State Your Case: Doug Williams
His Super Bowl victory opened the door for so many others
There had always been a place for the African-American quarterback.
Just not in the NFL.
There was a long-standing NFL prejudice against quarterbacks of color. Sandy Stephens, Chuck Ealey, Condredge Holloway, Warren Moon and Willie Totten were all accomplished quarterbacks on the college level but to continue their careers at the position they needed to go to Canada. Marlin Briscoe, Jim Kearney, Tony Dungy, Dennis Franklin and Thomas Lott were another wave of successful college quarterbacks who had to switch their positions to continue their football careers in the NFL.
But Doug Williams changed all that. For that reason – his historical impact on the game – Williams deserves to be considered for a bust in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Williams wasn’t the first African-American quarterback to become a first-round NFL draft pick. Tennessee State’s Eldridge Dickey was. The Oakland Raiders took him with the 25th overall pick of the 1968 draft…but moved him to wide receiver. Williams was the first, however, to be drafted to play quarterback when the Tampa Bay Buccaneers claimed him out of Grambling with the 17th overall choice of the 1978 draft.
There is always pressure for a first-round draft pick to produce. There’s even more pressure when that first-round pick is a quarterback. And even more pressure when that first-round draft pick is the first African-American quarterback ever selected to play the position. For the sake of future generations of black quarterbacks, Doug Williams needed to succeed. And he did.
Williams started as a rookie and inside of two seasons had the Buccaneers playing in the NFC championship game. This was an expansion franchise that had won only seven games in its first three seasons before Williams delivered the Buccaneers 10 victories and a shot at the Super Bowl in their fourth season.
Williams quarterbacked the Bucs for five years, winning 33 games and throwing 73 touchdown passes. But a bitter contract dispute led to Williams sitting out the 1983 season, then jumping to the USFL in 1984. When the USFL folded after the 1985 season, Williams signed on with the Washington Redskins as a backup to Jay Schroeder.
Like his stay in Tampa, Williams worked his magic in his second season for Washington. Williams came off the bench to rally the Redskins to late victories three times in relief of Schroeder, helping Washington win the NFC East with an 11-5 record. Hall-of-Fame coach Joe Gibbs then named him the starter for the playoffs and Williams delivered victories over Chicago, Minnesota and Denver for an NFL championship.
Along the way Williams authored the greatest quarter in Super Bowl history. Trailing 10-0 entering the second quarter against the Broncos, Williams completed 9-of-11 passes for 228 yards and four touchdowns to propel Washington to a 35-10 halftime lead en route to a 42-10 victory and Super Bowl MVP honors. Williams set a Super Bowl record that day with 331 passing yards.
Williams played only two more seasons, starting just 12 games, before retiring at 33 years of age. But he proved to the NFL you can win a championship with an African-American quarterback – and his legacy lives on.
There have been 24 African-American quarterbacks selected in the first round since Williams became the first to win a Super Bowl – and all 24 of them were drafted to play the quarterback position.
Five of those quarterbacks were selected first overall in drafts: Michael Vick (2001), JaMarcus Russell (2007), Cam Newton (2011), Jameis Winston (2015) and Kyler Murray (2020). Four African-American have become NFL MVPs – Steve McNair, Newton, Lamar Jackson and Patrick Mahomes – and two have won Super Bowls, Russell Wilson and Mahomes. McNair, Donovan McNabb and Newton also took their teams to Super Bowls. Warren Moon now has a bust in Canton.
The Hall of Fame is about the impact a player has on the field. There have been quarterbacks who have won more NFL games and passed for more yardage and more touchdowns than Doug Williams. But you’d be hard-pressed to find a quarterback who had a greater historical impact on the game. His successes, first at Tampa and then Washington, opened doors for so many others.