By Nick Shook
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Doug Williams made history on Jan. 31, 1988, when he became the first African American starting quarterback to win a Super Bowl. His Washington Redskins took down the Denver Broncos 42-10 in Super Bowl XXII, Williams cemented his place in football lore with a gutsy performance and kick-started the process of creating more opportunities for African Americans at the position.
NFL Network’s Steve Wyche wrote this week about the impact Williams’ Super Sunday had on the future of the position for black athletes. Nearly 30 years later, Williams’ impact on the game can be seen in the sport’s stars, with Cam Newton, Russell Wilson and Jameis Winston coming to mind, among others.
The former Super Bowl XXII Most Valuable Player is pleased with the progress, but is still bothered about the lack of opportunity for the guys on the sideline.
“The only thing I have a problem with is not so much the guys that are starting, that are playing, but there’s an awful lot of young guys out there who don’t get the opportunity to sit in that catbird seat,” Williams said Thursday on NFL Network’s Up To The Minute Live. “I’m talking about that backup quarterback slot, that practice squad guy that gets the opportunity to learn. Those are the spots that we usually don’t get.
“Now, you have teams like Buffalo, who have three African-American quarterbacks on their roster at the same time, and a couple of other teams, but when you’re talking about 32 teams and about the number of starting African-American quarterbacks in this league, and all of the guys who could have developed if given the opportunity, those are the things I think we miss on. It’s not the guys who are starting, because if you can come in here and play, nobody is going to deny you anyway. But you’ve got guys who stay in this league for 90 years and don’t even play.”
Buffalo was the most notable story from the 2016 season that touched all of these points, with backup EJ Manuel (who was previously exiled to the bench) replacing starter Tyrod Taylor in Week 17 in a move that was driven more by finances than performance. Buffalo was also once the home of backup quarterback Thad Lewis, who has bounced around the league and is currently out of football. Quarterback Colin Kaepernick began the season as a backup, but took over the starting job from Blaine Gabbert early in the season. And finally, Robert Griffin III was a darling-turned-castoff of the Washington Redskins, but found a new opportunity in Cleveland, where he again became a starter when healthy as the Browns trudged to a 1-15 record.