SAN DIEGO -- There's little chance the Denver Broncos defense can throw anything at Doug Williams that's more unpredictable, more unrelenting than the questions Doug Williams has faced in the week leading up to Super Bowl XXII. Every day this past week has been game-day for Williams. Most players will readily tell you that answering questions for four days, nearly two hours per day minimum, takes more out of them than the Super Bowl itself.
If that's true for the average player who makes it to the Super Bowl, then Doug Williams is lucky to have gotten through his first pre-Super Bowl week without needing oxygen.
The questions put to Williams from 1,000 or so national media members this week were either pointed enough, probing enough, insensitive enough or just silly enough to make a lesser man run back to his room and hide.
Williams will be the first black quarterback in the Super Bowl. And that means he has been the focus of attention here this week, even more than Denver quarterback John Elway, even more than the noted statesman, Dexter Manley.
An hour listening to my colleagues question Williams was easily the highlight of the week.
Of course, everybody's favorite has to be, "Doug, you've been a black quarterback all your life . . . "
"Doug, do you feel like Jackie Robinson?"
"Doug, would you have been able to handle all of this, especially the black thing, if you had made the Super Bowl a few years back, say, when you were 25?"
"Doug, has there been much progress in this country since 1970, when the schools you grew up in were finally integrated?"
"Doug, do you feel because of the black quarterback issue, that the whole country is looking at you and saying, 'Well, what are you going to do?'"
"Doug, would it be easier if you were the second black quarterback to play in the Super Bowl?"
"Doug, why haven't you used being the first black quarterback as a personal forum for yourself?"
"Doug, will America be pulling for the Redskins, or rooting against them because of you?"
"Doug, what were your reactions to what Jimmy the Greek said (two weeks ago)?"
"Doug, have you been contacted by the Rev. Jesse Jackson or any other black civil rights leaders?"
"Doug, are you upset about all the questions about your being the first black quarterback in the Super Bowl?"
Actually, the craziest question of all could have been put to Mark May, a Redskins offensive lineman, who was asked, "How does it feel to block for the first black quarterback in the Super Bowl?" And that was followed closely by a newspaper person from Colorado asking me, "How does it feel to be a black writer covering the first black quarterback in the Super Bowl?"
Through it all, Williams stood at a lectern and answered every one of those questions, thoughtfully, and considerately. He never once snapped at anyone, never gave a "no comment," never became irritated.
After the news conference Wednesday, several people came up to Williams and thanked him for putting up with such an ordeal. Many ball players, and at least one sportswriter, would have taken the league fine and stayed in the hotel room.
Williams chastised, "No, no. I anticipated this. These people have jobs to do, stories to write and tell. People advised me of the questions that would be asked and I spent a lot of time on the flight out here thinking about everything. I'm not interview-happy, but it hasn't bothered me."
At another news conference, a television reporter approached Williams about a live interview. Williams obliged, and the TV reporter stammered and stuttered through a few words about Williams being the first black quarterback. It was clear the interview could become a disaster.
Williams said, "Hey, I don't take offense at the question. I understand. Don't worry about asking it." He helped the reporter.
Someone asked Williams if his college coach and mentor, Eddie Robinson of Grambling, had helped prepare him for this week. "I don't think you can be groomed for this in college," Williams said. "What Coach Robinson taught was to be a good American, be a good citizen, that's all."
Seeing Williams face this line of interrogation made me think back to 1982 in New Orleans, when Georgetown Coach John Thompson was asked if he felt any special pride in being the first black coach to take a team to the NCAA basketball final.
Thompson, in different circumstances and a different set of experiences and different temperament than Williams, looked at the questioner and said, "Now, I'm not directing the tone of this answer at you; it's directed at the question.
"There are no more Jackie Robinsons. If I'm the first black coach in the Final Four, it's only because hundreds of black men before me haven't been given the opportunity they should have been given."
Williams' public performance this week had the same impact as Thompson's words six years ago. Hopefully, some people will remember what they said.