Doug Williams, a very large person in very skimpy yellow shorts, hunches over a little white ball trying to exert some control over its impending flight.

"Make a contribution, Doug," says his college friend Herb Nelson.

Williams, who has not made much of a contribution to his party's golf score, or until last Sunday to the Redskins', grumbles. "My daddy always said, 'I can't imagine hitting that little white ball and walking behind it.' "

The drive lands 240 yards away -- in the trees. "Sherwood Forest," Nelson says, as Williams jumps in a golf cart and careens down the fairway in pursuit. A marshal is waiting with the ball when Williams arrives. "What a body!" he says, as Williams drives away.

All morning, people keep offering him champagne, which he declines, and congratulations, which he accepts. "Hey!" former Redskin Roy Jefferson says, shaking his hand on the third tee. Their smiles say anything else is superfluous. Everyone knows the score: Redskins 34, Eagles 24.

Williams is wearing a bright red Grambling T-shirt with a pussycat of a tiger across the front. It says: "I Am Loved at GSU."

"At RFK, too," a woman says, hugging him.

Women cling to his side, ogling his legs, wanting to be photographed with him. White guys in plaid polyester call him "bro." Williams rolls his eyes and smiles.

"You know," Gary Cofer, one of his playing partners, says, "I was the only white guy who came and talked to you last year."

Williams surveys the Tantallon golf course, site of the annual March of Dimes celebrity tournament, and nods. "I was nobody out here," he says, without enmity or vindication. "Today, everybody wants to talk."

TV types want him for interviews. "Everybody but Dan," he says. Meaning Rather. Friends (some of whom he can't quite remember) are calling from all over to tell him he owns D.C. -- "It's not my town," he protests. "I'm just a squirrel looking for a place to hide."

But today, in Atlanta against the Falcons and for as long as Jay Schroeder is unable to throw a football, Doug Williams is The Man, the starting quarterback of the Washington Redskins. It has been five years since he started a game in the National Football League. Lots of people wondered where he'd gone, what he had been doing. Still a quarterback, he told them. But there's a world of difference between playing quarterback and being a quarterback. It's the difference between active and passive, between a game-winning 39-yard touchdown pass to Art Monk and a sense of incompletion.

"For a whole year, it's been all dressed up and nowhere to go," he says. "Go out for pregame warmup. Listen to the tunes. Go back in the dressing room. Come back out for kickoff ... Sit on the sideline. Then somebody calls and says, 'Hey, man, come on down here' ... You feel wanted. Needed.

"On Sunday, it just so happened, I was dancing at the party."

Williams likes to be alone. But as a black man in the National Football League who happens to play quarterback, visibility is a given. Nine years ago when he was a rookie playing in Tampa Bay, he was The Man who was finally going to put the lie to the notion that a black man couldn't cut it as a quarterback in the NFL.

Williams had so much potential: not just as an athlete but as a harbinger of a more equal world. It was an ungodly burden to put on anyone's arm, no matter how strong.

"Martin Luther didn't change it," he says. "John F. didn't change it. All I can do is live my life the way I'm living it and be an example of how you can overcome some obstacles and still survive."

He played five years for Tampa Bay, threw for 12,648 yards (including ten 300-yard games) and led the Buccaneers to the playoffs three times, including the NFC championship game in 1979. But critics pointed to his incompletions, his overthrows. Send him to Iran, they said, and let him overthrow the ayatollah. And worse. Add racial.

After his contract with Tampa expired at the end of 1982, he decided to sit out the next season rather than accept another one he believed was beneath him. He played two years in the USFL and last year was ransomed from obscurity by the Redskins, to warm the bench for Schroeder. He threw one pass the entire season.

Last winter, Redskins Coach Joe Gibbs, who scouted and coached him for Tampa Bay, said the Redskins would try to accommodate Williams' desire to be traded to a team needing a starting quarterback. Two weeks ago, on a Monday morning, Williams says, Gibbs called to say there was a good chance he'd be going to the Los Angeles Raiders in exchange for a second-round draft choice.

"When I got to practice that evening, Joe said it was off," Williams says. "Monday was gloomy."

He knew -- and Gibbs knew -- that, at age 32, it was probably his last chance to be a starter again. All week, coaches tried to console him -- you never know what can happen. "You're always one play away from something happening," Gibbs said.

He was standing on the sideline when he saw Schroeder stagger and heard someone say, "Doug!"

He reached for his helmet and stopped. "I heard the same thing last year in the championship game in New York," he says. "I got ready to go and Jay went back to the huddle. So I wanted to see if it's for real first -- you aren't just calling my name, are you? Let me put my helmet back up on this table. It's getting kind of heavy on my head. Oh, you want the chin strap too?"

"He kind of laughed," Gibbs remembers. "He just turned and smiled and took off. Perhaps, it was because of it being inevitable."

He completed 17 of 27 passes for 272 yards and two touchdowns to Monk. Later, in the locker room, the offensive linemen gathered around him. They gave him the game ball and some hugs. "We're talking some big hugs," says reserve quarterback Mark Rypien.

Joe Jacoby, the biggest lineman of all, made a little speech about all the injuries to Schroeder, to kicker Jess Atkinson, to running back George Rogers and center Russ Grimm. "These people are like family," Jacoby says. "And Doug led us through. I was caught up in the moment of what he did for us. For him personally, it meant a lot to show he's still good, that he could still play. He knew coming up here, he was a backup. He said it all along. I think it meant a lot to him to show the other teams that might have traded for him. They're probably sorry they didn't go through with it."

It is football orthodoxy that no one likes to see another guy get hurt -- the next time it could be you. These large men know better than anyone else just how fragile their careers are. On the other hand, there is justice in the most inopportune opportunity.

"No question the guy deserves a chance to play," says guard R.C. Thielemann. "He is an oddity because he's a starter in a backup role.

"It was the perfect scenario. The black quarterback in Washington, D.C., the perfect city for it, comes in to lead the Washington Redskins to victory. It's a storybook kind of emotion."

Williams isn't prone to storybook interpretations. But in isolated moments, the emotion shines through. And the mischief: "Even Ronald Reagan took a peek at that game and said, 'By God, Jesse Jackson will love this.' "

But exultation has been tempered by years of exigencies -- he says he knows a thing or two about bubbles bursting. There is no vindication because he doesn't feel he had anything to prove. There is no triumph because he knows this is temporary. There is a bittersweetness to this turn of events -- he expects Schroeder to heal and, knowing Gibbs as he does, expects him to make Schroeder the starter again.

"It's not like I'm flying on Cloud Nine or going to cherish it for the rest of my life, or can't get over it and can't sleep at night," he says. "It was like it was destined."

One game: He's at a loss to say what it means. Finally, he says: "I haven't played since 1982. Five years later, to come out and do what I did, I ain't going to say it don't mean anything. But I'm not going to do flips either. If I was younger, I probably would."

He's older, stiffer, and wiser now.

There are people around who labor under the illusion that they are in control of their lives. Doug Williams is not one of these, which in a sense is odd, because when you ask what he likes about being back at quarterback, the answer is: "Being in control."

The paradox of his life is that football trained him to be in control -- everything else told him control was a lie. Certainly, he didn't control being born black, or being drafted by a team from the South with no offense but him, or waking up one morning in the spring of 1983, just after Easter, to find that his wife, Janice, had a brain tumor. She was dead a week later. They were married, he says, precisely, "11 months and 20 days." On April 7, 1983, he became a widower with a 3-month-old baby girl, Ashley Monique.

"We went home for Easter," he says. "That morning she woke up and said she had a headache so we rushed her to the doctor."

She had a tumor "the size of a grapefruit." The doctors said it was benign. They operated and said the prognosis was good. Her lungs collapsed a week later. "The day she died, she was feeling fine," he says. "Her memory was coming back. I can remember bringing in pictures of Ashley in her Easter outfit. She just cried."

After the funeral, he spent a week on the road trying to drive the grief out of his system. "I don't think I can get any worse," he says. "You think, 'Why me?' You think about the baby and its mother. You think, 'It should have been me.' You think, 'She could have done more with Ashley than I could.' "

Ashley, who is 4 1/2, lives with Williams' mother in Zachary, La., where he lives in the offseason. There is a picture of Janice in the living room along with his trophies. One day, when Ashley was 2, she said, "That's my Mom, she died. God got her."

"I asked my mom who told her," he says. "She said, 'Ashley told me the same thing.' Now it's in the back of her mind. Sometimes we'll be driving and I'll turn down the music and she'll say, 'Janice is up there. The devil ain't going to get her.' I say, 'Your momma is a good momma.' I'll talk to her more when she's at the stage to understand death.' "

Though he got married again last June to Lisa Robinson, the memory of his first wife is still with him every time he looks at his daughter's picture. "A lot of times I think it's not fair to Janice. I just built a new house. Sometimes I think it's not fair her not living in it. When I bought the land, it was for me and her. We went through college together. We knew each other when we didn't have anything. She didn't have a chance to enjoy the success.

"A lot of times I make Lisa suffer for it. I try hard not to let it happen. But it gets in the way sometimes. It's like driving and that car you're meeting, Janice is going to be in it ... You're going to meet her on the highway and she's going to say, 'Doug, why did you get married?' "

Lisa, a Xerox marketing representative in Baton Rouge, says, "I'm not in competition with a memory. He thinks he is making things more difficult on me than he is."

Janice's death changed Williams. Suddenly: "I didn't give a damn if I played another down of football or not."

Although the grief has abated, his attitude was permanently changed. "I realized you can't control some things," he says. "I have a saying -- 'I can live without anything else but life.' "

On the 12th hole of the day, Williams finally hits a ball down the middle of the fairway.

He shakes his head. It's not his game.

Growing up in Zachary, 20 minutes north of Baton Rouge, golf was just about the only game he didn't play. The days were long and full of baseball, his first love, and football and basketball, except of course on some Fridays when nobody went outside. "I used to see crosses burning every Friday night," he says. "They burned a cross at each intersection. We couldn't go out of the house after dark because we didn't know what would happen."

It wasn't until his junior year at Grambling, a predominantly black college known among other things for Eddie Robinson, the winningest coach in college football, that he realized he had a chance of playing professional football. His senior year, he finished fourth in the voting for the Heisman trophy, was named All-America, and drafted in the first round by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

"I only became a black quarterback when I was a rookie," he says. "As long as I was at Grambling, I was just a quarterback."

There are three black starting quarterbacks in the NFL today -- Williams and Randall Cunningham of the Eagles, who played against each other last week, a rarity, and Warren Moon of the Houston Oilers. Historically, most black college quarterbacks are given other positions in the NFL. In part, it is because many come from running offenses not used in the NFL. In part, it is simply bias. Over the years NFL owners have proven distinctly reluctant to relinquish control of their teams to black quarterbacks or, for that matter, black coaches.

"That's the brawn over brain thing, it's why we don't have a black president, and secretary of state and all that good stuff ... Not because we can't but because they don't think so," Williams says. "It's the Stonewall Jackson mentality." He was going to be the guy "to change everything" in football.

"He could throw hard," Nelson says.

"Don't say that," Williams replies, quickly. "That's what the critics always said: 'Doug Williams throws too hard.' Well, nobody dropped the ball in college."

Only later, he says, did his arm become a liability. "Doug Williams throws the ball too hard" was code, he says, for "we weren't smart enough. We didn't have touch." When he arrived in Tampa Bay, the Buccaneers had his arm, Leroy Selmon's defense and little else. There were tough times, racial epithets. Everyone agrees he gave the proverbial 110 percent. Dave Scheiber of the St. Petersburg Times, who covered the team in 1983, says, "He was the heart of the team. The way I saw it, there was some miscommunication. But I tend to side with Williams. I think he got a raw deal."

His first contract paid him $565,000 for five years, Williams says, a pittance as top quarterbacks go. When the contract expired at the end of the 1982 season, he asked for $3 million for five years. They offered, he says, $400,000 a year. "Take it or leave it," he says. "To me, it's telling you we don't want you."

Janice's death coincided with the acrimonious negotiations. He remembers perfunctory appearances by team officials at her funeral. He says her death did not affect his decision, except insofar as he didn't really care about playing football that year. He turned down the offer, and signed with the USFL Oklahoma Outlaws. The Bucs finished 2-14 that year without him and haven't done anything since.

"Doug is such a good guy," says Rick Odioso, public relations director for the Buccaneers, who was there during Williams' years. "It's very sad that this thing still grabs such a big part of his soul. Part of what's sad, too, is Tampa is not as South a city as some, but it is South. {Owner} Hugh Culverhouse and {former coach} John McKay went ahead and drafted Doug Williams in the first round and started him in his first game. I don't know any other quarterback who had the opportunity to play as much so early in his career. John McKay stayed with him through some very bad times and never wavered in his support of Doug."

Williams says he will always carry a grudge. In 1983, he said, "I hope they go 0-16." Last summer, he said, "When I said I wasn't pulling for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to win, that was true, but then there were a lot of black Americans who were not pulling for them to win."

"I look back and feel I had some wasted years," he says, but what ever damage has been done is done. He believes he did as well as anyone could have under the circumstances. He doesn't think he let anybody down. If anything, he says, Tampa Bay let him down.

"As far as the average black fan, if anything I did more for them than anything because I've been through tough times when the average person would have walked away, been alcoholic, been in a drug center, mouthed off, did something to hurt people. I think I handled my situation probably better than anyone could have. Hands down."

In the stands at Robert F. Kennedy Stadium last Sunday, there was a palpable sense of seeing justice being done. Perhaps, it was as simple as rooting for the underdog. Perhaps it was something more. Williams says most of the people who have greeted and congratulated him this week are white. One guy he met at a restaurant last year, who told him flatly, "Doug Williams can't play," ran into him again on Monday and apologized.

He believes they appreciate the way he has accepted his fate. He appreciates what the Redskins have done for him -- he says they gave him "hope and opportunity" (and reportedly a three-year contract for about $1.4 million) when no one else even inquired about his services. "Right now, it's a healing process," he says.

Nine years ago, when he came into the league, there were those who thought he would do for black quarterbacks what Jackie Robinson did for baseball. Now, when he is asked how he will be remembered, he says, "Probably, they'll say, 'He was a guy who had great potential that was never reached.' "

He says this without apparent sadness or regret. "I will probably never come to terms with it but I know how to deal with a situation you have no control over."

He has learned not to expect things, like tomorrow, and to accept a moment, the present, for what it is. He cannot control how fast Schroeder will heal, or whether the players will go on strike Tuesday.

"He would have been the answer to the question of the black quarterback and whether they can perform at this level," says Willie Jeffries, football coach at Howard University. "The irony is he didn't get with a team where he could show his true wares ... On Sunday, he showed what he could do with an equal chance."

"The bottom line is opportunity," Williams says. "If you get the opportunity everything else will take care of itself no matter what it is."

The game ball sits behind a glass partition in his home-entertainment center. It represents accomplishment, not potential. "You know what I'm elated about? When I call home and I know my Daddy, who's a disabled vet, is sitting there in that wheelchair watching on the satellite. I called home and he said, 'Boy, you look like your old self.' They're more caught up in the memory of me than I am."

He's caught up in thinking about the VCR he has to buy in order to watch game films and in replaying Sunday's game in his head. He's thinking if he had gotten rid of the ball faster Reggie White wouldn't have been able to wrestle it from him. "He's a big old boy," Williams says. "He can have anything he wants."

Except the ball, which Williams intends to paint. It's one of the rituals of the sport. He'll put the score, Redskins 34-Eagles 24, and the date and his stats and inscribe it with whatever meaning it comes to have. In the meantime, this is as much as he can say:

"It's going to be a memory. When I'm old and decrepit and mildewed, I'll look back at the ball and tell my grandchildren what I used to do. I'll tell them, 'Grandpa ain't what he used to be but he sure ain't what he's going to be, either.' "