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NFL player’s brilliant Naruto reference has layers

Jamaal Williams loves anime, and he wants the whole world to know it

Jamaal Williams of the Detroit Lions celebrates after scoring a touchdown in the fourth quarter of the Lions’ 20-16 win against Green Bay on Jan. 8, 2023. Photo by Patrick McDermott/Getty Images

Anime fans, rejoice. You have a champion at last, fighting in your name on Football Night in America. He’s Jamaal Williams, Naruto fan and self-declared “First Swagg Kazekage.”

Williams, the Detroit running back, busted out the intros of all intros for the Lions’ season finale against hated rival Green Bay. In a showcase game like Sunday (or Monday) Night Football, the producers let the starters introduce themselves, usually by name and alma mater. Williams, (who in fact went to Brigham Young University) wore a custom headband — engraved with the Detroit Lions’ emblem — and revealed that he is the “First Swagg Kazekage,” a title he claimed all the way back in July.

Perhaps even more interesting about this particular headband is the fact that it has a slash through the emblem. Generally, this means that the Shinobi has left their village for one reason or another. Now, the Sand village’s story doesn’t exactly line up with Williams’ time in Green Bay, so it doesn’t seem like he’s comparing himself to Gaara, but the idea of him using the symbol of the exiled Shinobi the week before he plays his former team, then changing to a new headband that has the Lions logo on it, is interesting and fun nonetheless.

Furthermore, he is the “leader of the Hidden Village of the Den,” which sounds like a play on the Lions’ nickname, as well as the non-canonical addition of Detroit to Naruto’s list of Hidden Villages. Williams has worn Naruto headbands before, most recently in a postgame locker-room scrum after the Lions pounded Chicago 41-10 on Jan. 10. In that appearance, he wore the hourglass emblem of the Hidden Village of Sand.

Sunday night, he carried the ball 16 times for 72 yards rushing — and two touchdowns, to break the single-season franchise record held by none other than hall-of-fame tailback Barry Sanders (and Madden NFL’s first cover star). After the game, in a remarkably touching moment, he dedicated the performance and victory to his great-grandfather, who recently passed at age 92.

And then he lit the Packers and their media-fed bandwagon right the hell up.

“We the Detroit Lions. Stop playing with us. I don’t even watch TV, but I heard everybody already picked the Packers over us. Stop playing with us. That’s all I gotta say, man. Don’t let these tears fool you. It’s all dawg around this mug.”

Detroit did not make the NFL playoffs. Their fate was sealed before kickoff when the Seattle Seahawks beat the Los Angeles Rams. But the victory did secure the team’s first winning season since 2017. And more importantly, the Lions took Aaron Rodgers and the Packers out of the playoffs, with their gloriously spiteful 20-16 triumph.