The Black QB Stereotype Doug Williams Crushed 30 Years Ago Continues

With Super Bowl LII approaching next week between the New England Patriots and the Philadelphia Eagles, there are some significant anniversaries that will be celebrated in the days ahead. 

Ten years ago in 2008, the New York Giants engineered one of the biggest upsets in the history of professional sports when Eli Manning passed for 255 yards and two touchdowns in their 17-14 win over a previously undefeated Patriots squad that had been touted as the best team ever in NFL history. 

It’s also the 20th anniversary of Denver running back Terrell Davis, who fought through a pregame migraine that was so intense that he lost his vision for an hour prior to kickoff, rushing for 157 yards and a game-record three touchdowns in the Broncos’  31-24 win over the Green Bay Packers to deliver John Elway’s only Super Bowl victory.

But no anniversary is bigger than what Doug Williams accomplished in Super Bowl XXII 30 years ago. Facing the supposedly superior QB in Denver’s John Elway, Williams’ Redskins routed the Broncos 42-10. Washington set an NFL record by scoring five touchdowns in the second quarter as Williams dazzled. He passed for 340 yards and four touchdowns. He became not only the first Black signal caller to lead a team to the Super Bowl and to win it, he was also named the game’s MVP.

Super Bowl Memories- Doug Williams wins XXII

A week with the Newschannel 8 crew, Dick Crippen and Joe LoNigro culminates with this big Super Bowl win for Doug Williams and the Washinton Redskins.

It was a watershed moment for Black America and the quarterback position in general. 

As Steve Whyce wrote last year for“Williams’ story is one of the reasons players today feel empowered enough to stand up and act for what they believe.

As the first black quarterback to start and win a Super Bowl, Williams erased a stigma placed on players with his melanin who played the position. Sure, Marlin Briscoe, Joe Gilliam and Harris came before him as black quarterbacks to actually take a snap from under center, but they didn’t win a Super Bowl. They didn’t get the chance.

Williams did, and he delivered.

Williams proved that others would follow a black quarterback’s lead. He proved that a black quarterback could handle everything a white quarterback could. He did it all with grace. He did it for the franchise that was the last in the NFL to sign a black player.”

One of America’s greatest sportswriters, Roy S. Johnson, in a 2013 piece for The Shadow League, wrote, “Williams only started two games for the Redskins that year the final two games of the regular season, both losses after a spot in the playoffs had been clinched. But on three occasions he was inserted under center by head coach Joe Gibbs, substituting for backup Jay Schroeder, he led Washington to victories.

On that mid-afternoon at Jack Murhy Stadium in San Diego, he became the first African-American quarterback to start in the Super Bowl. But that wasnt enough for us. We wanted him to win.

We wanted him to win for Willie Thrower, the first black QB to take a snap in the NFL, for the Chicago Bears, in 1963. And for the Broncos Marlin Brisco, the first black starter, in 1968. For James Harris. For Warren Moon. For Randall Cunningham. For Vince Evans. And for Charlie Choo Choo Brackins, too. Google him.

NFL Films Feature – Doug Williams

Douglas Lee “Doug” Williams (born August 9, 1955) is a former American football quarterback and former head coach of the Grambling State Tigers football team. Williams is best known for his remarkable performance in Super Bowl XXII. Williams, who was named the Super Bowl MVP, passed for a Super Bowl record 340 yards and four touchdowns, with one interception.

We wanted him to win for all the brothers who were believed by NFL executives and head coaches to be incapable of leading men (read: white men) on the football field, or told to switch positions if they wanted to play in the league. We wanted him to win for us, too. For all of us who had been told we didn’t have the necessities to lead, either particularly in the workplace.

Arrival is one thing. Winning would be altogether something different.

Shoot, if a black man could win the Super Bowl, a black man could do anything. Maybe even become President.”

Williams smashed through a glass ceiling that the likes of Warren Moon, Deshaun Watson, Randall Cunningham, Donovan McNabb, Cam Newton, Michael Vick, Robert Griffin III, Russell Wilson, Daunte Culpepper, Colin Kaepernick, Jameis Winston and other black quarterbacks were later able to fly through.

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And for folks out there still doubting Nick Foles in the wake of Carson Wentz’s injury, Williams is proof positive that a capable backup can lead his team to Super Bowl glory.

It’s tough to admit that as late as 1988, Williams’ accomplishment was comparable to what generations earlier celebrated in Jack Johnson, Joe Louis or Jackie Robinson, knowing that all we needed was an opportunity to prove what we’re capable of. And not simply in sports, as athletics is merely a part of the larger societal narrative.

People forget that Williams, despite being a four-year starter who was twice named Black College Football’s Player of the Year at Grambling and a Heisman Trophy finalist in 1977, almost didn’t get his NFL opportunity.

Tampa Bay’s then-offensive coordinator Joe Gibbs was the only NFL coach that visited Grambling to scout him. Gibbs, with his advanced offensive acumen, was impressed and recommended that the Buccaneers select Williams with their first-round draft choice.

The Bucs, who had never been to the playoffs and were seen as the laughingstock of the league, went on to select him with the 17th pick in the first round of the 1978 NFL Draft. He went on to lead them to the playoffs three times in four years, including an unforgettable run to the 1979 NFC Championship Game.

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However, despite the progress that’s been made in terms of players who were beneficiaries of Williams’ accomplishments, there’s no denying that racial stereotypes continue to affect the public’s perception of NFL quarterbacks.

Black signal callers are still more likely to be described in terms of natural ability and strength while white QB’s are more likely to be lauded for their leadership abilities, intelligence, preparation and determination.

And when you look beyond the obvious, things become quite disconcerting. Yes, Russell Wilson, Colin Kaepernick and Cam Newton have led their teams to three of the past four Super Bowls, but a closer inspection reveals that, according to research at the University of Colorado, the number of black quarterbacks who have thrown 100 passes in a season in the NFL has generally declined since the early 2000’s. During the 2015 season, the most recent year covered by the study, only 14 percent of pro quarterbacks who threw a minimum of 100 passes were black, down from a historical high-water mark of 35 percent in 2001.

Wisconsin/NC State QB Russell Wilson Career Highlights

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Bill Polian is a legendary figure as a football executive and general manager in the NFL who achieved great success in the league with the Buffalo Bills and the Indianapolis Colts. His opinion carries plenty of weight, that’s why it was disturbing to hear him discuss Louisville’s Heisman Trophy winning quarterback Lamar Jackson in saying, I think hes a wide receiver and a dynamic wide receiver.

I thought we were past the days when Black quarterbacks were instantly pigeonholed as simply athletes who could be better utilized at other skill positions like receiver and cornerback. 

It is annoying because quarterback is all I played all my life. People look at my legs and they see I can make big plays, but they dont really see my arm, and I make big plays with my arm, Jackson said in response to scouts who think he should change positions. I scored more touchdowns with my arm than my legs so

That nonsensical talk also aggravated his coach at Louisville, Bobby Petrino, who said Theres no question hes a quarterback in the NFL, and hes a special, special player. I dont know who started that or why they did it, but its ridiculous. They just need to come in and do their work, watch the video, see him, thats it. Thats just talk. Do your work.

The Most Electrifying Player in College Football || Louisville QB Lamar Jackson 2017 Highlights

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The detractors will talk about Jackson’s 6-foot-3, 212-pound frame as the reason why he can’t withstand the rigors of the QB position in the NFL, but none of that is ever mentioned when discussing Washington’s Kirk Cousins, who stands 6-foot-3 and weighs 210 pounds, or the supposed top signal caller on 2018 NFL Draft boards, UCLA’s Josh Rosen, who is 6-foot-4 and tips the scale at 218.

We know what that’s all about. There’s no denying that bias, stereotypes and false perceptions are latent in the discussion of the Black quarterback. Despite the modern success of guys like Wilson and Newton, they’re seen as the exception rather than the rule.

Unfortunately, we’re not too far removed from 30 years ago, when Doug Williams blasted those foolhardy stereotypes out of the water. Sadly, that stigma will always be there, no matter how many times it’s proven wrong.

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