He lives in the bottom floor of a three-story apartment complex in Oxon Hill, in a small abode smelling of fresh incense. The NFL Network plays silently in the background, and sports-talk radio is blaring from the dining room.
“You in the ’hood now,” he says, cackling.
As expected, his apartment is a shrine. A painted mural of the late Sean Taylor, whose 2007 funeral he attended in costume, rests below the headdress, hanging on a corner lamp above one of four TVs, across from a 1987 Sports Illustrated with a dejected Chief Zee in the stands. To the right of the headdress and left of a cigar-store Indian is a picture of his children: Felicia, Andonus, Derrick, Dwayne, Robin, Eula, Prentiss, Ishmael and Kwame.
Williams has fathered nine children by six women. (The headdress evidently plays well with certain audiences.) Married once, he fathered his first child at age 21 and his last at 44. He has 23 grandchildren — “Don’t ask me about no names,” he says.
None of the relationships lasted “because of my involvements in this,” he says, pointing to a picture of himself with Robert Griffin III at training camp last year. “I was gone. I would go to Texas, go to Atlanta.”
Of his family life, he laments, “I messed that up because I was into being Chief Zee. The kids was fine with it, but their mothers wasn’t . . . committed.”
When he’s healthy, Williams still sells cars for SK Motors in Lanham. The wall behind him features a plaque that reads, “Salesman of the Year — County Chrysler Jeep, 1999-2001.”
Born in Georgia, he worked as a sharecropper and picked cotton as a youth. His father left the family when he was 6 weeks old, he said. He was driving a truck, hauling tractors and trailers, when he got a draft letter in 1960. Two years later, he completed his service at Fort Riley, Kan., and returned to his old job. By 1968, he had his first job selling cars in the District.
Ten years later, he put on the get-up and went to a game. His life changed.
Within months, Crazy Ray, a.k.a. Wilford Thompson, the Cowboys’ unofficial mascot, helped get Williams onto the Texas Stadium field for a Washington-Dallas game. The two befriended one another and made their cowboy-Indian act part of the lore between the two franchises.
Williams said he hasn’t been back to Dallas for a game since Thompson died in 2007. Some of Chief Zee’s family want him to move down to warmer climes where they can take care of him when he has a medical issue. They know the chances are slim, though.
“He’s not going to leave the Redskins and D.C. for nothing,” said Derrick Williams, 48, a mortgage underwriter in Jacksonville, Fla., who is one of Zema’s six sons. “My dad is pretty stubborn. Chief Zee is who he is. It’s not an act.”