The Pittsburgh Steelers had a ritual every day during training camp.
The entire team would sing Happy Birthday to running back DeAngelo Williams while stretching before practice. The players would encourage the fans to join in.
One night, a handful of players pranked Williams and filled his room with balloons while he was eating dinner.
The thing is, Williamsâ€™ birthday is April 25, more than three months before camp opened.
So why did the Steelers keep serenading Williams on a daily basis? It was their way of poking fun at the fact that Williams is 33 years old, which is ancient for a running back in the NFL.
However, Williams again looked like someone much younger on Monday night as he helped lead the Steelers to a 38-16 victory over the Washington Redskins in the season opener at FedEx Field in Landover, Md. He rushed for 143 yards and two touchdowns on 26 carries and also caught six passes for 28 yards.
Williams had the 23rd 100-yard rushing game of his 11-year career, including his fifth in two seasons with the Steelers. He again more than eased the loss of Leâ€™Veon Bell, who is suspended for the first three games of the season for his second violation of the NFLâ€™s drug policy after also sitting out the first two games of last season.
â€śYou canâ€™t say enough about DeAngelo Williams and his performance,â€ť Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said. â€śWe have come to expect that from him. That is why we are completely confident in his ability to deliver in the time that Bell is out. We will continue to ride with him.â€ť
Williams rushed just 10 times for 38 yards in the first half as the Steelers built a 14-6 lead. However, that enabled him to stay fresh in the second half when he had 105 yards on 16 carries.
After the Steelers stretched their lead to 24-9, the Redskins made it a one-score game with 13:01 left on Chris Thompsonâ€™s 1-yard touchdown. However, Williams then helped the Steelers put the game away with two touchdowns runs, one that covered 15 yards with 5:48 remaining and a 6-yarder with 1:54 to go.
Williams became the oldest NFL running back to rush for 100 yards and two touchdowns in a game since Jerome Bettis, who was also 33, did so in 2005 for the Steelers against the Chicago Bears. Williams also was one of just two backs to go over 100 yards in Week 1 along with the Houston Texansâ€™ Lamar Miller, who had 106 on 28 carries against the Bears.
Furthermore, his 143-yard effort was the second-best in an opener in franchise history behind Willie Parkerâ€™s 161 in 2005 against the Tennessee Titans.
Williams deflected the credit to his teammates.
â€śI have to give all of that credit to the o-line,â€ť heÂ said. â€śThe o-line, they do a great job up there opening holes. I was running through a lot of holes tonight.â€ť
Not surprisingly, quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and wide receiver Antonio Brown led an offense that finished with 435 total yards. Roethlisberger completed 27 of 37 passes for 300 yards and three touchdowns with one interception, while Brown caught eight passes for 126 yards and two scores.
However, first-year wide receiver Eli Rogers stepped up with a strong performance in his NFL debut while starting for Markus Wheaton (shoulder) as he had six receptions for 59 yards a touchdown. Tight end Jesse James, subbing for Ladarius Green — who is on the physically unable to perform while recovering from ankle surgery — added five catches for 31 yards.
â€śWeâ€™ve got to play with the guys that we have out there,â€ť Williams said. â€śCoach (Tomlinâ€™s) mantra is â€?Next man up.â€™ And thatâ€™s a credit to the front office.â€ť