By Tony McClean
Updated: February 3, 2005
“It was a rocky road. I had some obstacles in the way. It wasn’t the interstate, where you can just put your cruise control on. There were some detours and some curves. But I think that made it that much better.”
– Doug Williams following his Super Bowl victory.
NEW HAVEN, Ct. — When Washington Redskin quarterback Doug Williams took the field for Super Bowl XXII in San Diego on January 31, 1988, one of most memorable days in black sports history was about to begin.
It was one of those watershed moments when many people would later ask “Where were you when….?” I was watching the game with my brother and we were watching this Super Bowl with a little more anticipation.
I’ve never been a Redskin fan, but by the end of the day I knew all the words to “Hail To The Redskins” by heart. To this day, it’s still one of the greatest sporting days of my entire life.
This includes watching Muhammed Ali regain the heavyweight crown against George Foreman in 1974 and the Miracle Mets of 1969.
Being the first black quarterback to play in a Super Bowl was akin to Jackie Robinson’s first game in the major leagues. Many racial barriers had been shattered since that April day in 1947, but a black QB playing in the Super Bowl was still something that took a long time to happen.
Ironically, it almost didn’t happen.
During his early playing career with Tampa Bay, Williams had five knee surgeries, a back operation, an emergency appendectomy, and a separated shoulder.
His mouth was wired shut for six weeks when his jaw was broken on a tackle from the Rams’ Fred Dryer (yes, the actor).
The day before Super Bowl XXII, Williams was subjected to four hours of root-canal surgery. Tougher than any of that, his first wife Janice had died of a brain tumor in 1983, when their daughter was an infant.
In fact late in the first quarter, Williams suffered a hyperextended left knee and was briefly replaced by backup Jay Schroeder. However, No. 17 would recover and then orchestrate the greatest quarter in NFL history.
Down 10-0 to John Elway and the Denver Broncos, the Redskins erupted for 35 points on five straight possessions in the second period and coasted thereafter to a 42-10 victory. The 35 points established an NFL postseason mark for most points in a period.
Washington scored five touchdowns in 18 plays with total time of possession of only 5:47. Overall, Williams completed 18 of 29 passes for 340 yards and was named the game’s most valuable player.
“It was a big deal to see him play in that game,” said Tennessee quarterback Steve McNair, who was two weeks shy of his 15th birthday at the time. “For him to be one of the few black quarterbacks in the league, and to do well. And not just to win, but to be MVP. It was big.”
Ironically over a decade later, McNair would become the second black quarterback to play in a Super Bowl. The Alcorn State product led the Titans to Super Bowl XXXIV before they fell to the St. Louis Rams 23-16 in Atlanta.
Considering the overall history of the Super Bowl, it’s important to look back on Doug’s big day. Not only to remember the social signifigance, but to also look back on one of the most explosive quarters in professional football history.
NOTE: NFL.com contributed to this article.