'Road Runner' owns his share of records in return game

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Nicknamed "The Road Runner," Travis Williams was one of the most electrifying and powerful kickoff returners in pro football history. More spectacular than durable, Williams played only four seasons with the Packers, but his name endures in both the NFL and Packers record books.

Williams' 41.06 kickoff return average in 1967 still stands as the NFL's single-season record. His four touchdown returns, also in 1967, is an NFL record he shares with Cecil Turner of the Chicago Bears, while his two touchdowns in a game is a record he shares with nine others. Williams ran back two kickoffs for touchdowns against Cleveland on Nov. 12, 1967.

Williams' five career touchdowns on kickoff returns remains the Packers' record. Also, his 26.73 career average is second best all-time to Dave Hampton.

As a running back, Williams had one good season. In 1969, he rushed for 536 yards in 129 attempts, a 4.2 average, and caught 27 passes for a 10.2 average. That said, his most memorable performance came in a 1967 playoff against the Los Angeles Rams. With the Western Conference championship at stake, Williams rushed for a team-high 88 yards in 18 carries and turned the game's momentum with a 46-yard touchdown run in the second quarter.

He also scored the Packers' final touchdown on a 2-yard run in a 28-7 victory and left a big impression on Rams coach George Allen. "Every time he gets the ball, he's a threat to go all the way," Allen said of Williams. "He's not an ordinary racehorse type, either. He has power along with his speed."

Although he didn't play in the first six games, Williams' best season as a kick returner was his rookie year. With the Packers trailing in the fourth quarter in Game 7, Williams exploded onto the scene, returning a kickoff 93 yards for a touchdown to ignite a come-from-behind victory over the St. Louis Cardinals. Two weeks later, he made an even bigger splash when he returned his two kickoffs for touchdowns in the first quarter against Cleveland. One covered 87 yards, the other 85 as the Packers rolled to a 55-7 victory.

In 1969, Williams became the first Packers player to return both a kickoff and a punt for touchdowns in a game against Pittsburgh. He returned the kickoff 96 yards and the punt, 83. That day, he also became the first Packers player in history to surpass 300 net yards in a game, totaling 314 on 11 touches.

"All you had to do was make contact with the guy in front of you," said tight end and fellow Packers Hall of Famer Marv Fleming. "You didn't have to drive, drive, drive and all that stuff. All you had to do was occupy your guy for a split second and Travis was gone." 

The Packers chose Williams in the fourth round in 1967, the first common draft following the merger agreement between the National and American football leagues. He was credited with a 9.3 clocking in the 100-yard dash in junior college, but didn't participate in track at Arizona State. He played football there two years and started only as a senior.

Although Williams played behind Elijah Pitts and then Donny Anderson as a rookie, he accounted for 1,007 total yards that season. In 1969, he started 11 games, five at halfback and six in the same backfield as Anderson, and led the Packers in rushing. He also started five games with Anderson in 1970. The NFL started using the term running back on its official play-by-plays in 1968. In all, Williams played in 48 games with the Packers and started 16. His four-year rushing stats were 271 carries for 1,063 yards, a 3.9 average. He also caught 49 passes and averaged 10.8 yards a catch.

On Jan. 28, 1971, during the NFL Draft, the Packers traded Williams and their fourth-round pick to the Los Angeles Rams for their second-round choice and what turned out to be a sixth-round pick in 1972. Already beset by a number of personal problems, Williams lasted one season with the Rams.   

Born Jan. 14, 1946, in El Dorado, Ariz. Given name Travis Williams. Died Feb. 17, 1991, at age 45.

Travis Williams

  • Halfback/Kick Returner: 1967-70
  • Height: 6-1; Weight: 210
  • College: Arizona State, 1965-66

HONORS:

  • Press-Gazette All-Century Team: 1999 (Kick Returner)

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