Buccaneers Personnel Executive Doug Williams was a first-round draft choice in 1978
Doug Williams was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 2001. This week, Williams, a personnel executive with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, returned to the Hall's grounds in South Bend, Indiana, to talk about his path to that honor, and to greatness in the National Football League.
It was a path he helped clear for others.
The first African-American quarterback drafted selected in the first round of an NFL draft, Williams has joined with five other notable passers to form the Field Generals, an organization dedicated to teaching and preserving the history of that formerly rare subset of players.
Many of the great quarterbacks in today's NFL are African-Americans – Donovan McNabb, Michael Vick, Steve McNair, Daunte Culpepper, to name a few – but Williams came into the league at a time when there were few opportunities for African-American passers to excel. He and fellow founding Field Generals James Harris, Marlin Briscoe, Randall Cunningham, Vince Evans and Warren Moon blazed the trail for today's stars.
The Field Generals gathered in South Bend on Tuesday to speak about that struggle. While thrilled with the positive developments for African-American quarterbacks in the NFL, these six believe their stories should be remembered. On Tuesday, they addressed the Hall crowd about the obstacles they overcame in pursuit of their NFL dreams.
Williams, for instance, was the first African-American quarterback to start in a Super Bowl, as he led the Washington Redskins to a 42-10 victory over Denver in Super Bowl XXII, earning game MVP honors in the process. During media sessions in the days leading up to that game, Williams talked little about game strategy and much about his skin color.
"At that time, you were a black quarterback," said Williams. "All they (sportswriters) wrote about was black quarterback Doug Williams. It's not like today when they say, 'Donovan McNabb, the quarterback of the Eagles.' Back then, it was Tampa Bay black quarterback Doug Williams. My name came after the black part."
The other Field Generals shared similar tales. Briscoe, the first starting African-American quarterback in modern NFL history, spoke of his early days with the Broncos, when he emerged as a rookie sensation in 1968 only to lose the job in 1969 and be pushed into playing wide receiver for the remainder of his career. That same year, Harris refused to switch to tight end before the draft and lasted until the eighth round.
Harris eventually went on to start for the Los Angeles Rams, leading them to the NFC Championship Game in 1974 and earning a trip to the Pro Bowl that season. However, he believes many of his contemporaries never got the same opportunity.
Even in 1977, a year before Williams was drafted by the Buccaneers, Moon went undrafted after resisting a change to receiver or defensive back. After starting his professional career in Canada, Moon eventually threw for 49,325 yards in the NFL, the fourth-highest total in league history. Williams led the Buccaneers to their first playoff berth in just his second season, then took them back in 1981 and 1982. Cunningham later forged an illustrious career with the Eagles and Vikings.
The assembled tales of these men serve as a timeline for the development of opportunities for the African-American quarterback in the NFL. They hope to use their stories to ensure that such development continues.
"Our goal is to keep the legacy of the black quarterback in the eyes of the public so that minorities who aspire to be quarterbacks will be inspired to be good citizens who become the best that they can possibly be," said Briscoe. "We want to let these kids know that anything is possible and they can achieve what they want. Not just in football, but in life as well."