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SUPER BOWL XXII : COMMENTARY : Super Bowl XXII Is Williams' Personal Everest : In a Season of Ups and Downs, Redskin Quarterback Finally Climbs to Top

February 01, 1988|TONY KORNHEISER | The Washington Post

SAN DIEGO — Doug Williams has been to the mountain top. And the view is good.

After all the difficulties he's endured in this wild, chaotic ride of a season--the back injury, the tearful disappointment when he lost the starting job, the prying scrutiny that attaches itself to a quarterback controversy, Saturday's root canal surgery and Sunday's hyperflexed knee that threatened to deprive him of his opportunity of a lifetime--after all these, and now after being voted the most valuable player of Super Bowl XXII, the view is very, very good.

Calmly, deftly, with a prophet's eye and a surgeon's touch, Williams guided the Washington Redskins to the most stunning quarter of football in Super Bowl history: Thirty-five points in 15 minutes. Nine completions. Two hundred twenty-eight yards. Four touchdown passes.

When you've said "second quarter," you've said it all. What else was there? No Super Bowl quarterback ever had a quarter like that. Not Namath, not Tarkenton, not Staubach, not Bradshaw and certainly not Elway, whose coronation must once again be deferred.

Williams persevered in the pocket with the patience of Job. Shifting his focus from one to another to still another receiver, then locking in and delivering the ball with a steady, guiding hand, Williams was like an engraver working on a commemorative medal. So effortless was his motion, so confident his demeanor, so sound his decisions, you'd have thought he had been given the questions before the exam.

In one brilliant burst, Williams vaporized the last on-the-field prejudice remaining in professional football: that a black quarterback couldn't lead a team to a championship; that he wasn't intelligent enough. Williams beat Denver short, and he beat Denver long. After being asked all week how it felt being a black quarterback, Doug Williams can finally be asked how it feels simply to be a winning quarterback.

Moments like these, with all their moral and sociological consequence, help us all break through the doors of perception and become free at last.

"I didn't come here with the Washington Redskins as a black quarterback," Williams said Sunday night, just as he had said all week. "I came here as the quarterback of the Washington Redskins."

What amazing, unexpected thunder from the Redskins. They score 35 points in a quarter when they hadn't scored as many in any non-strike game all season. They outscored the Broncos by 32 points when they hadn't outscored any team by more than 20 in their non-strike games, and when 7 of their 10 non-strike victories had been by a total of 30 points.

All season, the Redskins had given us breathless, terrifying finishes, and here, in the heat of the caldron, they give us alchemy--they turn straw into gold. A few weeks ago, when the Redskins were stumbling toward the playoffs, Mark May said if they'd ever play 60 full minutes of football, the Redskins "might well score 50 points." Who'd have imagined their best game would have come here?

In the first few minutes, it looked as if Denver would humiliate the Redskins. On his very first offensive play, Elway, throwing from the shotgun--playing cat and mouse with the Redskins' standard defensive patterns--went 56 yards to Ricky Nattiel for a touchdown, the quickest touchdown in Super Bowl history. On his next possession, Elway went 32 yards to Mark Jackson, then came back off a reverse to catch a pass himself for 23 yards. The Broncos got a field goal to lead, 10-0, and the Redskins' defense was so confused, it went back to the bench and (employing the Imelda gambit) changed shoes. At that point, Elway appeared invincible, like he belonged not in Denver's huddle, but at Arthur's Round Table.

When Ricky Sanders fumbled the ensuing kickoff and the Broncos leaped around claiming recovery, it appeared a rout was on. Fortunately for the Redskins, such celebration was premature. Ravin Caldwell had recovered the fumble, and though the Redskins sputtered offensively through the rest of the quarter, defensively they held the line on Elway and, consequently, on the scoreboard.

Toward the end of the quarter, on first and 10 at his 35, Williams slipped and twisted his left knee. Would this be yet another hard-luck chapter in his life? His writhing indicated severe pain; he left the game for a couple of plays. But he came back at the beginning of the second quarter and--boom!--immediately went 80 yards to Sanders for a touchdown. That was the first of five touchdowns on five straight possessions, incomparable in Super Bowl history.

"I had some pain," Williams said. "But I just sucked it up."

Orange Crush? Orange Slush is more like it.

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