How Jackson State football and SWAC roots propelled Doug Williams to Super Bowl history

“How long have you been a Black quarterback?” Doug Williams was asked on Media Day during Super Bowl week of 1988.

“I’ve been a quarterback since high school," Williams said, “and I’ve been black all my life.”

Williams laughs at that question 35 years later. He knew the reporter, who wrote for the Clarion-Ledger, and felt bad because the reporter was nervous and trying to get the question out in front of a packed stadium.

Williams had led the Washington Redskins to an 11-4 record in the regular season and was about to engineer a 42-10 Super Bowl victory over the Broncos.

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Williams knows that, without Jackson State and the Southwestern Athletic Conference preparing him for the NFL, his moment in the Super Bowl may never have happened.

Williams remembers going 3-1 as a player with Grambling in battles against Jackson State, which was a powerhouse back then.

In his first start as a freshman against the Tigers, Williams beat future NFL Hall of Famers Jackie Slater, Robert Brazile and Walter Payton.

A favorite memory against JSU was in 1977, when Jackson State had the No.1 offense in the SWAC and Grambling was the No. 1 defense. Williams noted the game was over by the third quarter and he was taken out with a 35-7 lead.

Williams said SWAC football is about legacy and history: someone who has been there a long time. For Williams, it is those people who rooted themselves in the SWAC culture. It’s coaches like Marino Casem, Pete Richardson, W.C. Gorden, Archie Cooley and Eddie Robinson. People that have played in the SWAC and know what it is about.

"We (HBCUs) ain’t back in popularity,” Williams said. “Deion Sanders was popular. Black folks have to look at it realistically. (Deion) Sanders did a great job at Jackson State. He brought a lot of notoriety to Jackson State. Deion (Sanders) is not at Jackson State anymore. Is that notoriety going to stay at Jackson State?

“We (HBCUs) are exactly who we are and we have survived and that’s who we are going to be. What we have to do is go on and make the best of who we are and make it better than what we’ve been. We can’t think that every HBCU is going to thrive off of that (like Deion Sanders did), it is not going to happen.”

Williams reminds that Jackson State did not just start playing football the past two years. He remembers when Gorden led Jackson State to a 28-game conference winning streak in the late 1980s and six consecutive trips to the NCAA Division I-AA playoffs. JSU might have been down a little bit when Sanders arrived, but the Tigers were not the little sisters of the poor.

Williams is MVP

Williams was named MVP of the 1988 Super Bowl after completing 18 of 29 passes for a then-Super Bowl record 340 yards and four touchdowns with one interception.

He was the first player to pass for four touchdowns in a single quarter and a half in Super Bowl history, with Washington rallying from a 10-0 first quarter deficit for 42 unanswered points, 35 of those coming in the second quarter. Washington went on to win 42-10.

Williams, who was drafted 17th overall by the Buccaneers in 1978 before a brief stint in the USFL and then four seasons with Washington, spent nine years in the NFL before retiring after the 1989 season. He went on to become the head coach at Grambling, from 1998-2003 and again from 2011-13, and is currently a senior advisor for the Commanders.

Williams' advice for anyone wanting to coach and become a general manager? Williams said to get an education and be ready to continue to work hard.

“You know people do not start out trying to make history, right?” Williams said. “And if history comes with it, there is nothing you can do about it. When I started out playing football it was to make it to the Super Bowl – history just came with it.”

This article originally appeared on Mississippi Clarion Ledger: JSU football, SWAC roots propelled Doug Williams to Super Bowl