Thirty years later, Doug Williams’ history still matters

Doug Williams drops back against the Denver Broncos during Super Bowl XXII (Getty Images)
Doug Williams drops back against the Denver Broncos during Super Bowl XXII (Getty Images)
Published January 30
Updated January 30

It is that time of year, the time when Doug Williams' phone starts ringing — Super Bowl time. Williams, who once upon a time was the Bucs' franchise quarterback, is today the senior vice president for player personnel for Washington's NFL franchise. He knows the drill.

"I got a few more this year, it being the 30th anniversary," Williams said. "I also get a lot when there's a black quarterback in the game."

Thirty years ago in Super Bowl XXII in San Diego, Williams became the first black quarterback to play in a Super Bowl — and the first black quarterback to win one. Playing on a knee he injured early in the game, Williams threw for 340 yards and four touchdowns against the Denver Broncos in an astonishing handful of minutes in the second quarter of Washington's 42-10 rout of Denver. Williams was named Super Bowl MVP and went to Disney World. He took his daughter, Ashley, and eight of his nieces.

"It only seems like 30 years because I know it is," Williams said. "I can wake up every morning and think about it. When I do, it doesn't seem that long."

Williams, 62, made history that day. Five African-American quarterbacks have played in a Super Bowl since: Russell Wilson twice, Steve McNair, Donovan McNabb, Colin Kaepernick and Cam Newton.

Is that progress?

"I guess you have to say yes," Williams said. "I was the first one to play in the Super Bowl. Since that time, there have been five other guys, I'm thinking. … You've got to say progress that has been made from that standpoint.

"The progress that hasn't been made, and I keep saying this, is the guy who holds the clipboard, that guy, the backup and the third guys. Why do I think that's so significant? When you look at the head coaches in this league, the offensive coordinators in this league, they've been backup quarterbacks. When you see these young guys getting jobs as offensive coordinators and quarterback coach, they've been in that quarterback room."

Williams is one of the proudest men ever to play professional sports.

Nothing has changed about that. He starred for the Bucs despite Bucs owner Hugh Culverhouse paying him less than any starting QB in the league. That game, him holding that MVP trophy in San Diego, haunted some Bucs fans for years — the Doug Williams Curse — as the Bucs were in one of the most miserable stretches in franchise history when Williams starred in San Diego. He was followed by Steve Young and Trent Dilfer, two other former Bucs QBs who went on to win Super Bowls after they left Tampa.

"Maybe Tampa has a way of building Super Bowl quarterbacks, but not keeping them," Williams said. "But it wasn't a matter of settling a score. I like Tampa. I got three baby girls who were born in Tampa."

Has there been progress?

"I think we've come a long way," Williams said. "When I got to Tampa, I was either the black quarterback in Tampa or Tampa's black quarterback Doug Williams. We've come a ways."

He has pictures from that Super Bowl on his office walls at Washington's training facility in Virginia. That Super Bowl travels with him, too.

"All the time, every day," Williams said. "We've come a long way. Unfortunately, you got people in power in high positions doing their best to reverse it. I try not to talk about the boss man in this city."

Williams added: "I'm part of history, and glad for it. It could have been someone else. It could have been Warren Moon. It could have been Randall Cunningham. But, thank God, I can wake up and know that it was me."

The day before Super Bowl XXII, Williams underwent a root canal for an abscessed tooth. Early in the game, he hyperextended a knee. Then he made real history. It went by fast, but not too fast.

"It ain't no blur," Williams said. "The day after the game, I was walking around on crutches and that's when I realized that it wasn't important if I played another down of football. When you grow up where I did in a small town, Zachary, La., during civil rights time, you think about Dr. Martin Luther King and his speech about the mountaintop. I realized that I had reached the mountaintop. Not many other things mattered at that moment."

He laughed.

Williams was honored at the Super Bowl on the 20th anniversary of XXII. He won't be in Minneapolis for this Sunday's game. Washington's staff will be in pre-draft meetings. He'll still find time to watch the game.

"No matter who wins, it gives you chill bumps, because you've been in those shoes, and it brings back memories from when the confetti comes down.

"I've gotten more calls this year, for the 30th. The same question always gets brought up: Have we come far enough? And my answer is that if we'd come far enough, you wouldn't be asking the question. When the day comes, I'm not sure I'll be here for it. But it'll be a great day."