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SUPER BOWL XXII : WASHINGTON REDSKINS vs. DENVER BRONCOS : BUTTED BY THE RAMS : How Doug Williams and Tampa Bay Almost Made It to the Super Bowl

January 28, 1988|BRIAN HEWITT | Times Staff Writer

Eight years ago, Redskin quarterback Doug Williams came within nine points of being the first black quarterback to start in the Super Bowl.

He failed miserably.

It was only his second season with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and the week before, he had led them past the Philadelphia Eagles by seven points.

Then, in the NFC championship game against the Rams on Jan. 6, l980, at Tampa, Williams completed just 2 of 13 passes for 12 yards before leaving the game midway through the third period with a torn biceps muscle.

Tampa Bay lost, 9-0.

"Sure," Williams said last week when asked if he had learned anything from the loss. "I learned you can't win it by yourself. You've got to have people around you to try and help you win it."

In other words, you admit you tried to win that game all by yourself?

"I had no other choice," Williams said.

In other words, Tampa Bay was that bad.

For the record, Williams' replacement, former USC quarterback Mike Rae, also completed 2 of 13 passes.

The worst part about playing for the Buccaneers in those days, according to Williams, was "getting hit every play." The play that knocked him out of the game was a collision with Ram defensive lineman Mike Fanning's helmet.

The next-worst thing was the departure of offensive coordinator Joe Gibbs. Gibbs left after Williams' rookie year to help run Don Coryell's Charger offense.

"If coach Gibbs hadn't left, I think I would have played in a Super Bowl for the Buccaneers," Williams said.

But Williams balks at the suggestion that the only reason he's in the Super Bowl now is because he has been reunited with Gibbs.

"People say, 'Doug, you're different now. You sit in the pocket,' " he said. "They say, 'You throw short. You didn't do that at Tampa Bay.' I didn't have a choice at Tampa Bay. I was always on the run there.

"Look, I can play anybody's system. The system there was: Pitch left, pitch right, on third down throw long."

NFL quarterbacks and third-and-long get along about as well as Dan Rather and George Bush.

The Ram team that beat the Buccaneers that day had had troubles of its own in the 1979 season. There was the death of owner Carroll Rosenbloom, constant front office tension and an injury to regular QB Pat Haden.

Haden's replacement, Vince Ferragamo, completed 12 of 23 passes for 163 yards, however, and Tampa Bay's offense didn't cross the Ram 50-yard line until the fourth quarter. It needed an option pass from halfback Jerry Eckwood to get that far.

The Rams managed just nine points on three field goals by Frank Corral, even though they got inside the Tampa 10 three times.

"It's justice," said Los Angeles running back Wendell Tyler after the game. "We've been here so much, something right had to happen."

Four of the previous five years had ended for the Rams in the NFC championship game.

"They were just that much stronger than us," Tampa coach John McKay said. "But I don't think Doug Williams is the reason we lost this game. Someone has to block someone. I thought he did a pretty good job of not getting sacked."

He has survived. And now they are canonizing Williams in the nation's capital.

Wrote Courtland Milloy, a black columnist for the Washington Post: "So many people would have given up after such a frustrating ordeal, copped a bad attitude and when opportunity knocked just blown it. Instead, Williams grabbed the bull by the horns, as they say, and rode that sucker to victory."

Ole!

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