Tuesday, November 07, 2006

GSUper Bowl memories

Another quarter 'black' -- or two
January 23, 2005

By Nick Deriso
What a difference a Doug Williams makes.

Regardless of the outcome in today's NFC title game between Philadelphia and Atlanta, a black quarterback — either the Eagles' Donovan McNabb or the Falcons' Michael Vick — will start in the Super Bowl for just the third time ever.

This is will also be the first time two African-American quarterbacks face each other in a championship game.

Yet that hasn't received the kind of searing spotlight once trained on Williams when the former Washington Redskins signal caller broke the Super Bowl color barrier more than 15 seasons ago.

James Harris, the first black to be drafted into the NFL as a quarterback, says it's a sign of progress.

"I think it's good to know that we have players that can earn their way and be accepted by their play on the field," said Harris, a Carroll High and Grambling State product taken in the eighth round of the 1969 Draft by the Buffalo Bills. "They are talked about as quarterbacks rather than black quarterbacks. This year, we are fortunate to have two of the league's elite playmakers and two of the best quarterbacks in the NFC championship game. They just happen to be black."

In keeping, the debates have been more mundane.

Philadelphia is playing in its fourth straight conference championship game, but is 0-and-3 so far. Atlanta is trying to reach the title contest with a quarterback who's never been there.

"The media have not put as much emphasis on it," said Williams, now a personnel executive with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the NFL club that drafted him out of GSU in 1978. "If anything, this championship game is not about the two black quarterbacks playing in it as much as it is the other story lines — like whether Philadelphia can get over the hump."

Williams — whose autobiography was titled "Quarterblack" — quieted detractors in 1988 by earning Most Valuable Player honors after leading Washington on an unprecedented Super Bowl scoring outburst. Down by 10 to Denver, the Redskins ran just 18 second-quarter plays — but scored 35 unanswered points on the way to a 42-10 win.

"The thing about a Super Bowl is, they may call you a black quarterback, but the truth is that they can't color that experience," said Williams.

The next African American to start was Alcorn State product Steve McNair, who did it with Tennessee in the 1999 title game.

Harris later broke racial barriers in NFL front offices as well — serving as assistant general manager of the New York Jets, pro personnel director for the Baltimore Ravens and now vice president of player personnel for the Jacksonville Jaquars.

"When you think about the performance that Doug had in the Super Bowl," Harris marvels, "that's probably as fine a game as we've seen. It's refreshing to see that this kind of thing is happening again — and going unnoticed. Doug's play and performance in the Super Bowl, for most young kids growing up, that truly gave them a taste of how it could actually happen."

Harris said he takes great pride in the fact that the Southwestern Athletic Conference produced the first two African Americans to start in the Super Bowl, though that string will end this year. McNabb went to Syracuse, while Vick is a Virginia Tech product.

"That will never change," said Harris, named MVP of the 1975 Pro Bowl. "We had the first two, no matter how long this league goes on."

Williams agrees: "That's says a lot. It's more or less saying that you can get there from here."

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Area legends celebrated for their Super Bowl success
January 29, 2006

By Nick Deriso
Maybe sports people are the nostalgic type.

Or, perhaps it's the two-week layoff. Given 14 days to fill, they might just get a little desperate.

But the bye week before the Super Bowl always seems to provide us another chance to say hello to players with local connections who have starred in the NFL's season-ending title game.

Here's a look at this long week's longing looks back:

--While no area player made ESPN's list of starters last Thursday night for the "Ultimate Super Bowl 40-Man Roster," there were familiar faces throughout the broadcast.

Louisiana Tech product Terry Bradshaw was recognized for his dominance with the Pittsburgh Steelers in the 1970s by being named the backup signal-caller. "

As the first quarterback to win four Super Bowl rings, Bradshaw set the standard for excellence in the big game," ESPN's Chris Berman said during the broadcast. In total, Bradshaw threw for 932 yards and nine Super Bowl touchdowns, a figure bested only by starter Joe Montana of the San Francisco 49ers.

Several of Bradshaw's Steelers teammates were also named starters - including receiver Lynn Swann, running back Franco Harris and center Mike Webster.

Meanwhile, Grambling State product Willie Davis, defensive end on the Green Bay Packers championship squads for Super Bowls I and II, was given an honorable mention at his position.

Ironically, Berman notes that Davis had 4-1/2 sacks in those two games alone. What he doesn't mention is that because the NFL didn't officially begin recording sacks until the Super Bowl XVII season, Davis' record goes unrecorded.

The ESPN program's opening sequence includes fellow Grambling product Willie Brown's dramatic 75-yard interception return for a touchdown in the Oakland Raiders' Super Bowl XI victory; a Bradshaw pass to Swann; and an interview with former GSU quarterback and coach Doug Williams, winner of Super Bowl XXII.

While Williams wasn't a starter, he was recognized for that MVP performance.

"I think that day was the epitome of what execution was all about," Williams said on camera. "In 18 plays, only 18 plays, we scored 35 points."

--Bradshaw wins accounted for two of NFL.com's list of Top 10 Super Bowls of all time - including, at No. 9, Super Bowl X, where Bradshaw won his second consecutive ring with a 64-yard pass to Swann.

At No. 3 was Super Bowl XIII, where Bradshaw was even more impressive, throwing a record four TD passes. Also mentioned is Billy Joe Dupree, a West Monroe native who caught a touchdown pass in that game for Dallas.

Dennis "Dirt" Winston, a two-time assistant coach under GSU's Eddie Robinson, is noted for a fumble recovery he made for the Steelers.

Included links take readers to more details on Bradshaw's MVP performance in XIII, and reproductions of the game ticket and winner's ring.

--Super Bowl XXIX, featuring Louisiana-Monroe product Stan Humphries under center for San Diego, got bashed as part of ESPN.com writer Eric Peel's worst-ever list - called "The Average Bowl."

San Francisco cruised to a 49-26 win on the strength of a record-smashing six TD passes by Niners quarterback Steve Young.

"Like SB III, this one kicked off with an 18-point spread," Peel wrote, naming this game his No. 6 worst-ever. "Unlike that game, the dogs were down 14 in the first five minutes and they never got up."

--Don Banks, who writes SportsIlllustrated.com's "Inside the NFL Column," ranked the Top 10 Super Bowl MVPs of all time - and put Williams at No. 2.

Williams was recognized for throwing "a record four touchdowns to turn a 10-0 first-quarter deficit into a 35-10 lead" during that romp over Denver. "He finished with 340 yards passing, and remains the only black quarterback to win the Super Bowl."

The attached photo gallery features eight shots, including Williams' Feb. 8, 1988 appearance on the cover of Sports Illustrated. The head was, simply: "WOW!"

Still in the books
Players with local connections still dot the all-time Super Bowl record book:
AVERAGE GAIN PER PASS: No. 1: 11.1, Terry Bradshaw (La. Tech); 932 yards on 84 attempts in four games.
LONGEST INT RETURN: No. 1: 75 yards, Willie Brown (Grambling); scored touchdown in XI
TD PASSES IN CAREER: No. 2: 9, Bradshaw
LONGEST PASS COMPLETION: No. 3: 80 yards, Doug Williams (Grambling) in XXII TD
PASSES IN GAME: No. 3: 4, Bradshaw (XIII) and Williams (XXII)
CAREER PASSING YARDS: No. 3: 932, Bradshaw Source: NFL.com

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The 'question' that just won't go away
January 31, 2004

For the past 15 years, during Super Bowl week, Grambling State coach Doug Williams has gotten the calls. Most mention The Question.

"It comes up every year," said Williams, who made history as the first black to start a Super Bowl in 1988 for the Washington Redskins. "This past week, I might have done six or seven radio shows - not to mention newspaper and magazine articles. That still comes up. They start with: 'Did he really ask that question?' "

Well, actually, no. But here it is anyway: Legend has it that a reporter, in the frenzy of media day before the game, asked: "How long have you been a black quarterback?"

The reporter was Butch John, a one-time sports writer at The News-Star - where, in 1980, he covered the final year of Doug's brother Mike Williams' tenure under center for Grambling State. John was working for The (Jackson, Miss.) Clarion-Ledger by then - and has said he got fed up with the media's sharp focus on race.

"For about 20 minutes, Doug's getting all these questions about the significance (of Williams' race)," John has said. "All these questions, blah-de-blah-de-blah. Never let up. Being from the South, having covered Grambling and his brother Mike, Doug being a black quarterback was no big deal to me."

Here's what John says he asked: Doug, it's obvious you've been a black quarterback all your life. When did it start to matter?

"There was a little blurb - no more than a paragraph - in the San Diego paper the next day about 'a question from a well-meaning writer,'" John said. "From there, things just kind of shot out of control. By the end of the week, it was 'The Question.' "

Williams answered the question honestly, he said.

"This is the take I had on it," he said. "Being black at the time was a big thing. Where the guy was coming from, he meant how long has there been an emphasis on your being black?"

Not that history records any of that.

John - who later moved on to investigative reporting at Louisville - will forever be remembered, even if nobody knows his name, for The Question: How long have you been a black quarterback?

"The way it came out, nobody gave it a chance to sink in," said Williams - who, ironically, is in Houston during this Super Bowl week to attend the initial meeting of a group of former black quarterbacks called "The Field Generals."

Still, all of this begs the obvious question - even if John never asked it. So, how long have you been a black quarterback?

"I'm not one anymore," Williams said, and laughed heartily. "I'm past that. It's been a long time."

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Greats still in high regards
GSU quartet on all-time college list
July 4, 2004

By Nick Deriso
Four Grambling State greats were among those honored Saturday as part of Family Digest magazine's salute to the best black college athletes of all time.

Willie Brown, Junious "Buck" Buchanan, Willie Davis and Doug Williams - all former players under the legendary Eddie Robinson - were recognized.

"It's good to have four from Grambling honored," Williams said. "But there could be an argument that there should be more. The thing with honors like this is that you are grateful that people recognize you - but you realize that there are other people who deserve the same kind of honor. I'm certainly glad to be in that number."

Only Brown, now a coach and personnel director with the Oakland Raiders, attended the ceremony, held in Las Vegas. Buchanan died of lung cancer in 1992.

All four men are members of the Southwestern Athletic Conference's Hall of Fame:

· An undrafted rookie out of Grambling College in 1963, Brown eventually was signed by Houston - which then traded him away in 1967.

Bad move. Brown sparked two Super Bowls runs with the Oakland Raiders, winning one. He has also been an assistant with the Raiders during two more title games.

"The satisfaction as a coach was just as strong as they were as a player," Brown said. "I coached the position that I played, and I love those ball players that I coached."

Perhaps best remembered for his 75-yard interception return for a touchdown against the Vikings in Super Bowl XI, Brown was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1984. He's also a member of the All-Time American Football League Team.

"I just played as hard as I could," said Brown, who remains the only player in NFL history to intercept a pass in 16 consecutive seasons. "Being in the Hall of Fame probably means more to your family than to yourself. I have always been the mellow guy who doesn't put a lot of value in terms of how good I was."

· Williams, who led GSU to three Black College National Championships and two SWAC titles, was the first All-America quarterback from a black college and the first black passer picked in the first round.

The problem: He was drafted by the perennially losing Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 1978. But Williams would lead the Bucs to their first winning season ever and then on to the NFC title game.

After a two-season stint in the doomed USFL, Williams then played for Washington's Joe Gibbs, his former offensive coordinator at Tampa Bay.

He would become the first black quarterback to win a Super Bowl. That win over Denver in 1988 was sparked by what was then the most prolific single quarter of passing ever, earning Williams MVP honors.

He returned to Grambling State in 1997 for a six-year run as head coach, replacing Robinson, and won three consecutive SWAC titles.

"I used to always tell Coach Rob that we players were `coach-makers.' Without us, they're nothing," said Williams, who is now back with Tampa Bay as a personnel executive. "He always used to always make a statement - and it took me being a coach to understand it: He said he was the luckiest man in the world. I can see who that's true now. But at the same time, we were lucky too that we had Coach Robinson. Luckier than we knew."

Named Street and Smith's Black College Coach of the Year in 2000, Williams was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 2001.

· Davis, the first Grambling player to be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, was an All-NFL selection five times in the six years from 1962-67 for Green Bay - and was selected to play in five consecutive Pro Bowls.

A stalwart presence on the decade's most dominant team, Davis helped the Packers to five NFL championships - including the first two Super Bowls - and six divisional titles in eight seasons.

The Lisbon native was the very portrait of reliability: Davis didn't miss a contest in his 12-year, 162-game career. The Sporting News placed him at No. 69 in its list of the Football's 100 Greatest Players Ever.

But Davis always had other aspirations, often saying that he wanted people to "remember me as a player who moved on to success off the field."

He would use a University of Chicago MBA to launch a second career. Davis is now chief executive of five radio stations - and has served on as many as 10 corporate boards of directors, including Sara Lee, Dow Chemical and Metro-Goldwyn Mayer.

"I guess it's a lot of stuff," Davis said. "But I certainly don't have any specific day in mind for when I'll retire. At the moment I'm not having fun, I'll step back. But right now, I feel blessed and I'm enjoying myself."

· Buchanan, who played both ways for Robinson at Grambling State, was the first player chosen in the 1963 AFL Draft by the Dallas Texans, who later moved to Kansas City and became the Chiefs.

So dominant was this three-time All-America and All-SWAC honoree that the Sports Network established the Buck Buchanan Award in 1995 to honor Division I-AA football's best defensive performer.

A prototypical defender, Buchanan was always a favorite of his former coach's. In fact, Robinson called the 1962 NAIA All-American "the finest lineman I have seen."

He recorded the first sack ever in a Super Bowl, bringing down Bart Starr in a losing effort to Green Bay, then later helped Kansas City to a win in the fourth Super Bowl. In all, Buchanan played in six AFL All-Star games and two Pro Bowls at defensive tackle.

He missed just one game in a stellar 13-year career that earned him induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1990. Buchanan later started two businesses in Kansas City, All-Pro Construction Co. and All-Pro Advertising, and would co-found the Black Chamber of Commerce, where he served as president from 1986-89.

Best black college athletes

Family Digest magazine honored the Best Black College Athletes of All Time at a Saturday luncheon held at the Riviera Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas. Here are the 26 honorees, including four from Grambling State, grouped by their respective sport:

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San Diego, 1988: The start of something revolutionary
January 26, 2003

By Nick Deriso
"The significance," muses Doug Williams, "stands out more than it did 15 years ago."

Less than six minutes of game clock had elapsed in 1988's Super Bowl under the San Diego skies. Washington, once down by 10 to Denver, had run just 18 second-quarter plays - but scored 35 unanswered points.

Game over.

The Redskins, powered by that offensive outburst from an African-American quarterback, would go on to win 42-10. Williams was named the game's Most Valuable Player.

Remembered today as a moment of redemption for black signal-callers, Williams' California dream was made possible with a down payment by local hero James "Shack" Harris - the first African-American to start at quarterback in the NFL.

But Williams, in one of the countless interviews he gave as the anniversary loomed this week, said you couldn't call that day a dream. It's not that simple. With dreams, he said, you'd have to at least visualize that such an eye-popping opportunity could happen for an African-American.

The legendary figure who coached both Harris and Williams at Grambling State University has a different idea about the historical significance of it all.

"The thing we are most proud of is that they graduated from college," says Eddie Robinson, who was succeeded as Grambling coach by Williams.

They took that piece of paper into a league locked up tight with misconceptions about an African-American's ability to master the complex strategies of an NFL offense. Most blacks were automatically converted to receiver or cornerback.

Harris, the former Carroll star, cracked the door with his Pro Bowl MVP performance in 1975. Williams knocked the thing off its hinges that day in 1988.

The record books relate Williams' four touchdown passes - in one quarter of play. He also set a new mark for passing yards in the Super Bowl.

It was, then, Williams' personal redemption too - after years of struggles in his first job at Tampa Bay, then a stint in the now-defunct USFL, and finally getting back to the NFL only as a backup to the now-forgotten Jay Schroeder at Washington.

Robinson, who was in San Diego that day, went down on the field to remind Williams of the support he always had back home. "I talked to him a long time after the game," says Robinson. "I told him how proud the people were - in our community and our churches."

The Super Bowl returns to the site of Williams' greatest glory today.

Moreover, we find Tampa Bay - the expansion team that drafted Williams, after opening with a 2-26 record - finally playing in its first championship game. (Williams picks his old team to win, saying they have "more heart. It's about the way they play and how they play the game.")

But the Buccaneers' success is the least of what has changed in this league since Williams was forced into retirement by a bad back.

This year's playoffs included not one black quarterback struggling against years of wrong-headed assumptions, but three (Michael Vick, Donovan McNabb and Steve McNair) who are routinely accepted as league superstars. African-Americans are regularly seen under center - including the Saints' Aaron Brooks.

Then there's Harris himself, who was named vice president of player personnel for the Jacksonville Jaguars on Thursday. Williams praised the Monroe native this week, saying: "I would line up Shack's football mind with that of anybody in the league."

Harris had been pro personnel director for Baltimore since 1997, a stint that included the Ravens' 2000 title season.

"It makes you feel really fine that they can go out and do those kind of things," says Robinson - who retired as the first football coach to notch more than 400 victories. "It just makes you know what our school can do - and what our students can do."

Tellingly, Williams says his sense of the importance of that Super Bowl win continues to grow.

He says strangers still stop to talk about what it meant to blacks. Seeing it through his children's eyes also gives Williams a clearer perspective than even the passage of time did.

Meaningful history will do that.

"I can enjoy the fact that my kids can watch what happened and say: `My daddy accomplished this and that,' " Williams says. "I wasn't to the point that I could realize 15 years ago what a great, great feat it was."

Turns out, the revolution in football was, in fact, televised. And on Super Bowl Sunday, no less.

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