A True Soul Survivor: Part One

By Ronald Glover
Updated: October 31, 2008

PHILADELPHIA – The position of quarterback has been a microcosm of the Black struggle in America – a door supposedly “open to all” – except for us of a darker hue who continuously knock, kick and scream until an answer comes.

For 80 years, the Black man has fought tooth and nail to be in a position to lead a professional football franchise to glory. Many came before Doug Williams some may have even been better skilled. But looking back on the life of Douglas Lee Williams — none were better prepared.

My mother says that “The Lord chooses whom he will.” If you ask Williams about being the Chosen One, he places it at the feet of hard work, opportunity and determination more than anything.

Born the sixth of eight children in Zachary, La. to Robert and Laura Williams, Doug learned the lessons of hard work at an early age. His father was wounded in the Pearl Harbor attacks but was able to make a living as a construction worker and nightclub manager, his mother worked as a school cook. Money was hard to come by in the Williams household but it remained a close-knit home.

Williams was active in all sports – although it was football, playing quarterback, where he found his niche.

Coming out of high school Doug was only recruited by two schools; Southern University and Grambling State University, it was Williams’ conversation with legendary coach Eddie Robinson that won Williams over.

It would be one of several conversations with Robinson that would carry Williams through the course of his life.

Williams’ freshman season at Grambling was a forgettable one – he was redshirted which resulted in his grades and confidence dropping off. His father was so troubled that he considered removing Williams from school and finding him work.

His sophomore season worked out better – he was penciled in as the team’s third string quarterback. Once again not feeling satisfied with the results Williams considered leaving the team but coach Robinson talked him into staying on.

When it seemed darkest for Williams – opportunity presented itself. The Tigers starting quarterback was lost to injury allowing Williams to work his way into the starting role.

From that day, Williams would not relinquish the position. He would finish out the remainder of the 1974 season and his remaining three seasons as Grambling’s signal caller.

Williams enjoyed a magnificent career for the Tigers; he would win 35 of 40 games as a starter while winning four consecutive SWAC titles. In 1977 Williams was named a first team All-American by the Associated Press and finished fourth in the Heisman Trophy voting.

He would leave Grambling with 8,411 passing yards and 93 touchdowns and a Bachelor of Science degree in Health and Physical Education.

In the 1978 NFL Draft, Williams would be the first quarterback taken with the 17th pick by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, other notables selected; Earl Campbell, Art Still, Wes Chandler, James Lofton, Clay Matthews, Mike Kenn, John Jefferson and Ozzie Newsome… and that was just the first round.

Williams rookie season began with a contract dispute that would eventually end with him making $565,000 for five seasons. In spite of his late arrival he would win the starting job and lead the downtrodden Bucs to an 4-4 record through 8 games.

In week 10, Williams would suffer a broken jaw he would recover in time to play in the season finale. Despite a shortened season Williams would be named to the NFL’s All-Rookie Team.

The 1979 Tampa Bay Buccaneers seemed to be a team of destiny. They finished the season 10-6. They would go on to win the Central Division and face the Philadelphia Eagles in the divisional round of the NFC Playoffs.

I remember this game vividly because of the three names I heard all afternoon – Lee Roy Selmon, Ricky Bell (who the Eagles could not stop for anything) and Doug Williams. It was a long day for Jaws and the vaunted Philly O-line who had no answer for Selmon.

Williams did just enough to win as the Bucs would go on to record one of the great upsets in NFL history. The following week the Bucs would host the NFC Championship game against the Los Angeles Rams, Williams tore his biceps muscle missing most of the third and all of the fourth quarter despite a youman defensive effort the Bucs would fall 9-0.

Williams would have to wait eight more years before his next shot at the Super Bowl.

For eight years – there was no gameplan or pre-game speech that could prepare Doug Williams for the all-out blitz he was going to encounter.

In 1982, things got off to a good start Williams married Janice Goss, he would once again lead the Bucs to the playoffs in a strike-shortened season. Again the Bucs would fall short to the Dallas Cowboys 30-17.

Williams initial contract with the Bucs had expired and with contract negotiations looming Williams looked forward to a windfall payday. But it was not to be.

Bucs management offered Williams $400,000 per season, as negotiations continued Williams wife began to experience severe headaches. In April of 1983, it was discovered that a brain tumor had developed, surgery was scheduled immediately to remove the tumor, but Janice died a week later.

With his life shattered and career in limbo, Williams would head back to Zachary. His stay there would bring little comfort. His father Robert would develop health problems that would lead to the amputation of both legs. Williams’ talks with the Bucs would ultimately break down, ending his association with the club.

NEXT: Life, football, and the historic destroying of a false myth.