Being a St. Petersburg tyke, William Floyd was a Bucs fan. But not for long. In 1982, Floyd was playing kiddie football. A 10-year-old sandlot dominator with the Little Green Devils. On Sundays, the junior-grade fullback, along with teammate Tom Carter, would nose up to Sylvia Floyd's TV to vociferously cheer the Buccaneers, especially Doug Williams.
That season, Tampa Bay's fledgling pros reached the NFL playoffs a third time in four years. Floyd felt good about his favorite team. But then came a bitter financial/philosophical stalemate between Bucs owner Hugh Culverhouse and Williams, pro football's trailblazing African-American quarterback.
The Bucs lost big Doug.
Also little William.
"I was no longer a Bucs fan," he says. "I obviously had plenty of company." To minimize the agony, let's fast forward to today, 12 seasons later. It's been a Downtrodden Dozen. Tampa Bay has not made it through a post-Williams year without losing a muddy minimum of 10 games.
"Doug's Curse" can seem indelible.
This afternoon, with a 2-4 record, the Bucs will be 15-point underdogs at Candlestick Park, where they have a futile 1-7 history. San Francisco's consistently prodigious 49ers, after uncharacteristic early season wobblings, are again an ominous enemy.
Last Sunday, they annihilated an Atlanta Falcons bunch that, a week earlier, had tortured Tampa Bay.
Jerry Rice continues to gracefully reign as the king of NFL pass-catchers. Quarterback is similarly a Niners mega-plus with Steve Young, who like Super Bowl XXII sensation Williams escaped the Bucs to achieve his ultimate fame.
But there is also healthy new blood in San Francisco's offensive arsenal, a 240-pound rookie fullback from Florida State, taking over the 49ers' labors of the familiar but now departed Tom Rathman.
A no-longer-little William Floyd.
"Once the Bucs did Doug Williams wrong," Floyd said, flashing back to his childhood disappointment amid preparations for his own inaugural mission against Tampa Bay, "I pretty much lost interest in their games. Most black people did.
"Oh, sure, I've been aware that the Bucs have been losing ever since Doug left. A curse? Yeah, maybe. Doug was a pro quarterback who, back in 1982, me and Tom Carter and our buddies on St. Pete's sandlots could look up to. Then, suddenly, Doug Williams was gone. It really bothered me. But that was a long, long time ago."
Still, he talked the past.
Floyd, his mother and two siblings lived in a Fourth Avenue S apartment, on property where the ThunderDome would be constructed for major-league baseball. Their building was ordered demolished. William, whose father has never been around, relocated with Sylvia Floyd's family to Coquina Key. "Almost every time I drive past the Dome," he said, "I think about living on that land as a child."
Late in the 1980s, Little Green Devils pals Carter and Floyd would mature to football brilliance at Lakewood High School. "Like thousands of teenagers across the country, Tom and I talked a lot and dreamed a lot about making it in big-time college football, then maybe even the NFL," William said. "Dreams really do come true, at least for a fortunate few of us."
Carter became an All-America defensive back at Notre Dame. Floyd starred in a mighty football program at FSU. Both became NFL first-round draft picks. Tom is a cornerback for the Washington Redskins. "We're cross country from one other," Floyd said, "but Tom and I talk on the telephone, about old times and what's happening for us now."
But, on NFL draft day last spring, William was angry at not being chosen until 26th. "I now know that was a huge blessing in disguise," Floyd said, "allowing me to join a winning, first-class organization like the 49ers. It did cost me some upfront money, but in the long run it should be a really good thing for me, being in a San Francisco uniform."
His first Niners start was two weeks ago in Detroit. William scored two touchdowns. To celebrate, he boogied in the end zone with fellow San Francisco running back Ricky Watters. "That cost me some grief from my coaches," Floyd said, "but now they know that it's just my spirit. When I do something good, I'm going to emotionally react. There is no plan to change that. It's just William."
Floyd has followed from afar the backwash from the summertime Foot Locker scandal at FSU. "That has been so overrated, so blown out of proportion," he said. "I was there in Tallahassee when it all was happening. It was stuff that goes on at every major football or basketball school. But we were Florida State and the national champion, so we got slammed.
"If you want to blame somebody, get on the bird-dog agents who dished out the goodies. As for the athletes, I totally understand why they took it.
"A lot of people think you are totally cared for as part of a big-time football program. You do receive tuition, food, books and a roof over your head, which is great. But so many of us had nothing else. No spending money. Not much in the way of clothes.
"Some of us had children to care for. My son, William Andrew, is now 3. So when somebody came along offering stuff you needed, you took it and didn't feel any guilt. Seems to me it's the system that needs to be changed."
Floyd, his son and his girlfriend, Bonita, a Winter Haven native, are spending William's rookie season in a Redwood Shores apartment, a few miles from Candlestick and the 49ers' training camp at Santa Clara. They plan to divide the off-season between Tallahassee, with Floyd planning to re-enroll at FSU, and Jacksonville, where his mother now lives.
"I'm just getting started in the NFL, but my goal is to become one of the few guys to win a national championship in college and then a Super Bowl in the pros," Floyd said. "I'm eager to immediately get into giving something back to my home state. I'll be visiting a lot of towns during the off-season, including St. Pete, to encourage youngsters who're playing football and other sports, not to want them to have goals like I did, but to deal with the reality that only a small fraction ever make it to the pros."
When he first walked in the 49ers' training camp, Floyd was star struck. He saw Rice, Young, Watters, Ken Norton Jr. and others putting on the famous red jersey. "But they welcomed me warmly, and they're now just friends and teammates who happen to be the best at what they do," William said. "It made it extra comfortable for me to have two former Florida State players here, Dexter Carter and Dedrick Dodge, then along comes Deion Sanders, too. It's been a lot of hard work, mentally and physically, but it's just going great."
Now come the Bucs, to re-enter the life of William Floyd, who recollects them with bittersweet strokes. He will never forget the Doug Williams episode, not forgive Culverhouse's handling of the matter. But after watching videotapes of the 1994 Bucs, the former Little Green Devil was wholly complimentary, just as Niners head coach George Seifert would want in the interest of diplomacy.
"Being an offensive player, I've seen films only on Tampa Bay's defense, which has talented, hard-working people like (Hardy) Nickerson, (Martin) Mayhew, (Thomas) Everett, (Demetrius) DuBose and (Eric) Curry," said the fullback from FSU's national champions of last season. "We're not at all expecting it to be an easy Sunday at Candlestick."
Sweet politics, William.