Doug Williams' super Super Bowl performance goes in the record book under his name alone. But when he played hurt, when he proved himself a leader after his team was down by 10 points and when he threw for four touchdowns, Doug Williams was also playing and proving something for generations of black American men who dreamed and tried, but were denied the chance to play quarterback in the NFL.
We should be clear about this: being black did not get Williams to the Super Bowl. It did not give him the ability or the smarts to bring a championship to Washington. And it was no comfort to him during the ups and downs of his career and even this soap opera of a football season. In that sense, Williams' blackness has nothing to do with his success and the Redskins' magnificent victory.
But being black has been enough to keep players away from the quarterback position for most of pro football's history. Blacks could play linebacker, defensive back or running back -- but not quarterback. They could go to Canada to play quarterback. They could quit in frustration if they insisted on being a quarterback and heard that they really weren't very good, which is what some sportswriters were saying about Doug Williams until Sunday's performance.
That's why Williams' triumph goes beyond Doug Williams and beyond the Redskins' burgundy and gold. His victory is not in being the first black football player. It did not come from his being the first black quarterback or the first black to be a good quarterback. Other black men used up their careers and dreams knocking down those walls -- they were Doug Williams' lead blockers. And when Doug Williams played in the Super Bowl they played with him.
They include such men as the aptly named Willie Thrower, who was signed by the Chicago Bears 35 years ago as the first black quarterback. He threw only eight passes before having his contract canceled, and he went to the Canadian leagues to play. And there was also Marlin Briscoe. In his rookie season, 1968, Briscoe was the starting quarterback, ironically, for the Denver Broncos. He had a good year -- 14 touchdown passes in 11 games. But he was inexplicably waived off the team. He then signed with the Buffalo Bills, for whom he was not allowed to play quarterback but did become an all-pro receiver.
Also in the backfield with Doug Williams was Eddie Robinson, the legendary football coach, who once trained a black player specifically for the NFL's drop-back quarterback style. Robinson wanted to force the league's general managers to draft a black quarterback and play him at quarterback. But when draft day came several general managers asked Robinson and the player, James Harris, if he would agree to play another position. Harris said no. As a result, a man with four years of experience as a quarterback in the NFL's system was not drafted until the eighth round; he was so despondent that Coach Robinson had to persuade him to report to the Buffalo Bills.
Harris had some success as he played sporadically with three teams over 12 years. His achievement was staying in the big leagues as a quarterback. He persevered in a segregated system: only nine black players have thrown 25 or more passes in the NFL since the mid-'60s, and one of them is a running back -- Walter Payton.
Against that backdrop of history, Doug Williams' victory Sunday is like the winning play on a 99-yard drive put together by many people -- most of whom are nowhere near the field when the points finally go up on the scoreboard. Doug Williams provided that winning play by routing out the Broncos and also routing the last of the lies and blasphemies that gave support to the belief that black quarterbacks can't win in the big time. He won the biggest of the big games.
His performance is the ultimate answer to a Tampa Bay team that currently pays a rookie quarterback several million dollars to sit on the bench and learn how to be an NFL leader. Only a few years back, Tampa gave a black rookie quarterback named Doug Williams a small contract and insisted that he prove immediately that he could play in the NFL. Breaking through these negative assumptions about blacks -- that they aren't smart enough to quarterback or can't inspire other players and must prove themselves at once -- is all part of Williams' Super Bowl victory.
At some level, maybe not a conscious level, white owners and coaches for decades did not want black players to have the leading role on the great American stage called the football field. Football is an enormous part of American culture and arguably the main cultural sanctuary of American males. The quarterback is the glamorous figure in that culture -- he is the field general and every cheerleader's dream date. Coaches have found quarterback-leadership potential in wild guys such as Billy Kilmer and even not-so-smart guys such as Terry Bradshaw. But somehow they never found that leadership potential in black players.
Joe Gibbs -- to his credit -- had no trouble seeing Doug Williams as a leader and a talent. Gibbs' trust in Williams for the big game is radical and new. It flies in the face of all the backroom stereotypes about blacks not being brainy enough or tough enough to quarterback the big games. Gibbs ignored such talk.
That is where Gibbs and Williams have created a modern race-relations breakthrough by going where football and another male culture -- American corporate life -- have never been before. Gibbs entrusted Williams with the company's greatest aspiration -- to win the Super Bowl -- despite all the years of negative stereotypes about any black who sought to lead his team. Doug Williams went into the game as a black player who is no role player and no token player. He is simply the best quarterback the Redskins have, and they gave him the chance to lead, which he did with class. And he won.
That's why his victory is a breakthrough -- a dream come true for so many more than Redskins' fans.
Juan Williams writes for The Washington Post Magazine.