It seems odd — even unjustifiable — to rank a player who started a total of 14 regular season games and won only five in a franchise’s Top 5 quarterbacks of all time. However, the regular season had nothing to do with Doug Williams’ brief tenure in Washington or his NFL legacy. Williams, after playing several seasons for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and in the USFL, arrived in Washington in 1986 as the backup to starting QB Jay Schroeder. It was not a role Williams embraced and, by 1987, a heated quarterback controversy had erupted. Schroeder appeared to have the upper hand, but after being benched late in the season, Gibbs called Williams’ number in the playoffs.
Gibbs’ decision looked to be that of a coach seeking a spark and choosing the best of two sub-optimal options rather than a catalyst for making NFL history. After the regular season’s end, there was nothing overtly special about the ’87 Redskins. The team had won the NFC East with an 11-4 record, but Washington’s undefeated “scab” squad that played during the NFL players strike accounted for three of those 11 victories — the Redskins “regulars” were but 8-4.
Washington opened the playoffs on the road against Chicago, rallied from a 14-0 halftime deficit and scored an improbable 21-17 win in what would prove to be Walter Payton’s last game. The following week Washington faced the Minnesota Vikings, fresh off an upset of the San Francisco 49ers the week before, in the NFC Championship Game at RFK Stadium in D.C. The ‘Skins squeaked by with a 17-10 victory, and headed to Super Bowl XXII to dance with John Elway and the Denver Broncos.
The Redskins fell behind 10-0 early, and Williams left briefly after slipping on the turf and tweaking his knee. He reentered with a saturated quill prepared to re-write history. Williams threw four touchdown passes in a “truth is stranger than fiction” second quarter. By halftime it was 35-10, and Williams was on his way to being Super Bowl MVP. By the time the clock struck zero on Washington’s resounding 42-10 triumph, Williams, who had been unfairly maligned in Tampa Bay, cast off by the NFL and brought to Washington as a backup quarterback, had climbed the sports’ pinnacle and had become the first African American quarterback to win the Super Bowl.
Williams’ accomplishment drove an overdue stake in the heart of the racial prejudices that had ruined the budding careers of countless aspiring African American quarterbacks. It was inescapable data point that dispelled the disgusting stereotype that shamefully correlated race to on-field success. It was an accomplishment for Williams, the NFL and the ‘Skins — the last NFL team to integrate — that overshadowed the Super Bowl itself.
Still think a guy that started only 14 regular season game shouldn’t be among the franchise’s Top 5 quarterbacks of all time? If so, you need to get a clue.