Commentary : Williams Can Handle All Blitzes

The Washington Post

The end of the rainbow was only a few steps, and a few days, away. For Doug Williams, it happens to be a beautifully manicured rectangle of grass that has "Broncos" stenciled at one corner and "Redskins" at the other.

"I'll feel better come Sunday," he was saying early this week, "once the ball's in the air and I can get away from all this."

The Redskin quarterback meant all the attention that suddenly has come at him, so fast and from such unexpected directions. Like any other blitz, the media's can be handled with common sense and good coaching.

Among the best advice Eddie Robinson ever offered him at Grambling, Williams had said last week, was this:

"When you get out there in America, they're gonna stick that mike in your face. So you've got to know what to say and how to say it."

At one point this week, in the fifth row of San Diego Jack Murphy Stadium, there were eight mikes a few inches from Williams' face. Farther away, a half-dozen tape recorders were pointed at him; in the next wave, six-dozen pens were recording his every word.

Somebody was saying: "How do you rate your qualities as a quarterback against John Elway's?"

Only the accent made that question remotely close to unique; Williams smiled and said: "You must be from England."

He was. Sometime before blessed kickoff relief in Super Bowl XXII, the reporter from Japan will have asked something similarly familiar to Williams. By then, the camera crew from Sweden also will have had him sharply in focus.

"How many times have I been asked (about being the first black quarterback in the Super Bowl)?" Williams said. "I haven't counted. But I'd like to have it in my contract."

The most stupid question to Williams, so far, was the one that began: "Doug, you've been a black quarterback all your life . . . "

Last Tuesday, he was stretched over two rows of no-back seats, comfortable and gracious. Also cautious. Robinson had taught him well; only make waves on the football field.

The one time, during an hour interview, Williams came anywhere near being stern was to a question about "touch," his ability to adjust the speed of his passes.

"What about John Elway?" he said. "Think he's got touch? They talk about my fastballs. No one talked about Terry Bradshaw's fastball. Or Jay Schroeder's. Or Elway's . . .

"I never had a problem in college with how I threw fastballs. They caught the ball and we won."

Those gifted Grambling receivers were future pros Sammy White (Vikings), Dwight Scales (Rams) and Carlos Pennywell (Patriots).

Williams has previously reached the NFC championship game, with Tampa Bay in 1979, and experienced the deepest sorrow, the death of his first wife within a year of their marriage.

There has been other sadness, so much that in response to a question about how often he thinks about the "hard road" he has traveled, Williams admitted:

"Every day."

He added: "Every day I wake up and think about what I've been through. But I'm here now, looking forward . . . trying to keep everything in perspective. I'll be willing to take a bow if we win the game and I'm the black quarterback everybody wants me to be."

During most of his five years with Tampa Bay, Williams was Elway-like, his team's critical player. With the Redskins, he has gone from all but being nailed to the bench midway through the final regular-season game to America's guest.

"I didn't think I'd get a second chance," he said, referring to Schroeder being given his job back after replacing the injured Williams against the Giants five games from the end of the regular season. "I thought Jay would play well.

"The guy had been to the Pro Bowl the year before. I couldn't sit around and say: 'I'll get a chance again.' "

He did, and he's here. The last few weeks have given him a chance to refine some answers to predictable questions, to sting some people without hurting them.

"I guess Washington was the only offense I could fit," he said of his lone offer, after two years in the United States Football League. "Everybody else probably was running the wishbone."

Is he comfortable being a role model?

"Nothing I can do about it. I can't hide, cause I'm here. I'm Doug Williams. I'm the black quarterback . . . I'm not gonna encourage a young kid not to be like me."

At the mention of the Broncos, what leaps to mind? "Like everybody else, John Wayne, I mean John Elway."

What was Williams' worst racial episode?

"I don't even want to think about it."

Williams even did a retake for George Michael, the camera having gone kerflooey the first time Michael asked if any questions have gotten Williams angry.

"Yeah," Williams said (during the foul-up), "I'm not going to sit here and tell no lies. There have been times I've wanted to take a camera and mike and stick it down a throat.

"But that wouldn't be nice. I'll leave that for some of my teammates to do."

At Grambling, Robinson taught Williams how to play quarterback in the NFL--and how to react under stress such as the past week's media crunch.

"The quarterback at Grambling does not run the football," Williams said. "He either hands it off to a running back or throws it. What has to happen, for the black quarterback in the college ranks, is for coaches to give them a chance to throw.

"Up here in the pros, the only wishbone I've seen was San Francisco's in replacement games."

After the NFL, Williams would like to coach at the high school or college level. Yes, he admitted, there "has been talk" of his being considered to replace Robinson at Grambling.

Does he like being the first black quarterback in the Super Bowl?

"I like being Doug Williams."

Being himself, Williams has graced his team and his town. Washingtonians know how well he has accepted life's and football's tough licks. Almost certain about how he would handle supreme triumph, they nevertheless are looking forward to seeing it.

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