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Battling Against Cancer : Ex-Ram Clancy Williams Has the Disease but Gains Support From Friends

February 16, 1986|RICH ROBERTS | Times Staff Writer

Clancy Williams tackles the problem head-on. He has cancer and he knows it may kill him.

"But I'm going to give it the best I have," he says.

The Rams drafted Williams from Washington State in the first round in 1965, and he played left cornerback for eight years. Some people may have forgotten that, but not the estimated 250 who came to an Anaheim hotel last week to pay homage to him and launch the Clancy Williams Cancer Fund with $4,000 in donations.

The theme was: "We are his friends."

Williams, 43, isn't up to his last listed playing dimensions of 6 feet 2 inches and 194 pounds anymore. He is slightly stooped and thin after months of treatment, but he spoke in a strong, firm voice.

"I don't want you to feel sad and sorry for me," he said. "I'm having a good time. I'll try to beat it, and if I do, fine. And if I don't, that's all right, because I have friends."

The affair was organized by Jack Faulkner, the Rams' administrator of football operations. Dick Bass, Williams' former teammate and a Ram radio analyst, was master of ceremonies.

"But this isn't just a Rams thing," Faulkner said. "A lot of people are involved."

The National Football League Alumni have adopted Williams' cause, and there has been support from the general football community.

Williams learned that he had cancer of the liver and pancreas about a year ago. He is divorced, with a daughter, Toni Mari, 18, attending Washington State and a son, Clarence III, 16, in high school.

After leaving football, Williams worked for the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Dept. for a while, then for The Times in the mail room, until last year. His savings have gone for medical expenses, and he has been living with his parents in Renton, Wash., but was in town for a consultation last Friday at UCLA's John Wayne Cancer Clinic.

Last week's affair was remarkably upbeat, considering the circumstances. Williams even made the audience laugh, as he always could. He got excited when film clips showed him returning an interception 65 yards for a touchdown to beat Green Bay in 1970.

"I visited Rams Park the other day," he said. "When I was playing, we had three showers, one water fountain and worked out in a public park. We made the Rams what they are today."

Jack Youngblood recalled Williams "as a person who always had a smile on his face, always had something funny to say--always the laughter."

Merlin Olsen said: "Clancy had a record that was later broken by Isiah Robertson (for) most fines in one year."

Added Robertson: "And that took some doing."

Tom Mack recalled Williams as his commanding officer in the National Guard. "We fought the battle of Barstow," he said.

Williams was a running back and an All-American defensive back at Washington State.

"The (Ram) coaches couldn't decide whether to play him on offense or defense," trainer George (Mother) Menefee said. "He was that good."

One of his former Ram coaches, George Allen, said: "I roomed Clancy with Myron Pottios and Irv Cross to keep Irv Cross out of trouble."

Others attending included former teammates Lawrence McCutcheon, Ollie Matson, Jack Snow, George Strugar, Marlin McKeever, Bobby Smith, Rich Saul, Henry Dyer, Tommy Mason, Kermit Alexander and Maxie Baughan.

Eddie Meador, Roman Gabriel, Irv Cross and Les Josephson phoned from around the country. NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle sent a telegram.

Current Rams LeRoy Irvin, Jackie Slater and Carl Ekern were also there, along with Coach John Robinson and assistants Fritz Shurmur and Gil Haskell. Dave Meggysey represented the NFL Players Assn., and Hal Smith represented the Alumni.

Don Hewitt, the Rams' equipment manager, reissued Williams his No. 24 jersey, with his name on the back, and Williams clutched it to his bosom the rest of the evening.

He was still clutching it when he rose from a seat in front of the head table for closing remarks.

"This thing, cancer, can happen to anybody," he began as chatter continued over near the bar. "When it happened to me, it was ugly. You feel like you're all alone, and I mean all alone."

The room became silent, except for Williams' voice.

"Then you get a few phone calls and you gain more strength," Williams continued. "You get a letter, you get stronger. It picks you up. It's hard just to give up. It gives you strength to fight. With this thing called cancer, you need strength. It affects you physically and it affects you mentally."

Williams recalled a phone call from Alex Henig, a Los Angeles ticket broker and longtime friend, who was also in attendance.

"When I first started getting my strength back, Alex called and said, 'Clancy, you're going to beat this thing. I had it and I beat it. You're going to beat it. You're going to drop that cancer off on somebody else. We'll give it to the Russians.' "

The crowd laughed.

"I got a call from Deacon (Jones)," Williams said. "Deacon and I were pretty close. I was telling him my experiences, how I suffered my worst pain in two of the safest places in the world, a hospital and a church.

"They took a biopsy of my liver and were going to turn me loose and send me home. I said, 'I can't. It hurts.' They said, 'It's not supposed to hurt.' I said, 'It does.'

"No one really knows the pain you get from cancer. I thought I was going to die right there. I started crying. I was taught not to cry. 'You're a football player, you don't cry.' But I was crying. So the guy brought me some morphine and fixed me up.

"I went to see a head shrink. I wanted to know, how does it feel to die from cancer? What can I expect, so I can be ready for it? I was thinking like that.

"I went to church, one of those hallelujah churches where everyone is happy. This girl jumped up shouting and landed right on my stomach--right where the cancer is--and I said, 'This is it.' "

The crowd laughed again. Williams was cheering up his friends.

"More important than anything in the world, if you have one friend that loves you, you're lucky," he said. "I feel right now that I'm the luckiest man in the world."

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