“The chief” is her father, Zema Williams, a.k.a. Chief Zee, who died at 75 just before the Redskins started training camp. Williams, of course, wore his burgundy and gold outfit and his faux Indian headdress to NFL stadiums for nearly 40 years as the team’s unofficial mascot. Changing times meant the costume raised some eyebrows in recent years, but countless Washingtonians remembered him as the Redskins fan after his death.
The team paid tribute to Zee on the FedEx Field video screens during a preseason game, and some fans have held tributes of their own at tailgates and elsewhere. Francois, who’s only been in Washington two seasons but who pays great attention to the fanbase and its history, wanted to do something himself. He frequently wears custom cleats made by Dez Customz, and Sunday’s models honored the longtime superfan.
“I’m a geek with history,” Francois said this week. “I just wanted to learn everything about the [Washington] area, and I know Zee was part of the history of our team. He was with us for many, many years and just to see a guy like him pass away — I understand God was calling him to come home so he can be another chief for another man — it was hard. I wanted to go out there in the New York game, wanted to get the first win, but at the same time let’s do it for another part of history. Let’s do it for a person that really had an effect on us as the Washington Redskins.”
The cleats also contained a nod to D.C. with the cherry blossoms, even if they’re six months away from appearing. And in a week when Antonio Brown was told to change cleats at halftime, you might be wondering how Francois’s were deemed acceptable.
“They didn’t bother me,” he said of NFL officials. “They ain’t come at me. As long as I don’t get outrageous — and I don’t know how far I can actually go with cleats — it’ll be all right.”
Felicia Williams, meanwhile, said she now wants to meet Francois to thank him for the gesture, and to thank everybody involved in creating the cleats.
“Our family is so honored to know that he even took the time to think about him and to honor him like that,” she said. “It’s very sweet; very, very, very sweet.”