Doug Williams’ mementos bring back Super memories


4:15 p.m.

We opened a new state-of-the-art exhibit gallery during Hall of Fame Weekend. Titled The Lamar Hunt Super Bowl Gallery the exhibit provides visitors with a complete history on America’s unofficial holiday, the Super Bowl. The gallery was made possible through the generous support of the Lamar Hunt family. It was Lamar Hunt, owner and founder of the Kansas City Chiefs, who coined the term “Super Bowl” and also helped broker the merger between the NFL and the AFL.

{GALLERY}The opening of the gallery gave us the opportunity to seek out new objects for the Pro Football Hall of Fame’s collection. One of the first objects a visitor sees when entering the gallery is the pen used by President Lyndon Johnson to federally authorize the merger of the AFL and the NFL. This pen was given by President Johnson to former NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle. The pen has been in the Rozelle family for years. Anne Marie Bratton, Rozelle’s daughter, managed to save the pen and provided it to Hall of Fame for display. The pen is one of a handful of Presidential artifacts in the Pro Football Hall of Fame’s collection.

I also wanted to mention two other historic artifacts that arrived recently at the Pro Football Hall of Fame. The arrival of the mementos was kind of overshadowed by the hoopla of the Hall of Fame weekend. We received Washington Redskins quarterback Doug Williams’ jersey and helmet he wore during his MVP performance in Super Bowl XXII. The helmet was appropriately placed on display in The Lamar Hunt Super Bowl Gallery. We hope to include the jersey in an exhibit we are developing on the African American Experience in Pro Football.

Doug offered the helmet and jersey to us after serving as a guest panelist in our Black History Month program this past February. In his honor during the month of February we displayed his Tampa Bay Buccaneers helmet from 1978 that featured an unusually large face mask to protect his broken jaw. Yes, Doug Williams played much of the ‘78 season with a broken jaw as he lead the expansion Buccaneers out of the wilderness of a 2-26 start to their existence. The following season Williams led the Buccaneers to the 1979 NFC Championship Game.

After jumping to the USFL in 1983, Williams returned to the NFL in 1986 with the Redskins and led the team into the 1987 playoffs. The ‘87 season did not start off well for Williams or the NFL. The season was initially marred by a players strike and if you remember was only a 15-game regular season. Williams battled Jay Schroeder for the starting quarterback job throughout the season.

Other fond memories I have from that season was the New Orleans Saints finishing the season at 12-3 and earning their first playoff appearance and the wacky twist and turns of the 1987 playoffs. The Saints despite their impressive record finished second to the 49ers in the NFC West and faced the Minnesota Vikings in the Wild Card Game. The Vikings had eeked into the playoffs with an 8-7 record. However the Vikings rose to the occasion and not only upset the upstart Saints but trounced them 44-10.

Throughout the regular season that year it seemed as though the 49ers were destined to run over the whole league after finishing 13-2. The 49ers led the NFL in scoring offense and finished third in scoring defense. However in the divisional playoffs the 49ers met the upset minded Vikings. Another former USFL player, Anthony Carter had the game of his NFL career for the Vikings against the 49ers. He caught 10 passes for what was then NFL postseason record of 227 yards in the Vikings 36-24 victory.

The Redskins scored a minor upset of their own in the divisional playoff game by defeating the Chicago Bears in Soldier Field 21-17. The deciding play of the game was a 52-yard punt return by Hall of Famer Darrell Green who pulled a stomach muscle during the play. The Redskins victory set up a battle of two Cinderellas (Washington and Minnesota) in the NFC Championship Game. The game did not disappoint. Williams shined in the game by throwing two touchdowns the second of which to Gary Clark gave the Redskins a late 17-10 lead. On the following drive Wade Wilson heroically led the Vikings to the Redskins 6-yard-line only to have his fourth down pass to Darrin Nelson fall incomplete to end the game.

The victory set up Williams historic game in Super Bowl XXII against the Denver Broncos. No team in NFL history had started an African-American at quarterback in the Super Bowl. In fact few African Americans had been given the chance to play quarterback in the NFL. While the Redskins journey to the Super Bowl seemed to be a fairy tale, the Broncos had been the most dominant team in the AFC all year although they had just survived the Cleveland Browns in the AFC Championship Game 38-33 (I’ll spare Browns fans from any other details).

If you remember the Broncos jumped out to an early 10-0 lead in the first quarter against the Redskins only to be shell shocked by 35 points scored by Washington in the second quarter. Williams threw four touchdowns in the 35-point explosion and was named game MVP. Williams performance broke down the final barriers of African Americans on the field and capped off a fabulous postseason that erased the negativity of the player strike earlier that season.

Since then the NFL has enjoyed over 20 years of labor peace and African Americans have enjoyed equal opportunity on the field. Who knew a jersey and helmet could represent so much.

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