For a guy that played in 3 professional football leagues, Henry “Gizmo” Williams has had a storied professional football career. However, his fame and notoriety was created when played in the CFL for the Edmonton Eskimos. He is also sadly known for the tragedy of his family.
Williams was born in Memphis, Tennessee to a poor family in a poor community. His mother died from multiple sclerosis and his father was killed in a house fire when he was young and he was raised by his oldest brother Edgar. However his oldest brother eventually passed away from multiple sclerosis. He eventually was raised by his aunt.
At a very young age it was apparent that Williams was a really special football player. A childhood friend, Gregory Jackson, suggested he try out for football but at the time his family was poor and his brother who was raising him had no extra money. Edgar was not going to let him play since he could not afford insurance. Gregory Jackson’s father went to the Williams residence and explained to Edgar that he would pay for everything Williams needed to play…but just let him play. That was the start of Williams career.
At 5’6″ he was a diminutive player next to all of the other players but that was not an issue for the shifty Williams. His size was perfect for a kick or punt returner who had speed and could run in space. He played college football for East Caroline University and eventually played in the USFL for the Memphis Showboats in 1985, primarily since he was from Tennessee. His next stop was the Canadian Football League where his career took off in 1986. He did get a chance to play for the Philadelphia Eagles of the NFL in 1989 but at 5’6″ did not see much playing time. He eventually asked for his release and then went back to the Edmonton Eskimos where he would finish out his football career.
He is considered to be the best kick returner, punt returner and missed field goal returner ever in the CFL. In the CFL he was also a really good wide receiver. At his retirement from the CFL he left the league with over 20 records. He has won the Grey Cup in 1987 and 1993. In 2006 Williams was elected into the CFL Hall Of Fame. Over his career, Williams developed a trademark of doing a front flip in the air after every score that the fans really enjoyed. They enjoyed it so much that the one time he forgot to do it the fans boo-ed him and he eventually had to run back on the field just to do the flip.
Sadly, his family story is a tragic one. Multiple sclerosis runs in his family and this disease has taken the lives of his mother, seven of his ten siblings and 3 of his nieces and nephews. His other sister died from a drug overdose in California and his other brother died from gunshot wounds in Memphis.
How did he get his colorful name?
According to Gizmo, all of the rookies in the Memphis Steamboats (USFL) were taken to the movies to see “Gremlins.” The next day, Reggie White at 6’4″ and 290 lbs said that the smallest guy would be called “Gizmo.” As Henry looked around realizing that he was the smallest player, Reggie White then looked at him and said “Your name ‘Gizmo’” and the name stuck.