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Elfin's End Zone: Doug Williams' Super Day Still Resonates

9:46 AM, Jan 23, 2012   |    comments
Doug Williams participates in the Bing World Champion Quarterback Panel moderated by ESPN's Mike Tirico at the ESPN NEXT Experience on February 5, 2011 (Michael Kovac/Getty Images)
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(ELFIN'S END ZONE) -- Yesterday was 24 years since Doug Williams struck his blow for equality. Emphatically answering those who wondered if a black quarterback could ever lead his team to a Super Bowl triumph, Williams passed for a then-record four touchdowns, all in the second quarter, winning MVP honors and leading the Redskins to a 42-10 rout of the Denver Broncos.

Prior to Williams' monster day on the NFL's biggest stage, black quarterbacks such as Marlin Briscoe, Shack Harris, Joe Gilliam and Vince Evans hadn't made much of an impact. Warren Moon was starting - but not starring -- in Houston. Randall Cunningham was just getting going in Philadelphia.

And while all of America knew that Williams had to fight through a hyper-extended knee to stay on the field while missing just two plays that day in San Diego, not many people know that he almost wasn't a Redskin that season. Coach Joe Gibbs, who had been his offensive coordinator in Tampa Bay and had brought him to Washington in 1986, told Williams that he was being traded to the Los Angeles Raiders not long before the start of the next season. Make that almost traded.

"I called everybody back home in Zachary, La. to tell 'em I had been traded to somewhere I had a chance to start," Williams recalled recently. "Jay (Schroeder) was going to start in Washington. But when I went to see Coach Gibbs the next day, he said, 'Doug-las, I changed my mind. I think you're going to help us win a championship this year.' I couldn't argue with him. He just had one of his gut feelings and my whole future changed that day."

So did those of black quarterbacks who followed.

"By winning a Super Bowl, Doug opened doors for everyone else, especially guys like myself," said Jason Campbell, then a six-year-old in Taylorsville, Ms., later the Redskins' starting quarterback from 2007-09 and now about to become a free agent after two years with the Raiders. "African-American quarterbacks are pretty much just quarterbacks today. There were guys who came before Doug who helped him like Shack Harris, but lot of what's changed in football now for African-American quarterbacks is because of Doug."

Indeed, while some black quarterbacks - Donovan McNabb, Michael Vick, and Cam Newton, to name three - have been as quick on their feet as they are throwing the football, Campbell, Byron Leftwich and Tony Banks, to name three - have been as much classic dropback types as say, white quarterbacks Peyton Manning, Tom Brady or Drew Bledsoe.

"Every day, I'm hearing about the Super Bowl or reading about it somewhere," Williams said. "I get emails about it nearly every day. I can't tell you how many dads of players I'm recruiting want to talk about it. That day was the greatest time in my life. I still get chillbumps when I see the highlights. We had a (Redskins) reunion last summer in North Carolina and guys like Mark May, Gary Clark and Brian Davis said, 'You got that ring for me.' That's not really true. We won as a team, but it sure made me feel good to hear them say that. Whenever I'm in Washington, I get treated so well. Washington will always be a very special place for me."

When Campbell, who had worn No. 17 at Auburn, partially in tribute to Williams, was drafted in the first round by the Redskins in 2005, Washington owner Dan Snyder had him call Williams and ask for permission to wear the number for the burgundy and gold.

"I wanted to keep wearing 17 because of what Doug had meant on the field and in the community," Campbell said. "He had that demeanor, so calm and smooth. He kept fighting, but he didn't let anything get to him. I've tried to be that way. Through all my ups and downs, I've kept fighting and I've always been involved in the community. I still hear from kids in the Washington area and that's what I tell them to do."

As for Williams, he's back coaching at Grambling, the school that offered him a chance to play quarterback in 1973 when Southeastern Conference schools like Auburn - which Campbell led to an undefeated season in 2004 - wouldn't consider a black field general.

"I get so much of the credit for changing the game for black quarterbacks, but guys like Shack, Joe Gilliam and Marlin Briscoe laid the groundwork for me and the guys in my generation," Williams said. "But (Redskins general manager) Bruce Allen, who's the ultimate football history guy, told me that the history of the NFL can't be written without me. People have even compared me to Barack Obama which is silly. Winning a Super Bowl isn't the same as being elected President."
No, it's not, but Williams still left a lasting legacy.

BY DAVID ELFIN

WUSA-9's Sports Insider, David Elfin, has covered sports since he was a junior at Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School in 1975. He is the Washington representative on the Pro Football Hall of Fame selection committee and is the author of seven books on Washington sports including the new "Washington Redskins: The Complete Illustrated History."

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