SAN DIEGO — One thing that shouldn't be lost when recalling Sunday's Super Bowl game is that Doug Williams has been a very good quarterback for many years. From the start, actually.
Some are thinking of him now as a journeyman or worse, perhaps as a mediocre quarterback who either got lucky, or who suddenly came on, after a long career in which he threw the ball too hard or too wild to ever amount to anything.
Such evaluations are basically nonsense. Long ago, John McKay was right about Williams. The 32-year-old quarterback of the champion Redskins was a blue-chip quarterback when McKay drafted him, and he has been a superior quarterback ever since.
Until this winter, Williams has been, simply, unlucky.
He is the living proof of a two-part story about football:
--Regardless of how much talent any quarterback personally has, he needs a good coach to be a really successful quarterback.
--A football coach needs a good quarterback to become a really successful coach.
It has been demonstrated during many seasons on many teams that neither a good quarterback nor a good coach can have much success on his own.
Together, though, the good ones can make history, as Vince Lombardi and Bart Starr did in Super Bowls I and II, as Chuck Noll and Terry Bradshaw did in the 1970s, as Tom Landry and Roger Staubach did with the Dallas Cowboys and as Joe Gibbs and Williams did Sunday.
Archie Manning, the most talented New Orleans Saint in the old Ain't days, would be remembered perhaps as the finest quarterback of all time if he had played all those years on a real team.
Chuck Knox, coach of the Seattle Seahawks, would have been in at least one Super Bowl by now--and probably would have won at least one--if he'd ever had a Manning or Bradshaw at quarterback.
Whatever his flaws as a National Football League coach, one thing can be said about John McKay: He knew a first-class quarterback when he saw one.
Stuffing John Elway is an achievement that was beyond the 1987 Chicago Bears. It was beyond the Minnesota Vikings, who, possibly, have hired the most talent in the league. Down the stretch, it was beyond any American Football Conference rival this season.
It proved astonishingly easy for the Redskins, who won by stuffing the Denver quarterback, although he had given the Broncos the first 10 points.
When Washington's defense finally got control of Elway--when, that is, they got the genie back in the bottle after scaring themselves and their friends by letting him out--it was all over for Denver. Then, it was just a matter of time.
With any average quarterback playing error-free football, throwing a few straight passes, and remembering to hand off a lot to Timmy Smith, the Redskins were going to win eventually by 17-10 or 23-10. With great passing, they moved the final score to 42-10.
It was Williams who made it a rout.
It was Washington's defensive coach, Richie Petitbon, who denied the fans the Elway-Williams shoot-out.
How did Petitbon capture the genie?
With blitzes. On every big-play down, the Redskins rushed Elway with five instead of four--with a safety or linebacker plus their front four. At times they sent in a starting strong safety Alvin Walton or nickel safety Clarence Vaughn, and at times they called on linebacker Monte Coleman.
"We blitzed him to fill up all the lanes," Gibbs said Monday. "We did it to keep him from finding (an open lane where he could) scramble."
That was the Redskins' purpose. But when the Broncos couldn't deflect the Redskin rush, the rushers poured in on Elway and kept him from passing or running.
Elway is a different kind of passer. He prefers to jam his right foot forcefully behind his body and stretch out his left leg like a baseball pitcher on a pass play. By contrast, most other good passers today, including Williams, use a body-twisting passing motion. Thus, Williams can--and did--throw the ball with blitzers in his chest or his face.
But to deliver the ball the way he wants to, Elway needs a big preliminary step. And it was this that the Redskin blitz took away.
Elway, rushed, didn't panic, didn't freeze. He didn't have a bad day. He simply couldn't do what he has to do to be effective.
He remains what he was before the game--the league's great quarterback, the league's only one-man team. He lost because he is a one-man team.
The Redskins' five touchdowns in the second quarter were all produced by an offense playing flawlessly on five big plays against a defense that was either guilty on those plays of nothing but minor mistakes or, at times, overwhelmed.
You don't see that combination too often--certainly not 5 times in 15 minutes.
On Williams' first touchdown pass, Denver cornerback Mark Haynes broke a simple defensive rule. Curiously, when he lined up in front of receiver Ricky Sanders, Haynes was in an upright stance.