Tampa Bay Buccaneers

In the Thick of It

Tampa Bay players, coaches and staff members are participating heavily in Super Bowl XXXIX events this week in Jacksonville

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Buccaneers Personnel Executive Doug Williams has a unique perspective on Donovan McNabb's Super Bowl experience

Donovan McNabb, on the doorstep of the most important game of his professional career, reflected recently on how he got there.

McNabb, quarterback of the Philadelphia Eagles, has reached the pinnacle of his profession – the Super Bowl – through a combination of hard work, talent and determination. It wasn't easy. But McNabb wonders how much more difficult the road might have been without the foundation laid by Doug Williams.

"He … held up that trophy when a lot of people would not have ever given an African-American quarterback a chance," said McNabb of Williams, MVP of Super Bowl XXII with the Washington Redskins. "As the game continues to change, it all reflects back to that with myself, Michael Vick, Aaron Brooks, Daunte Culpepper, Shaun King. The list goes on. Even before us, you have guys like Rodney Peete, Andre Ware, Warren Moon, guys like that who have set the trend and given us opportunities to step out on the field and showcase our talents. It definitely had a big impact on me."

Williams, who is now a personnel executive with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, is back at the site of the Super Bowl, 17 years after he led the Redskins to a 42-10 victory over Denver in January, 1988. He began his career as a first-round draft pick of the Buccaneers in 1978 and led Tampa Bay to the NFC Championship Game in 1979.

Williams is in Jacksonville to gather with other members of "The Field Generals," a prestigious group of former NFL players who are seeking to teach and preserve the history of the African-American quarterback. Williams is one of six founding members of the group, along with Warren Moon, Randall Cunningham, Vince Evans, James Harris and Marlin Brisco. The Field Generals held a press conference in Jacksonville on Thursday and Williams discussed McNabb and the progress made by African-American quarterbacks.

"I think Donovan has come along at a great time," said Williams. "I came along when the story wasn't about the two teams that were in the Super Bowl or what we did during the season. It was more or less about one man and the color of his skin. I think we have gotten away from that. Not one article you read will start off with 'Philadelphia's black quarterback.' It's just, 'Donovan McNabb of the Eagles.'"

Williams is part of a rather interesting presence the Buccaneers have had as a team in Jacksonville this week, as the league and its fans gear up for the most important sporting event of the year. Others who have contributed to various Super Bowl events include wide receiver Michael Clayton, linebacker Derrick Brooks, defensive end Simeon Rice and Head Coach Jon Gruden.

Clayton made the trip to Jacksonville in order to appear at the NFL Rookie of the Year press conference on Thursday. The historically prolific rookie receiver was one of five finalists for the award, along with Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, Seattle safety Michael Boulware, Detroit running back Kevin Jones and N.Y. Jets linebacker Jonathan Vilma.

The award went to Roethlisberger as expected, given the first-year passer's undefeated record as a starter and his team's advancement to the NFC Championship Game. In many years, Clayton's 80 receptions for 1,193 yards and seven touchdowns would have made him the clear winner and, in fact, he got some unexpected support from Roethlisberger.

At the press conference, all five finalists were asked to cast their own votes for the award. The four runners-up all chose Roethlisberger, but the Pittsburgh QB chose Clayton. The winner was actually chosen by fan voting on NFL.com.

Rice is on the other side of the equation in Jacksonville, asking questions instead of answering them. He attended Media Day as a correspondent for NFL Network and made a point of interviewing McNabb, his former high school track teammate. McNabb told Rice that he was happy for him when the Bucs won Super Bowl XXXVII, and the Buccaneer end offered up some advice on how to relax before the big game.

Brooks, a previous NFL Man of the Year (that award just went to his former teammate, Warrick Dunn), is in Jacksonville to support a variety of charitable causes, including ones championed by NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue and his wife. Among his stops have been a Habitat for Humanity event and a musical tribute for Black History Month, at which he did an intro for a program called "Journeys." Brooks also was given the "Role Model" award during an event for an NFL-sanctioned educational program called "Super Learning in a Super City."

Gruden was actually in Coral Gables, Florida, not Jacksonville, earlier in the week, but his trip was Super Bowl related. The Buccaneer head coach was one of a group of NFL players and coaches who traveled to Coral Gables to shoot a commercial for the NFL Network. The 60-second spot will air during the Super Bowl.

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