In true cabbie form, Walter Lancaster had a few incisive words to put forth about the appeal of Washington Redskins quarterback Doug Williams, the man who is making so many people feel so good these days.

"Doug Williams has the old-fashioned ideas that our parents tried to teach and that we'd like to instill in our children today, but it's almost corny," the cabdriver said. "We'll never have too many Doug Williamses."

As fans throughout the Washington area and the country await the spectacle of Super Bowl XXII this Sunday, many like Lancaster will be carefully watching this most studied human being in San Diego.

For many, the small-town Louisiana native will represent a thrilling snippet of history, the first black quarterback to start in a Super Bowl.

But for many others, Williams will provide much more than an important historical footnote. His impact, they say, transcends race, sport and Sunday's big game. He is a symbol of perseverance, talent -- that special touch of class that comes from being tousled by the bittersweetness of life.

"We look at an individual showing people what life is all about," said Emmitt H. Lyons Sr., an associate professor of psychology at the University of the District of Columbia. "I hope he doesn't stump his toes. I hope he doesn't fall into any traps in life."

In 32 years, Williams has suffered his share of adversity. His first wife died of a brain tumor. He led the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to the playoffs three times -- but did not play well enough to suit the fans during five turbulent years.

After beginning this season with the Redskins as a backup quarterback, Williams assumed the starting role twice only to cede his place each time to Jay Schroeder.

Through it all Williams has kept his composure, and now he is back on top. Williams' hang-in-there attitude is the talk of the Washington area.

At the District's Department of Human Services Building, 801 North Capitol St., discussion of Williams and his triumphs has dominated the office gossip, said Rita Young, a personnel assistant. "That's all anybody has been talking about since they won the last game."

When she dons her Redskins sweatshirt this Sunday, Young added, "I'm going to be thinking, 'Right on, Doug. I'm glad for you.' I'm going to be rooting for the whole team, but it's like the icing on the cake."

The Williams appeal prompted Lancaster, the cabdriver, to reflect on his own decision five years ago to allow his basketball-playing son to transfer from St. Albans School for Boys in a move to nurture brawn over brains.

"If I had had Doug Williams' insight, I would have told my son to hang in there," lamented the Lanham resident, whose son is now a C-average, Virginia Tech basketball star.

In the halls of racially diverse Wilson High School in Northwest, some students worry that the quarterback's determined nature is being overlooked by all the focus on the color of his skin.

"He shows the upcoming generation that you can do it if you keep trying," said Nadira Ricks, 15, who aspires to play basketball in the 1992 Olympics. The sophomore said the quarterback represents a milestone in black achievement, but noted "it's not particularly the race, it's the skills."

Milling in the halls with friends, Carlos Diaz echoed Ricks' sentiment. "What's being black got to do with his ability?" said Diaz, a hefty junior who has played quarterback for the Wilson team.

"If the same thing worked out with me, they'll be saying it's because he's Spanish," he said. "People shouldn't be looking at minorities because of their background but because of their ability to perform."

But people still judge others by race and culture. And because of that, many fans, blacks in particular, will be bursting with pride when Williams makes his way into Jack Murphy Stadium on Sunday, area residents say.

"It makes it even better that he's black," said Angela Jones, a senior who is ranked third academically in her class at Dunbar High School in Northwest.

"He will open doors that aren't even related to sports," said Ruben Smith, a Manassas resident who directs sales for former Redskins Mark Moseley's travel agency. "It has to have a positive effect." Smith said his Bible study group was steered onto another course of discussion earlier this month when a worshiper casually remarked, "Do you know, if the 'Skins go all the way, the brother has a chance of making history." "There was a moment of silence. It hadn't occurred to anyone," said Smith. "Doug Williams should be the prototype, not based on what he does on the field, but the impact of what he does off of it. I just don't think I know of a finer example, even though I've never met him."

"It's a human interest story," said Joseph Jackson, an executive with a company in Reston, "about a man who has overcome a lot of diversity. He's kept the faith."