After helping the Bucs to three playoff appearances, Williams won a Super Bowl in Washington
In his five years as a Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback, during which he started all but six of a possible 73 games, Doug Williams never completed more than 53.4% of his passes in a single season.
Why bring this up, especially just a few days after Williams rejoined the team, 21 years after his departure, to serve as a personnel executive? Why refer to an apparently unflattering statistic at a time when the Bucs' current quarterback, Brad Johnson, has just put up the three best single-season completion percentage marks in team history?
Here's why: 12, 24, 19, 11. That's the number of times Williams was sacked during the four years (1979-82) he started every game for Tampa Bay. Those numbers have a lot to do with Williams' completion percentage marks, and they help explain why team management was so eager to get him back in the fold.
In his 67 career starts in Tampa, Williams was sacked 65 times, or less than once per game. Even Johnson, who is considered quite adept at avoiding the takedown, has been dropped 85 times in his 45 games as a Buccaneer. Was Tampa Bay's offensive line particularly outstanding during Williams' era? Perhaps, but not one of those linemen ever made the Pro Bowl.
According to those who saw Williams in action, the main reason he took so few sacks is that he stubbornly refused to accept the lost yardage, repeatedly throwing the ball away before he was dropped. That strategy hurt his completion percentage, but it kept many drives from stalling and likely avoided dozens of turnovers. Williams had plenty of statistical highlights – he had the highest single-season passing yardage total in team history (3,563 in 1981) before Johnson finally broke that mark last year – but he was never wrapped up in the numbers.
Williams was all about winning, which he helped the Bucs do much earlier than most expected. It's what he did as a Washington Redskin, throwing four touchdown passes in a single quarter to help the 'Skins win Super Bowl XXII. It's what he did as the head coach at Grambling, where his Tigers were named National Black College Champions three times in his six years at the helm.
"We will certainly benefit by having Doug Williams join our organization," said cornerback Ronde Barber, one of the current Bucs who shares Williams' bottom-line approach to the game. "Doug has a tremendous amount of experience in this business as a player, coach and scout. He has been successful at every stop and knows what it takes to be a champion."
At the press conference to welcome Williams back to the organization on Thursday, he marveled at a memory that current Bucs Head Coach Jon Gruden had shared with him the night before. Gruden's father, Jim, was a coach and scout for the Buccaneers, and the future coach adored Williams, watching his every move. He remembered a game in which Williams, despite a pulled hamstring, had gotten up after fumbling and chased down defensive lineman Steve McMichael, preventing a touchdown. The Bucs went on to win that contest.
That kind of drive earns Williams the word Gruden saves for the highest sort of praise: 'Juice.'
"For the city of Tampa, for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and our current players, we're really excited for the juice that Doug Williams is going to bring back to the Tampa Bay Bucs," said Gruden on Thursday.
Williams move to Tampa might have come about in a matter of just weeks, but Gruden's belief that the team's first star quarterback had something to offer the team is nothing new. Gruden brought his former playing idol in to see the Bucs not long after he took over in 2002, figuring Williams' Super Bowl experience could rub off on a team with similar aspirations.
"I had an opportunity to address that football team in this room a year before they went to the Super Bowl," said Williams. "(That was) it special to me because I felt like some of the things I said in that room, as a winner of a Super Bowl, had something to do with it. And those guys went out there and played their heart out."
Linebacker Derrick Brooks, who went on to have one of the greatest seasons by a linebacker in league history that year, remembers the meeting with Williams well. When it got around that Williams would be around on a more permanent basis, Brooks was thrilled.
"I think this is a major move in terms of getting our organization on the same page," said Brooks. "The last time he was invited to speak to our team we won a Super Bowl. I think this is good for the young players to see some history with the Bucs by having Doug Williams around."
Williams spent some time letting team history wash over him Thursday as he walked around the same facility that housed his group of Buccaneers more than two decades ago. There have been some cosmetic changes inside One Buc Place since he called it home, but the locker room is still in the same place and largely unaltered. When he walked through the locker room doors, Williams said he could still hear the song teammate Richard "Batman" Wood would play over and over again to fire the team up: 'Ain't No Stopping Us Now.;'
"That was the way we felt," said Williams of the McFadden and Whitehead lyrics. "We had a bunch of guys that wanted to win and we had the will to win. We found a way to get it done."
For Williams, that sometimes meant throwing the ball away and moving on to second-and-ten, avoiding the sack at the expense of his own statistics. Now his job is to help the Buccaneers acquire the players that can return the team to the Super Bowl. And if his will to win rubs off on those same players, even better.