From South Central to the Super Bowl, from Anaheim to the Super Bowl. James Washington took the path less traveled, took it twice, and now he was on the victory stand, talking about the touchdown he scored to turn around the latest Super Bowl.
“This was for my boys back home,” Washington said, designer shades kicked up on his forehead as he faced the bright lights. “All my homeboys in Watts saw me play, saw me shock the house.
“I ain’t gonna go ghetto on you all, but I know exactly what my boys were doing tonight. Sitting back, drinking a cold 40 ouncer and just enjoying this.”
This was for Washington’s best friend, Keith Solomon, who “played safety with me in high school. He died on the corner of 130th and Wilmington. He was shot in the back of the head.”
This was for Washington’s 2-year-old son, Richard. “When I’m 30, 40, 50 years old, we’ll watch one of those Super Bowl repeat shows and I’ll tell my son, ‘Look at Daddy showing off in the Super Bowl.’ ”
This was also for the Rams, who drafted Washington in the fifth round in 1988, sat him on the bench for two years and hardly shrugged when he moved to Dallas as a Plan B free agent in 1990.
Now Washington has two Super Bowl championship rings, which are two more than the Rams have, which, according to Washington, has everything to do with square pegs and round holes and a coach named Johnson who could tolerate his, well, individuality and a coach named Robinson who couldn’t.
“I’m a free-lancer,” said Washington, who watched Leon Lett free the football from Buffalo’s Thurman Thomas on Sunday night and lanced the Bills with a 46-yard fumble recovery and run for a touchdown.
“Sometimes I don’t play within the structure of the system. That’s OK with Coach Johnson. He lets me beat to my own drum.”
Not so with Coach Robinson, Washington charges.
“The reason it didn’t work out for me with the Rams,” Washington said, “was because John Robinson didn’t like my attitude. To him, I was an arrogant rookie.
“They had some really good defensive backs on that team--LeRoy Irvin, Jerry Gray, Johnnie Johnson. Those were the guys I followed. I came in with an attitude that I could play with those guys. The Rams didn’t like that attitude.”
Jimmy Johnson, however, can live with that kind of attitude, mainly because Johnson lives that kind of attitude himself. Speak softly and no one notices you. Carry a big stick, and wield it accurately during big games, and you not only can play for Johnson, or “free-lance” for Johnson, but you’re a man after Johnson’s own heart.
“He knows that certain players make big plays in a big game,” Washington said. “He brought me here to make plays.”
Washington made two of the biggest in Super Bowl XXVIII, two reasons why the Bills are 0-IV in Super Bowls and resigned to keep coming until they get it right, which could put this game out of business before the turn of the century.
Buffalo actually led this Super Bowl, 13-6, in the third quarter , when Lett crowbarred the ball loose from Thomas and Washington swooped in, zigging this way, zagging that way and then zigging back again until he had covered 46 yards and the score was tied.
The outcome was still very much in doubt--Dallas, 20-13, first play of the fourth quarter--when Washington stepped in front of a Jim Kelly pass, intercepted and ran the ball 12 yards back to the Buffalo 34. From there, it was only a few quick Emmitt Smith footsteps to a 27-13 Cowboy lead.
The most valuable player trophy went to Smith, although there it could have been argued that Washington was robbed.
Some media taunts tried to lure Washington into that fray, but the most inflammatory quote they could entice was: “Some of the guys said I should be mad, even my boys from Buffalo who played with me at UCLA . . . But Emmitt deserves it because he does it day in and day out. I love Emmitt. He’s my ‘frat brother.’ We came in together.”
“Now,” Washington added, grinning, “I would’ve been ticked off if somebody else got it.”
Washington squeezed every drop he could from his moment in the spotlight.
He lobbied for a spot in the Pro Bowl. “If (Cowboy safety) Thomas Everett can go to the Pro Bowl, it can’t be that hard.”
He lobbied for a raise. “I don’t do it for myself, I do it for my family. I grew up in Watts. I want my children to have the things I never had. That’s why I do it. Troy Aikman makes $50 million. Great for him. I don’t even want that much. I just want to be comfortable.”
He also tried to get Lett a raise, without asking for a percentage. “A guy you tried to embarrass, Leon Lett, came up with a great play. He forced it, I picked it up, the play turned the game around.”
And, Rams, if you’re listening, Washington isn’t ruling out the idea of a comeback.
“I have a year left on my contract,” he notified the media. “I’ve said that I’ll stay with the Cowboys if I can’t go back to L.A.
“I grew up a Raiders fan. If I had an opportunity to play for the Raiders, I’d love to do that. Or, if I had an opportunity to play for the Rams, I’d like to go back and finish what I started.
“You always have something in life you feel you messed up and would change if you could.”
If nothing else, the Rams could fly Washington in to inspect his jewelry. Just to see what it looks like.