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Scott Ostler

Thanks to Doug Williams, It's a Game to Remember

February 02, 1988|Scott Ostler

My plan today was to trash the Super Bowl.

I was going to register my disgust with this overfed, waddling pig masquerading as a sporting event. I figured I would write about how the Super Bowl has become the most consistently disappointing spectacle in American sport. Old Reliable.

As artistic and scintillating as a hangover.

I figured I'd take one last shot at the pomposity of Pete Rozelle, at the garishness and overkill of the pregame and halftime shows.

I wanted to take a parting shot at the wretched excess, the week-long stuffing of corporate faces with caviar and champagne while much of America is starving. The Great American Tax Writeoff.

That last part would have been easy. There was a story going around after the game that truckloads of Wheaties, packed in boxes saluting the Super Bowl champion Denver Broncos, had been hauled off and burned. This while children in Tijuana, about 20 miles away, starved and begged in the gutters for pennies.

But I changed my mind.

First of all, General Mills sucked the wind out of my self-righteous sails on that Wheaties burning. A spokesman for the company explained what happened to those 6.75 tons of Bronco-box Wheaties.

All 12,000 boxes were shipped back to the packing plant in Lodi. They were unpacked and re-packed in plain brown boxes and donated to the Second Harvest Food Bank. Then the empty Bronco boxes were trucked off and burned.

Well, the Super Bowl is still an affront to good taste, a holiday of greed, gambling, drinking and social insensitivity. Rozelle should have Marie Antoinette throw out the first ball every year.

Mark Twain said golf is a good walk ruined. The Super Bowl is a good football game ruined.

But when I thought about it, I didn't have the heart to properly trash the Super Bowl today, because this year it was a great game.

It was great because of Doug Williams.

The game itself was not a clinker. It was a dazzler. It just ended early.

The first half took about two hours, and provided all kinds of thrills. For two minutes, John Elway was stunning, Zeus in an orange helmet. For one quarter, Doug Williams put on one of the great sports exhibitions of all time.

And Doug is black, or have you already heard about that?

Some called this the most overblown story of Super Week--Doug Williams carrying the black man's banner. A lot of people got sick of reading about it, although I suspect most of those who did so were not black.

But why, other than out of embarrassment, should we play down the fact that the first 42 starting Super Bowl quarterbacks were white?

Williams himself wisely played it down because he knew for this game, it was more important to be black and good than to be black and loud.

His job was to think about football and let the sociologists and racists and bleeding hearts hash out the black quarterback business.

He couldn't say what he surely knew. He couldn't say that a lot of black Americans would be rooting for him, not out of racial hatred for John Elway, but out of pride for Doug Williams.

Early in his career, Williams got flak for mentioning that black kids root for him. So he knew that this was no time to mount the soapbox.

He couldn't say, "I want to win this game for all the black players over the years who have been switched from quarterback to another position, who have been cheated because of a pervasive belief that blacks lack the necessities."

He couldn't say, "I want to win this for all the black kids who never even dream of playing quarterback, or becoming a dentist, or flying an airplane, because they didn't know black people were allowed to do those things."

He couldn't say, "I want to win this for all the black people who could use a little inspiration. And for any black fans who may be wondering, after these 21 years, whether a black man can excel at the most demanding position on the field, in the greatest of pressure games."

Before the game, Redskin Coach Joe Gibbs said proudly, "Doug Williams is sort of the daddy of this team."

Sunday afternoon, when all about him were losing their heads, Williams stood tall and cool. "A cucumber," said a teammate.

After the game, the Redskins, black and white, were all proud of Williams, and he of them.

Why fight it? Why play down the significance of this being the last Super Bowl where we'll have to play up the significance of a player's skin color?

So today's planned message on the depraved state of the Super Bowl has been preempted. I'll return to that theme next year, because the entire event really is getting uglier.

Sunday's game, however, was a beauty.

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