In honor of Super Bowl week, I want to write about a man worthy of our admiration: Doug Williams. I heard Doug Williams interviewed by someone from our local radio station last week at the Super Bowl. Doug Williams was a black quarterback who played in the NFL. You may be thinking, “What’s the big deal? Patrick Mahomes is starting his fourth Super Bowl game, and he’s black. Last year, both starting quarterbacks were black.”


It wasn’t always that way. No black quarterbacks started in the NFL when Doug Williams was in Junior High. Any black college quarterback who graduated and entered the NFL was immediately placed in another position. This is horrible but it was said by coaches during this period in Doug Williams’ life: black quarterbacks were not considered to have sufficient intelligence and a suitable skill set for an NFL quarterback.


Doug Williams grew up in that time frame and culture. He attended Grambling State University, where he was the football team’s starting quarterback. And he was sensational. Tall, strong, and an outstanding leader, Williams passed for 3,286 yards in his senior year while throwing 38 touchdown passes. During that senior year, future hall of famer coach Joe Gibbs was an assistant coach with the two-year-old Tampa Bay Buccaneers. After the season, he traveled to the Grambling campus, gave Doug the team playbook, and worked him out. Gibbs returned to the Bucs raving over William’s physical talent, leadership ability, and mental preparation. Tampa Bay made Doug Williams their first-round pick in the 1978 NFL draft.


In Doug’s first season, he began to lead Tampa Bay, a disastrous team, out of the wilderness. In 1979, William’s second season, he led them to the NFC championship game, a remarkable feat. He led the Bucs to the playoffs two more seasons. Then he entered the wilderness. First, as the NFL’s lowest-paid starting quarterback, Williams sat out the 1983 season in a contract dispute. Then, he joined the newly formed USFL, which folded in 1986. It was during these years that Doug’s wife tragically died of a brain aneurysm.


Late in 1986, Joe Gibbs, by now the head coach of the Washington Redskins signed Doug. He started slowly as a backup but then took over for the team in the 1987 season. Washington defeated Minnesota in the NFC championship game, taking them to the Super Bowl–where Doug was to be the first black quarterback to start in a Super Bowl.


As you might imagine, this was a big deal with tremendous media coverage. Doug was famously asked by a young reporter how long he had been a black quarterback. “I’ve been a quarterback since high school, and I’ve been black all my life,” Williams answered. (Side note: Williams was gracious to that reporter who, amidst the pressure, botched his question, and they stayed in contact all of the reporter’s life until he passed away recently.)


Now, I felt sensitive over an imagined slight in high school. I cannot imagine walking in Doug Williams’ shoes as he prepared to face the Denver Broncos, led by one of the greatest quarterbacks in all of football, John Elway, in the Super Bowl. Doug grew up in the South, which was segregated in his boyhood. I have already referred to the bias and prejudice that slighted and taunted numerous black quarterbacks during his time. And to top it all off, he had to submit himself to a six-hour root canal surgery the day before the game because his mouth had become infected from a dental bridge abscess.


Washington fell behind 10- 0 in the first quarter, and the game almost went on without Williams when an intense pass rush caused him to do the splits and wrench his knee. But Doug returned and began a quarterback’s most extraordinary quarter in Super Bowl history in the second period. He passed for four touchdowns, and Washington jumped out to a 35- 10 lead at halftime (see the highlights here The game was effectively over, and Washington won 42-10.


Today, football is different. At all levels, black quarterbacks are the norm, but Doug Williams’ performance in Super Bowl XXII was a watershed. Through tremendous courage and perseverance, Doug Williams triumphed. After he retired from football, Doug became a winning college coach and successful NFL executive.


I hope you and I will never face Doug Williams’s adversity, but I want us to have the same courage and perseverance in our work.