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Doug Williams: The Buccaneers quarterback who became a star with the Redskins

Jim Gehman

Camp Fodder
Jul 19, 2009
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While quarterback Doug Williams may have had some bright moments while in Tampa Bay, he shined in Washington. I hope these two anecdotes from my book about the Redskins – “Then Gibbs Said to Riggins…” – bring back some fond burgundy-and-gold memories.

A Call That Certainly Paid Off

Not to suggest that Joe Gibbs kept a little black book, but when the Redskins decided to search for a backup quarterback who had proven himself to add to their roster heading into the 1986 season, the head coach knew from experience just whom to call.

Eight years earlier, in 1978, Gibbs was in Tampa Bay for his one and only season as its offensive coordinator. That was also the season that the Buccaneers drafted Doug Williams, a quarterback from Grambling, with their first-round pick. The two would work closely together during that 5-11 campaign.

While Gibbs moved on to San Diego as an assistant coach and then to Washington, Williams spent four more seasons in Tampa Bay before a salary dispute with the team resulted with his playing for Oklahoma and Arizona in the USFL for two years before the league folded. And with no NFL teams knocking on his door, Gibbs’ call could not have come at a better time.

“I got into [that first Buccaneers training] camp late, and he took an awful lot of time with me. I used to go to Coach Gibbs’ house at night after practice,” Williams said. “I think as a player, it has to be a professional relationship, and we both made an impact on each other. If we didn’t, I don’t think he would have gave me an opportunity to come to Washington.”

Certainly appreciative of the opportunity to join the Redskins, Williams knew that his position would be as a second-stringer to Jay Schroeder. But having been a starter all his life, was there a chance that he’d become frustrated in his role?

“It wasn’t frustrating at all. I came in there under the pretense that I was the backup. When Joe called, that was one of the discussions that we had. He told me that Schroeder was the [starting] quarterback and he just asked me, could I be the backup? And I’d never been a backup, so I do think that you have to ask a guy who has never been a backup whether or not, mentally, he can do it. But remember, when Joe called me, I didn’t have a job. So it wasn’t hard [to accept being second-string] at all.”

Williams attempted just one pass that season. It was, however, a different story in 1987. In the season opener against the division-rival Philadelphia Eagles on September 13, he came in when Schroeder was injured and piloted the Redskins to a 34-24 victory. Two months later, on November 15 against Detroit, Williams came into the game in relief of a struggling Schroeder, and tossed a pair of touchdown passes to lead Washington to a 20-13 win.

And in his second of two starts that season, against Minnesota in the regular-season finale, he hit Ricky Sanders on two touchdown passes, including a 51-yard toss with less than two minutes left, to send the game into overtime. The Redskins would win it 27-24 to finish with an 11-4 record. Gibbs opted to keep Williams as the starting quarterback throughout the playoffs, and he earned the Most Valuable Player award after a record-breaking performance in Super Bowl XXII against Denver.

Super Bowl Sundays – Doug Williams

After making two starts and earning a couple of key saves during the 1987 season, if Doug Williams had been a baseball pitcher, he would have contended for the Cy Young Award. Fortunately for the Redskins, he was a quarterback. And even more fortunate for them, he was under center in Super Bowl XXII against Denver.

But it was not going to be easy. Because late in the first quarter and trailing 10-0, Williams suffered a hyperextended knee and was forced to the sideline to be examined and treated by the team’s medical staff. “The only thing that was going through my mind was I was hoping I wasn’t hurt bad enough to leave the football game,” Williams said. “That was the number one priority. I hyperextended it, and it was bad. I got some treatment. You do what you have to do.”

The treatment that Williams received did the trick, and he returned to the game with 14:17 left in the first half. Shortly after that, bum knee and all, he and his teammates began to make Super Bowl history.

Fifty-three seconds into the second quarter, and with a first down from his own 20-yard line, Williams put the ball up against the right sideline. Ricky Sanders snared the pass and raced 80 yards for Washington’s first touchdown.

“That pass basically was supposed to be a seven-yard hitch. The defense dictated what we did on that play,” said Williams. “It wasn’t a called 80-yarder. It was a called hitch pass just to try to get things rolling. The defensive back played it a different way. He came up to press and jam and he missed the jam. Ricky got by him and it was easy.”

At the 4:45 mark and with the score 10-7, Williams put the Redskins ahead with a 27-yard scoring pass to Gary Clark.

“Actually, Gary shouldn’t have been the receiver. When we sat there and watched it, the ball should have went in the flat to the back, Kelvin Bryant. It was a 'hot’ situation, which means they had a blitz on, but the linebacker didn’t get there. Even if he’d got there, he wouldn’t have got there in time to stop me from throwing the football. Gary was wide open.”

Following halfback Timmy Smith’s 58-yard touchdown run to put Washington up 21-10, Williams and Sanders connected along the right sideline again. This time, Sanders found the end zone from 50 yards away.

“Remember, we were running the counter and they had to respect Timmy Smith,” Williams said. “And basically, it was just a play-action off the counter. The free safety came up to make the play, and Ricky got behind him and it was a cake-walk.”

Washington’s record-breaking fifth touchdown of the quarter came after cornerback Barry Wilburn intercepted Broncos quarterback John Elway, giving the Redskins the ball at their own 21-yard line. Williams then engineered a 79-yard drive which was capped off when he spotted tight end Clint Didier in the back corner of the end zone from eight yards out with 1:04 left on the clock before halftime. Washington went into the break with a 25-point lead.

“Clint ran a corner route, and with Gary and Ricky on the ends, you’ve got to be more concerned with those guys than you are with Clint Didier. He just slipped out there,” Williams said.

The Redskins set a record with 35 points in a quarter and held Denver scoreless in the second half, winning 42-10. Williams, who completed 18-of-29 passes for 340 yards and four touchdowns, was named as the game’s MVP.

“That wasn’t big. You know why? Because there were so many other people out there who were MVPs,” said Williams. “Let’s talk about 204 yards [rushing] by Timmy Smith. Ricky Sanders had 193 yards in receptions. The offensive line blocked their asses off. And I think Barry Wilburn had what, two interceptions? So there could have been a number of people been MVP in that game, I just happened to be one of them.

“When we went out there, we didn’t have any doubt that we were going to win that football game. Maybe the people in Vegas and most of America who were caught up in [my being the first] black quarterback [to start in a Super Bowl] did. But we went out there and had the best week of practice we ever had in our life. We knew what we were going to do! I mean, man for man, pound for pound, we had the best football team.”


The All-Time Great
Jul 19, 2009
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Bethesda Md

“When we went out there, we didn’t have any doubt that we were going to win that football game"

That's what made the second quarter of that game possible. I remember Dexter Manley standing on the edge of the sideline after the 80 yard pass from Doug Williams to Ricky Sanders making the score 10-7 and saying 'we're coming back baby, no doubt about that'............... :)

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