Twenty-five years ago, quarterback Doug Williams led the Washington Redskins to 42-10 rout of the Denver Broncos in Super Bowl XXII, becoming the first African-American quarterback to start, win, and be named the MVP of a Super Bowl. Today, on Super Bowl Sunday, ESPN looks back at this historic accomplishment, in a seven minute segment on their NFL Countdown show. (Edit: Above link updated to Doug Williams: A Football Life.)
As I fan, I remember that game well. The first quarter—in which the Broncos took a 10-0 lead— was awful, but the second quarter was the best fifteen minutes of football in my life. Starting on the first play of the quarter, when Ricky Sanders took a sideline pass 80 yards to the endzone, the Redskins scored five touchdowns on five possessions. At halftime, the score was 35-10. The Redskins became the first team to come back from a ten point deficit to win a Super Bowl, and their 35-point second quarter is still a record.
But the significance of that game far exceeded the joy experienced by Redskins fans, or the misery suffered by Broncos fans. Four decades after Jackie Robinson broke Major League Baseball’s color barrier, and twenty-five seasons after the Redskins were forced by the Federal government to integrate—becoming the last team to do so—a black quarterback had finally won a Super Bowl. Ironically, a black quarterback playing for the Redskins.
He was the first, and he is still the only one so far.
Two others got tantalizingly close in the quarter century since then. Tennessee Titans quarterback Steve McNair’s last pass came one agonizing yard away from winning Super Bowl XXXIV, and Donovan McNabb’s Philadelphia Eagles fell just three points short against the New England Patriots in Super Bowl XXXIX. But close was not quite enough.
And today, as we gather to watch the Super Bowl, almost sixty-six years since Jackie Robinson debuted with the Brooklyn Dodgers and almost fifty-one years since Bobby Mitchell signed with the Redskins, Doug Williams is still in a category all by himself.
Forty seven games. One winning African-American quarterback.
But change takes time, and the quarterback position was the last one in the NFL to be fully integrated. Old biases die hard, but they do die eventually. And someday soon there will be another black quarterback who will win a Super Bowl and possibly be named MVP as well.
Wouldn’t it be ironic if the next one also played for the Redskins? (Edit: That was wishful thinking.)