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SCOTT OSTLER

Why Williams? Why Wait? It Was Time

January 18, 1988|SCOTT OSTLER

WASHINGTON — Doug Williams is black. Two Sundays from now he will become the first black person to quarterback a team in the Super Bowl.

Whether this is a mere footnote, or an event of major historical and sociological significance, depends on one's perspective, and Doug Williams is still trying to sort it all out.

For most of Sunday, Williams was too busy dealing with the color purple to worry about the colors black and white. Williams' Redskin receivers couldn't shake the purple-jerseyed Viking defenders, and Doug spent most of the chilly afternoon throwing to daylight.

Give him a silver dollar and Doug Williams could have become the first man since George Washington to overthrow a river near Washington.

With his team leading, 10-7, late in the third quarter, Williams overthrew a wide-open Gary Clark. One series later, opening the fourth quarter, Williams overthrew a wide-open Anthony Allen. Kiss two touchdowns bye-bye.

That last overthrow made Williams 7 for 24 at the time, for 69 yards.

What inspired Redskin Coach Joe Gibbs to stay with Williams so long, when Gibbs had a healthy, hungry Jay Schroeder pacing the sidelines?

Whatever it was, Gibbs did stick with Williams, through thin and thinner. With the score 10-10 and time growing short, Williams nailed Clark for a 43-yard gain, and two plays later hit Clark again on a schoolyard play that put the Redskins and Doug Williams into the Super Bowl.

Only then, when it was all over, did Williams pause to ponder the peripheral aspects of the game, like why the heck he was still in the game at the end, and what his skin color would mean a week from next Sunday.

"I wasn't out there looking over my shoulder," Williams said, in reference to the team's ongoing quarterback debate. Williams started only two regular-season games, but had inherited the starting job for the last three games.

"He (Gibbs) saw the same thing I saw today--I threw a lot of balls away, and he knew what I was doing. People see the ball sail high, and they don't know it's for a reason. . . . I felt like it was going to come together for us sooner or later. It did. Later."

Evidently, Gibbs felt the same way.

"I really didn't think about switching quarterbacks," Gibbs said. "You go with your gut feeling, and my gut feeling said, 'Stay with Doug.' "

So Williams and Gibbs were the only two people in America and on all the ships at sea who didn't at least seriously ponder whether the time was right to bring in Schroeder.

When Williams was gang-tackled after a scramble late in the third quarter and his right shoulder was injured, Gibbs approached Williams on the bench.

"You can kind of tell by the look in a player's eye," Gibbs said. "He looked right at me and said, 'Hey, I'm fine.' "

And so he was. Another coach might have used this injury as a logical spot to go to a new quarterback. Other quarterbacks might have waved themselves out of the action.

But these are two unconventional thinkers. Gibbs was the only coach in the National Football League even remotely interested in Williams when he was looking for a job two seasons ago.

His salary was too high, his knees were questionable, he was a well-traveled 30-year-old, and who knows, maybe his skin color made a few people think Doug Williams wasn't the quarterback they were looking for.

Then there were stormy times in D.C., when Schroeder emerged as a phenom and pushed Williams to seemingly permanent backup duty. Williams and Gibbs met last summer and Doug asked to be traded.

"Hey, Joe, I want to go someplace and play ," Williams told Gibbs.

"If someone wants to make you a starter," Gibbs said to Williams, "I'll let you go."

When Williams became a starter for one game this season, then went back to backup, he cried.

"I didn't cry because I was demoted," Williams said Sunday. "I just thought about a lot of things that had happened. I just got full, and it came out."

Sunday's game, from start to finish, was, as Gibbs said in his Southern drawl, "An emotional thang."

And when it was over, Williams had time to stop and address the significance of becoming the first black quarterback to play in the Super Bowl.

"It's a good feeling when you can be a role model," Williams said. "I know the Rodney Peetes and Steve Taylors and Don McPhersons will want to do the same thing. I think me going to the Super Bowl is going to make an impact on a lot of guys. It will be like, 'Hey, give 'em (black quarterbacks) a chance.'

"But I can't say, 'I'm black, I'm doing this for black America.' I'm doing it for the Washington Redskins.

"I've had a lot of encouragement from the guys (teammates), white and black. They respect me."

Outside the team, many did not. Jimmy the Greek predicted a week ago that Williams would choke in the playoffs.

"I've been doing this (being a quarterback in the NFL) for 10 years," Williams said. "There's a lot of people around who feel I choke. I'll choke all the way to San Diego, that's fine with me."

Williams spoke not with bitterness, but with happiness. In two plays he had gone from goat to hero, from nowhere to Super Bowl.

On the winning touchdown pass, receiver Clark was supposed to head for the corner, but he improvised and darted over the middle.

"We totally broke the route," Clark said. "We were just out there playing football. Doug sees a lot on the field."

Gibbs does too, apparently. And so the Redskins are on their way to the Super Bowl, and history is waiting to be made.

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