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Jim Murray

Williams: He's Also a Quarterback

January 31, 1988|Jim Murray

SAN DIEGO — John Elway is John Wayne in "She Wore A Yellow Ribbon," Errol Flynn on the Burma Road. He's the United States Cavalry. He's the knight in shining armor, Golden Boy, Tom Swift and Frank Merriwell rolled into one. John Elway fades back to pass, throws it, then runs down to catch it, to hear his adoring fans describe it. He's not a one-man team, he's a one-man league.

Doug Williams, on the other hand, is just black.

Wait a minute! What I mean is, if you would listen to the questions asked by the leading sociologists of our day, the sporting press, down here this week, the impression you would get would be that was Williams' principal contribution to this Super Bowl tournament.

No one cares if Doug is good or bad, a pocket passer or a rollout. No one wants to know his game plan, what he has for breakfast--all the normal questions you ask a Super Bowl quarterback. The questions all run to, "How does it feel to be the first black quarterback to play in the Super Bowl?"

(Actually, he's not. There've been lots of black quarterbacks in Super Bowls. Trouble is, they all came in disguised as wide receivers, running backs, safetymen, long since converted by zealous coaches.)

It's really kind of nonsensical. Doug Williams, an agreeable, mature type and, as it happens, a helluva quarterback, dutifully steps up in front of the cameras and microphones every day. He's ready to discuss the down-and-outs, what he plans to do about the outside linebackers, what he thinks about third-and-long situations. Maybe, somebody wants to discuss how he beat the Minnesota Vikings or the highlights of his seven-year career in the NFL or how he liked playing in the USFL?

Uh-uh. What he gets is a crash course on the anatomy of racism. The inquisitors are implacable. What are the pressures coming down in being the first black quarterback? Does he feel morally obligated to defeat John Elway? Will this be a setback for race relations in America if he doesn't?

Doug Williams maintains his good humor. But he looks slightly dazed as he answers the same questions repeatedly.

"Hey!" he protests. "I'm not Jackie Robinson! There's lots of black players in the NFL (a majority, over 55%, according to Commissioner Pete Rozelle). Jackie was alone. I'm not alone. I got a whole bunch of white guys--as well as black guys--protecting my case. I don't think Joe Jacoby, or Jeff Bostic or R.C. Thielemann--or Raleigh McKenzie or Mark May-- think of me as black or white. They think of me as their quarterback. I don't think Joe Gibbs or Bobby Beathard or Jack Kent Cooke got me here to be the first black quarterback in the Super Bowl. They got me here to get the Washington Redskins in the Super Bowl. I'm not some kind of experiment. I'm a good quarterback."

None of this deterred the lords of the keyboard. "How long have you been a black quarterback?" someone wanted to know. Incredulity spread over Doug Williams' face. He sighed. "Well, first of all," he said, "I've been black all my life. Secondly, I've never been a white quarterback. But I don't think I'd be any different if I were. I don't think the football cares."

Ah, but had anyone wanted to change him into a tight end, wide receiver, defensive back, any of the "black" positions?

Williams grinned. "Someone asked me the other day how fast I could run. I told them when I came into camp nine years ago and they wanted to time me in the 40, I told them I was going to play quarterback, not running back. I told them 'Quarterbacks don't run.' "

Williams subscribed to the Dutch Van Brocklin theory of football that quarterbacks run only out of sheer terror. To get out of a forest fire, escape a grizzly. You don't run with a football, you throw it. Doug Williams gets the ball to Kelvin Bryant and lets him run with it. Doug Williams is a pure quarterback, the genuine article. Doug leaves the scrambling to white guys.

The good news is, no one accuses Doug Williams of being a one-man team. If Denver loses, it's Elway's fault. If Washington loses, 45 guys take the rap.

Football being football, if Doug Williams' team wins, there will be a seller's market in black quarterbacks.

Doug Williams can't wait. "Randall Cunningham (Eagles) and Warren Moon (Oilers) will have their day," he predicts.

Doug knows racism cuts both ways. When he first came up with Tampa Bay, he recalls, he innocently remarked that "every black kid in America is rooting for me to make good." Taken severely to task for promoting racism, Doug was baffled. "I thought I was just telling the simple truth. And the Lord loves the simple truth."

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