Tackling NFL Coverage With Aggie Core Values
Every NFL player has a story. Luckily, an Aggie alumna fondly nicknamed Mother Football has a passion and knack for telling their stories.
By Rachel Knight ‘18
We all have a story. Our life’s seconds add up to more than minutes on a clock or hours in a day. They add up to the tale of who we are, what we do, and the legacy we leave behind.
Charean Williams ‘86 tackles the unique challenge of telling NFL players’ stories. Her professional Rolodex includes hall-of-famers like John Lynch, Warren Sapp, Larry Allen, Jerry Jones and many more football legends.
If Williams’ haul of awards, including the 2018 Bill Nunn Memorial Award for long and distinguished reporting in the field of pro football, is any indication, she tells these stories quite well while also writing the playbook for women in NFL coverage.
Like the game she loves, Williams’ career can be analyzed in four quarters. A play-by-play review of her professional journey so far reveals a glimpse into the legacy Williams will one day leave behind in the College of Liberal Arts at Texas A&M University. For now though, you can catch her setting the bar for sports journalists eager to follow in her footsteps on NBC Sports.
Williams’ first– quarter strategy was to learn as much as she could about football and journalism. Her professional journey began while studying journalism in the College of Liberal Arts, but her passion for the game was ignited much earlier.
“I think I was born with the football bug,” Williams shared. “I was such a huge Cowboys fan because of my mamaw. My first Cowboys game was 1974, Thanksgiving Day. We continued to go to Cowboys games about once a year, whether it was Thanksgiving or the pre-season. My mamaw knew everything about football and the Cowboys. She is the reason I had my love for the Cowboys. We would talk every Sunday after the game and dissect it together.”
Williams wasted no time building connections between her life’s story and the Dallas Cowboys. She told her second– grade teacher that she was going to marry Roger Staubach, which her teacher found charming enough to share with the local paper. The result was a newspaper article declaring Williams the Cowboys’ youngest fan.
“Covering the Dallas Cowboys was my lifelong goal starting in the second grade,” Williams explained. “So everything I did from that point on — working for my high school paper, working for The Battalion — everything was leading up to covering the Cowboys.”
When Williams arrived at Texas A&M in the fall of 1982, she didn’t realize she was attending the university relatively early in its history of admitting women.
“There was never a time that I felt like I didn’t fit in,” Williams said. “I didn’t know that there weren’t many women who worked at the sports department at The Battalion. It’s just something that I wanted to do and so I found a way to do it.”
While she may not have realized she was blazing a trail for women at the university, she quickly realized the value of her liberal arts classes.
“It was a little bit of writing, a little bit of broadcasting, a little bit of working behind the cameras, a little bit of shooting still photos,” Williams shared. “You can’t just be a writer or be in front of the camera. You really have to be able to do it all to be really good. Those liberal arts classes prepared me to do everything in journalism.”
Throughout her time as a student in Aggieland, Williams continued to learn and perfect her craft under the guidance of professors and mentors like Bob Rogers. She recalled his red pen having no qualms marking up stories. While receiving such critique– heavy reviews is never easy, the lessons learned from the experience proved to be invaluable later in Williams’ career.
“There were a lot of things that made Texas A&M the perfect place for me,” Williams noted. “My Battalion family was big, and so was having professors who took me under their wing.”
The first quarter of Williams’ career was a track meet. Time disappeared from the clock quickly as she worked toward achieving her lifelong dream. In contrast, the second quarter of her career had a slower start.
Williams didn’t get a job immediately after graduating with an undergraduate degree, so she returned to College Station to work on a master’s. In October of 1986, Williams took an unsolicited call from John Curylo, the sports editor of The Orange Leader, a newspaper close to William’s hometown of Beaumont.
“The Aggie network really works, and so John Curylo, a fellow Aggie, hired me for my first job,” Williams said. “I went down to Orange for a little less than a year. Then Robert Cessna of The Bryan– College Station Eagle called me.”
Just like Curylo, Cessna offered Williams a job, so she returned to Aggieland and spent the next six years covering sports for The Eagle.
With her ultimate goal in mind, Williams left The Eagle and began covering NASCAR at the Orlando Sentinel. The move provided the shift into professional sports coverage that she needed. Within a year and a half, Williams was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize for her coverage of the deadliest Daytona 500 in history when two drivers died in practice crashes.
When the Tampa Bay Buccaneers beat became available at the Orlando Sentinel, they offered it to Williams. Though they were the worst team in NFL history at the time, Williams jumped at the opportunity and began covering her first NFL season in 1994.
In 1999, Williams’ childhood dream of covering the Dallas Cowboys finally came true. She left Tampa and began working for the Fort Worth Star–Telegram. She quickly built a strong reputation with her colleagues that earned both their respect and a special nickname.
“One of my best friends in the business, Clarence Hill, is unfortunately a Longhorn,” Williams shared. “One day we were in the media room out at the Cowboys. [The other reporters were] watching and arguing over baseball. I got tired of it, and finally I said, ‘This is not a baseball press box. This is a football media room. We can only talk about football.’ Clarence Hill says, ‘Who do you think you are, Mother Football?’ And everyone started laughing. The fact that I was the only woman on the beat at the time, and the only woman doing what I do is probably how they picked up on it. I actually like it. It’s different and I think it kind of fits me, because that’s what I love.”
Doing something no woman has done before often means going places no woman has gone before. Being one of the first women to cover football led Williams’ into football locker rooms.
“I remember the first time I went into an NFL locker room. It was a different experience,” Williams said. “I can say it was everything you’d expect that you don’t want to experience probably. You just go and you do it and you treat a locker room and you treat people with respect and fairness and they do the same for you. My relationship with Jason Witten wasn’t born out of me asking Jason Witten daily questions about football, it was born out of going in there on a Friday when you didn’t really need anything and asking, ‘Hey, how’s the family doing.’”
Williams continued to write the playbook for women in NFL coverage at the Fort Worth Star –Telegram for 18 years. She tackled the responsibility of telling players’ stories accurately while also setting records and leading the way for future generations of women in NFL coverage.
“I didn’t know that girls didn’t cover football. I didn’t know that it was a male job and only a male job. I don’t know that it really mattered either,” she said. “Just because something hasn’t been done, doesn’t mean that it can’t be done. You can do anything that you set your mind out to do.”
Williams was on the cusp of winning the Bill Nunn Memorial Award at the Pro Football Hall of Fame when the Fort Worth Star– Telegram laid her off.
“When you get laid off, like I was in 2017, there are some doubts there,” she shared. “My job is my entire identity. I’m known as Mother Football; I cover football. It made me think a lot about what I’d done, where my career had been, and also where I’m going.”
Williams headed into the second half of her career with a new game strategy. She began working at NBC Sports in June of 2017 with the coverage of 25 Super Bowls and seven Olympic games on her stat sheet.
“I often ask people, ‘What would you be doing if you weren’t doing this,’” Williams said. “I can’t imagine what I would be doing if I wasn’t covering football. Football is life. It’s what I do and how I live. There’s nothing else that fits me quite like football fits me.”
In Canton, Ohio, at the 2018 presentation of the Dick McCann Award, which was renamed the Bill Nunn Memorial Award in 2021, Williams had no doubts about who she was or what she’d done with her career.
“I never made a tackle or a block, or threw or caught a touchdown pass,” Williams explained in her acceptance speech. “But my love for the game is as deep as any man who donned the uniform or paced the sideline.”
Williams now shares her love for the game and passion for it on the Pro Football Talk website and on NBC’s PFTPM, which airs daily on Peacock.
Williams’ fourth quarter will be the legacy she leaves behind. In addition to writing the playbook for women in NFL coverage, Williams has opened important doors for professional athletes as a selector for the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
“It’s a great honor being one of the 49 selectors for the Pro Football Hall of Fame, and it’s a big responsibility because all of those guys want to go into the Hall of Fame. You have their fate in your hands, especially when you’re a presenter,” Williams shared.
While the men inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame – including Aggie Yale Lary –receive a bronze bust displayed in the famous “bust room,” Williams’ name appears on the Bill Nunn Award plaque just outside the room.
“The first thing I do every August when I go to Canton is go through [the Hall of Fame] and check that my name is still up there, it wasn’t a mistake, they didn’t miscount the votes, that I really did win the award in 2018,” Williams said with a grin.
In addition to sharing a desire to see her name in the Hall of Fame, Williams’ shared Aggie experiences help build connections with former Aggie athletes.
“I’ll never forget the year Von Miller won the Super Bowl MVP Award,” Williams said. “On media night, he saw me walk up in the crowd of 200 to 400 people and he said, ‘Hold on a second.’ Got down off the podium and came down to give me a big hug. He got back up to the podium and said, ‘That’s an Aggie. I had to go and say hi.’”
Aggies like Williams and Miller set the bar for selfless service by giving back to their alma mater and empowering others to follow in their footsteps.
“I hope the core values that I’ve used most are leadership and selfless service,” Williams said. “I give back to the College of Liberal Arts because it did so much for me in my career. I wouldn’t be here without the College of Liberal Arts. So if I can help somebody else who wants to do this get where I am, I want to do that.”
Williams has built a robust legacy so far. Only time will tell what else her legacy includes. For now, she said she’s thankful to be part of the Aggie family, to be living her childhood dream, and to have the opportunity to help others follow in her footsteps.
“I think I’m pretty good at what I do,” Williams admitted. “And I think I’m pretty good at what I do because I came to Texas A&M.”