There are historical figures in sports that transcended race and helped America step forward as a nation. Jackie Robinson, Jesse Owens, Arthur Ashe, Hank Aaron and even Tiger Woods are such historical figures, and there are more.
One figure stands tall among these athletes in the NFL, and he played in Tampa under the watchful eye of a notoriously racist owner. Like these other athletes mentioned his significance has stood the test of time.
Doug Williams was not the first black quarterback and he wasn’t even the best. He transformed preconceived ideas, misconceptions and even some ignorant attitudes by winning and winning big.
The First Black Quarterback
In 1968 Marlin Briscoe was the starting quarterback for the Denver Broncos for only one year. His athleticism did not fit the stereo-typical mold of a quarterback. He was quickly moved to wide receiver, where he flourished and became an All-Pro despite his success behind center in college.
Williams blazed the trail with grace and confidence despite a barrage of questions that would never be asked of an NFL player today. He weathered the ignorance of some pretty outlandish media questions in his career. “How long have you been a black quarterback?” is probably the most famous but the list goes much deeper than that.
The New Fans
The modern Buccaneers fan has been through the tumult of an extensive losing period, but the losing of the last two decades pales in comparison to the first two decades of the team’s existence. The only bright spot in the first two decades was the Doug Williams era. Hugh Culverhouse was not willing to meet Williams demands to continue with the team. Williams was asking for only $600,000 per year. This was the salary of the average quarterback and Williams was far better than average. Culverhouse offered $400,000 and would not budge from that number. Williams left over $200,000 and the history of Williams Super Bowl MVP is written.
It isn’t like Williams didn’t deserve a higher than average salary. He led the 1979 Bucs to the NFC Championship game, losing to the Rams 9-0. The team was fresh off losing their first 26 games, but that still wasn’t enough to motivate Culverhouse to pay a black quarterback.
Sins of the Father
His son, Hugh Culverhouse Jr., has been trying to rectify the sins of his father. “I could blow smoke in your ear,” said the son of the late owner, “but Doug Williams got a bum deal from my father.” When Williams was head coach of Grambling he would regularly speak with Culverhouse Jr to thank him for a $5,000-$10,000 donation made annually to Grambling. In 2002 the call went down a little differently. “Doug, I want to give Grambling a million dollars.” The largest donation Grambling had received to that point was ¼ of that amount. That should help make up for his father’s $200,000 stubborn streak.
Williams rose above the racism of the day. His way of dealing with the racism and ignorance that he faced was to let his play do the talking wherever possible. That is not the only way to deal with it, but that was HIS way.
Have Times Changed?
Things change, right? There is hope. There is growth, but there is still so much of a path to be blazed. No more will quarterbacks be asked these actual questions asked of Williams on Super Bowl media day in 1988, or would they:
- “Doug, would you have been able to handle all of this, especially the black thing, if you had made the Super Bowl a few years back?”
- “Will America be rooting for the Redskins or against them because of you, Doug?”
- “Doug, would it be easier if you were the second black quarterback to play in the Super Bowl?”
Pride and Predjudice
The Buccaneers play a unique and equal parts proud and embarrassing part in the road to enlightenment in the NFL. Yes, the owner of the day was a just plain awful human being. Just read the things said about him by his family. The truth is though, that most Bucs fans from the very beginning of the franchise felt love, pride and adoration for #12. The original #12 that is. Brady can borrow that jersey, but to those with this franchise from the beginning, it will always belong to Doug Williams.
That’s the view From The Cheap Seats