills catch a break in the schedule, too. They play the Patriots and Jets on successive weeks in October before welcoming the Ricky-less Dolphins into the Ralph. The second meeting is Dec. 5 in Miami during a stretch in which the Bills play four road games in five weeks. It could mean the difference between making or missing the playoffs.

So run, Ricky, run.

Don't worry, we'll tell you when to stop.
e-mail: bgleason@buffnews.com

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