6 little-known facts about the first black QB to ever win the Super Bowl.
Doug Williams was playing for more than just a championship ring.
"If I'm able to get up and walk, then I'm going to finish this football game, pain or no pain."
If you watch enough sports, that probably falls short of inspiring. Just another "work hard, eat pain" trope from another hungry athlete with championship dreams.
But on January 31, 1988, that statement wasn't just hype, it was a matter of far-reaching legacy.
Those were the words of Doug Williams, the first black quarterback in NFL history to win the Super Bowl.
If you're not already familiar with this barrier-crushing athlete, here are six facts to put his sheer, 6-foot-4, 220-pound bad-assery in perspective.
1. Only one scout showed up to see if he had what it took to be a pro.
Williams was a prolific four-year starter at Grambling with a winning record, leading the entire NCAA in passing one year and finishing fourth in Heisman Trophy voting. When no other scout took notice, Tampa Bay offensive coordinator Joe Gibbs saw potential in the young quarterback and decided to see for himself. After some time in the gym, on the field, and in the classroom during the athlete's substitute teaching gigs, Gibbs urged Tampa Bay to draft Williams in 1978.
2. He was the first black quarterback to be drafted in the first round.
This was in the league's "modern era," after the 1970 merger of the NFL and AFL to create the sport's preeminent organization. And in itself it was an historic accomplishment because it signaled to the growing league that it needed to get over its racial bias when it came to team leadership on the field.
ESPN's Greg Garber wrote: "Nobody said it out loud ... but there was once a widespread belief that African-Americans couldn't deal with the complexities of playing quarterback in the NFL. For years, black college quarterbacks were steered to other positions."
3. He defied career odds even before winning the Super Bowl.
The average NFL athlete's career lasts only six years (nine years for first-round picks). But going into Super Bowl XXII as a member of the team in Washington, Williams was already a 10-year veteran of pro football, with the aches and scars — as well as toughness and discipline — to show for it.
4. He had an emergency root canal the day before the Super Bowl.
Imagine the worst toothache you've ever had. Now imagine having it the day before playing in the Super Bowl and having to endure a four-hour dental procedure. And still playing. And winning. That was Williams. 'Nuff said.
5. A first quarter slip almost took him out of the game.
Denver had a 10-0 lead with only a few minutes left in the first quarter. In a near-fateful moment after a snap, Williams was dropping back to find a receiver when his right leg slipped from underneath him, causing a strain in his left knee.
It was so early in the game, and he was already hurt. Jay Schroeder took the reins for the rest of the quarter, but Williams refused to be counted out. He got up, shook it off, and launched a rally with an early second-quarter touchdown.
"If I'm able to get up and walk, then I'm going to finish this football game, pain or no pain," he said in a post-game interview.
6. Williams was the first black quarterback to start in a Super Bowl.
He wasn't even Washington's starter for most of the 1987 season. But through some wrangling and bittersweet luck with a 24-day players' strike, Williams found his way to the starting position.
It was not a decision to be regretted, as Williams ended up taking Washington to a decisive 42-10 victory over Denver in the Super Bowl, becoming the first black quarterback to win and be named MVP in the big game.
While plenty more black quarterbacks would follow the path Williams blazed, fans would wait another quarter-century to see a second black QB reach Super Bowl glory.
In February 2014, Russell Wilson and the Seattle squad reigned supreme, coincidentally, also over Denver.
On Feb. 7, 2016, Carolina's fun-loving Cam Newton will be the sixth black quarterback in 50 years to start in the Super Bowl, also coincidentally against the Denver Broncos. (Weird, right?)
If the Panthers succeed, Newton be the third black quarterback to boast the coveted Vince Lombardi trophy (and rock one of those god-awful rings).
But win or lose, Williams's legacy is plain to see.
The larger story of Super Bowl 50 is about the athletes, the teams, the fans, and (obviously) the commercials. What it's not about is race.
And try as the press may to persist tired and foolish narratives about the leadership ability of black quarterbacks, thanks to Doug Williams, it's now a lot easier for players like Newton to shrug them off and redirect them to the game.
Williams, who has expressed his support for Newton in that effort, spoke to the same issue in his heyday. His thoughts are as relevant now as they were almost 30 years ago, in sports and beyond:
"I think for me going to the Super Bowl and getting the opportunity to play is some of the dream that Martin Luther King was talking about," Williams told NFL Films. "Not so much black and white, but the fact that as an individual, as a person, and no matter who you are, what color you are, just get that same opportunity that everybody else gets."