Outmanned, But Never Outgunned (Part 4)

By Michael-Louis Ingram
Updated: January 11, 2008

PHILADELPHIA — From the performances of Marlin Briscoe and Shack Harris to the trials and triumphs of Chuck Ealey, Condredge Holloway and others winning football championships north of the border in Canada, it was no longer a question of when it would happen in the NFL, it was a matter of who would be the one.

The answer would be provided in 1978, when the Tampa Bay Buccaneers selected Doug Williams out of Grambling State University.

Coming into the 1978 season, only three players, James “Shack” Harris, Vince Evans and Williams would be the only Black quarterbacks at their position, although there were as many as 35 others playing out of position on team rosters around the league.

Selected in the first round, Williams, at 6-feet-4 and 220 pounds was a classic drop-back quarterback who had the mobility to move within the pocket while focusing down the field.

The Bucs, in spite of their exceptional defense (don’t let that 0 -26 stuff fool you!), did not have the cure for their expansion blues until Williams arrived.

His college coach, the legendary Eddie Robinson, was insistent on asking the League what they wanted in a quarterback as far back as the early 1970s, facilitating Shack Harris’ selection; however the League’s capitulation likely had more to do with avoiding a bigger problem among the increasingly darker rank-and-file player membership down the road.

Williams’ impact was immediately felt as his leadership, arm and intelligence catapulted the the winless Buccaneers from worst to first in their division in 1978. From 1978 to 1982, Williams would take Tampa Bay to three playoff runs, and competed for the league championship in 1979.

As Williams was helping to stabilize the baby Bucs, it was clear he had the right stuff to get the job done; but apparently others didn’t see it that way. Owner Hugh Culverhouse didn’t want to pay Williams the same as other starters who had garnered similar success.

A subsequent contract holdout would lead to Williams leaving Tampa and expedite his move to the Oklahoma Outlaws of the fledgling United States Football League (USFL) in 1984.

After the USFL folded in 1986, Williams came back to the NFL, signing with Washington, where his old quarterback coach, Joe Gibbs,was now the head man.

Designed to be the backup to starter Jay Schroeder, injuries and spotty play by Schroeder put Williams back under center in 1987.

Just as the players did in Tampa, Williams immediately gained a rapport with his teammates and, like Jimmy Nolen’s guitar, put the syncopation back in Washington’s offensive rhythm.

Williams did get Washington to the playoffs and stepped to his destiny on the field of Jack Murphy Stadium and Super Bowl XXII against John Elway and the heavily favored AFC Champion Denver Broncos.

When Denver opened up with Elway’s bomb to wide receiver Ricky Nattiel off the bat, it had the effect of a flash knockdown. Washington struggled early, and those struggles were magnified when Williams twisted his leg after a sack, almost fumbling as he grimaced with pain.

The injury forced him to the bench. Schroeder fared no better, and only Washington’s defense saved Denver from expanding a 10-0 lead after the first quarter.

Just as things looked their bleakest, Williams gathered himself and stepped to the line of scrimmage as the second quarter began. As he scanned the defense, what we could never foresee was a revelation of elevation.

Williams had one of the best offensive lines in the league. Nicknamed the “Hogs,” they would give him the time needed to attack the Bronco secondary. To his far right, USFL alum Gary Clark, a crafty pass catcher with deceptive speed.

Flanked out to his left was another USFL alum at receiver, Ricky Sanders, an intelligent speedster who put up huge numbers with the Houston Gamblers.

Working from the backfield to the slot, Clint Didier, a sure-handed player who was one in a long line of hybrid athletes designated to fill the bill at fullback and spot tight end — the H-Back.

Behind him, Timmy Smith, a late fill-in for backs George Rogers and Kelvin Bryant, both victims of the injury bug, but contributors to the cause.

With should-be Hall Of Fame receiver Art Monk in the mix as well, it was clear Williams and Washington were armed to the teeth; and it was only a matter of pulling the trigger.

Dignify & Signify

In the time it would take to say…way down in the jungle deep; the ole bad – ass lion stepped on the signifyin’ monkey’s feet…”

Washington had completed 15 minutes of carnage that would leave Elway and Denver shell-shocked. As if every pass was being guided by Briscoe & Stephens; Thrower and Harris; Raye & Pollard; Dickey & Gilliam.

Williams and Washington put 35 points on the scoreboard in a display of precision bombing that would’ve given George Patton a hard-on. The second quarter strafing secured the victory and the Most Valuable Player award for the Super Bowl champion and four-star field general.

I can remember seeing my friends screaming with joy; and one Old Head laughing and saying, “Oh, Mr. Elway — please don’t take this ass-whuppin’ personally. You all knew one day there was gonna be some git-back; and today was the day.”

If those muthafuckas hadn’t spent so much time and effort further dehumanizing Black men, you woulda only lost by a touchdown.”

Then what seemed to be an awesome day of football was dampened by the announcer’s matter-of-fact tone. I can’t remember verbatim what was said, but the paraphrasing amounted to: I hope that this will finally put to rest all the stereotypes about Black quarterbacks.”

All it really did was provide new problems for an old situation. I remember the New York papers and how they said Doug Williams had “the game of his life” and that they had never expected him to play so well.

But of course, they never thought Williams was equal to Elway. As great a player as he was Elway would never be chastised saying he didn’t want to play somewhere.

His scrambling would be lauded as an act of superior football intelligence and not cowardice in being unwilling to “take the hit like a man.” Elway could fire a pass and the comment would be, “Man, what a gun that Elway has.”

But have Williams zing one, and the comment is, “Well,Williams threw the ball too hard on that play…” And not to hate, because Elway could ball his ass off and just may be a decent human being.

But the system which allowed him to flourish isn’t decent. From his rookie season, that crap continued. If they were so worried Williams would throw the ball too hard, had I been a scout for the Buccaneers, I would’ve just brought all his former Grambling receivers into camp, because someone must’ve been catching the damn ball down there.

Ultimately, Williams has a championship; which they will never be able to take away from him. But it will take more courage and fortitude from every now and future field general to leave no doubt that the archaic and problematic poison emanating from the League must die an unnatural death.

Next Time: Breaking The Huddle.