Doug Williams doesn't know what the future holds – his two stints with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers taught him that lesson well – but he does know that his place in franchise history is secure.
On Sunday, Williams will become the eighth person inducted into the Buccaneers' Ring of Honor at Raymond James Stadium on Sunday. His name and jersey number (12) will be unveiled on the stadium façade during an on-field ceremony at halftime of the Buccaneers' game against the Atlanta Falcons.
"At the end of the day, the good thing about this whole situation is, no matter what happens to Doug Williams in the future, Doug Williams will be hanging in Raymond James," he said on Thursday, as his big day drew near.
The fourth-leading passer in franchise history with 12,648 yards, Williams still holds the team's single-game high with a 486-yard outing against Minnesota on Nov. 16, 1980. His 499 combined passing and rushing yards in that contest also remain a franchise record. In both 1980 and 1981, in an NFL era in which the running game was much more prevalent, Williams compiled four 300-yard passing games, a single-season mark that has yet to be topped by a Buccaneer passer.
While Williams didn't play in the more pass-happy current era, he compared very favorably to his NFL peers during the four-year stretch from 1979-1982. During that span, Williams ranked seventh in the NFL in passing yards (11,369), 10th in touchdown passes (66) and seventh in lowest-interception rate (3.8 percent). He also topped all quarterbacks during that period with 856 rushing yards and tied for the most rushing touchdowns with 12.
Photos of former Buccaneers QB Doug Williams.
The Buccaneers also inducted former fullback Mike Alstott into the Ring of Honor on October 4, marking the first time the team honored two of their all-time greats in the same season. The Ring of Honor was established in 2009 with inaugural inductee Lee Roy Selmon and has since welcomed John McKay (2010), Jimmie Giles (2011), Paul Gruber (2012), Warren Sapp (2013) and Derrick Brooks (2014). Williams is particularly moved by the thought of sharing Ring space with McKay, his head coach with the Buccaneers from 1978-82.
INFOGRAPHIC: DOUG WILLIAMS
"The one thing about Coach McKay – and everybody told me this – was that if he put an "ie" at the end of your name, you were one of his favorites," Williams recalled fondly. "And he always called me, 'Dougie.' He was a totally different guy on the field than he was if you walked into his office. I remember I used to go into his office and he would say, 'Sit down, Dougie. Let's talk.' And we talked.
The best photos of quarterback Doug Williams.
"I got a letter from [John's wife] Corky McKay…never will forget it. She wrote me a letter and she told me that John, that she could remember, only loved one player and that was O.J. [Simpson], she said. But at the end of that letter she had put on there, 'But he loves you more.'"
McKay was the first head coach for the fledgling Buccaneer franchise, which had one just two games in its first two seasons before drafting Williams in the first round in 1978. He was an immediate starter as a rookie but limited to 10 games due to injuries. Williams would then start every game over the next four seasons and lead the Buccaneers to its first three playoff appearances. In 1979, with Williams at the helm of the offense, Tampa Bay would shock the league by not only winning the NFC Central title but advancing to the NFC Championship Game.
Williams departed after the 1982 season after a contract dispute with original team owner Hugh Culverhouse, moving first to the USFL and then back to the NFL with the Washington Redskins, with whom he won a Super Bowl and Super Bowl MVP honors. The Buccaneers would not reach the playoffs again for a decade and a half, after the team had been purchased by Malcolm Glazer. A legend arose, and eventually developed into more of a humorous story, that Williams had cursed the Buccaneers upon his departure. Williams laughed when reminded about it on Thursday.
Former Tampa Bay Buccaneers QB Doug Williams and FB Mike Alstott were announced as the newest inductees into the Buccaneers Ring of Honor.
"Let me say this: I think I answered that before," he said. "If I was going to curse the team, the games that they won they wouldn't have. So that's why I would say no. Unless somebody did it on my behalf because I had nothing to do with it."
Williams, who speaks positively of the team's current ownership, returned to the franchise in 2004 as a personnel executive, lured back by then-Head Coach Jon Gruden. He spent seven seasons in the Buccaneers' personnel department, and even though his second stint with the team also ended sooner than he would have liked he still has fond memories of the team and the Bay area.
"To come back there and have an opportunity to work…I never thought I was going to leave Tampa again," said Williams. "But things happen, people make decisions. I honestly think that if it wasn't for certain situations I would still be there, but it didn't happen and you've got to go on with life. I've got three daughters that were born in Tampa. My two youngest ones, who are seven and nine, that's all they talk about, that Tampa's their home. My nine-year-old asked me, 'Can we go back and live in Tampa?' Stuff like that is emotional because Tampa was a great place to live and raise a family."
In between his two stints with the Buccaneers, Williams continued to make an impact on the game of football in both the professional and college ranks. After his final playing season in Tampa, 1982, he would go on to play six more professional seasons, the highlight of which was Super Bowl XXII, in which his Washington Redskins defeated the Denver Broncos, 42-10. Williams was selected as the game MVP after throwing for 340 yards and four touchdowns. Notably, he was the first black quarterback to start in and win a Super Bowl. Between the end of his playing days and his return to the Buccaneers' front office, Williams had two stints as the head coach at his alma mater, leading Grambling State to four conference championships.
Williams was helping to break ground when he first arrived in Tampa, too. He was the first black quarterback ever drafted in the first round and he followed a relatively short list of black quarterbacks who had seen meaningful NFL playing time, such as Marlin Briscoe, James "Shack" Harris and Joe Gilliam. Williams' NFL success helped pave the way for other black quarterbacks after him, but Williams never dwelled on his role as a trailblazer. He credited McKay and other Buccaneer executives for creating his NFL opportunity, and his head coach at Grambling, Eddie Robinson, for helping him gain perspective.
"Coach Robinson never, in his life, ever mentioned anything about me being black and how tough it was going to be," said Williams. "All Coach ever told me was that, 'If they're doing the same thing we did here at Grambling, you can do it because you did it well there.' When I came in, it wasn't about trailblazing as much as trying to find where I fit in in the league. And I did, I had a chance in the National Football League and to me that was a plus from that standpoint. But whatever happened after that…I'm sure that I'm grateful for it and hopefully the guys that have come – the Warren Moons that went to Canada at the same time and all the guys that come behind me – look at it from the same perspective that I did. It's not about whether or not you blazed a trail, it's about the opportunity that you get."
Williams certainly made the most of his opportunity, and he also created a generation of Buccaneer fans who remember him as the franchise's first true leader on offense. He continues to have an impact on the team to this day as a willing mentor for the team's rookie quarterback, Jameis Winston.
"I can see why people I talk with say every team he has been on his teammates would follow him to the end of the world," said Williams of the Bucs' young passer. "I think he brings that same kind of situation to the Buccaneers at this time. I would like to think what Jameis has brought to the Buccaneers now, I would like to think that I did the same thing when I was there."
The Buccaneers obviously agree with Williams and hope that Winston develops into the long-term answer as a franchise quarterback. Perhaps someday Winston's name and number will be added to the stadium façade, as well. Sunday is Doug Williams' day, however, as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers bestow their highest tribute, induction into the Ring of Honor, on one of their all-time greats.