(EDITOR’S NOTE: To access the Doug Williams’ interview, fast-forward to 23:54 of the attached audio: HERE)
Many of the NFL’s most successful and proficient quarterbacks today are African-American, and you don’t have to look far to find them.
Patrick Mahomes. Russell Wilson. Deshaun Watson. Lamar Jackson. Kyler Murray, Dak Prescott. You name them, they’re among the league leaders in nearly every department. But it wasn’t always like that, and nobody knows better than former tight end Jimmie Giles.
One of six players named to the Black College Football Hall of Fame’s Class of 2021 (Giles, Young Announced as Black College Football Hall of Fame Inductees – Alcorn State University Athletics (alcornsports.com), Giles was a tight end for Tampa Bay in 1978, when the Bucs drafted a quarterback who, by season’s end, would be the NFL’s only African-American starter at that position (James Harris had been replaced by Dan Fouts in San Diego).
“Doug had the mentality, he had the ability, he had the smarts, he had the athletic ability (and) the arm to do anything,” Giles recalled on the latest “Eye Test for Two” podcast.
But he was more than a gifted playmaker. Doug Williams was a social pioneer, breaking down barriers to African-American quarterbacks. And it is to him, Giles said, that stars like Mahomes, Wilson, Watson, and others – including Randall Cunningham in the 1980s and 90s – “owe a great debt of gratitude.” Because without Doug Williams, he said, African-American quarterbacks might not have had the opportunities later afforded them.
“When the game was on the line,” Giles said, “and we were not coached to change plays, at least Doug was not coached … but, man, when the game was on the line, in the heat of the battle, his ability took over and that’s what he did. He made those plays.
“Now these guys are coached to do that. Because they (coaches) recognize that they have the ability to make the plays, to lead a ball club and to lead men. And that’s what’s most important: They have the ability to lead men. Period.”
Williams spent five seasons with Tampa Bay, leading the Bucs to the 1979 NFC championship game. But his greatest success came in January, 1988, when he quarterbacked the Washington Redskins to a 42-10 victory in Super Bowl XXII – a game where Williams threw for four touchdowns in a 35-point second quarter and was named the MVP.
Thirty-two years later, the Chiefs’ Mahomes railed Kansas City to 21 fourth-quarter points and was the MVP of Super Bowl LIV … and, yes, Giles sees a connection. Because he believes that Mahomes and other African-American quarterbacks would not be where they are today without Doug Williams.
“Without a doubt,” Giles said. “I’ll give you a good example: When I first went to Philadelphia (in 1987), coach Buddy Ryan – and I’ve got to say this, man, because it came from every one of the players that I played with; they said, ‘Jimmie Giles, Buddy Ryan loves Jimmie Giles.’ When I first went to Philadelphia, coach Ryan put me right in the offense and said, “I want you to learn how to call plays’ because they had a system – I had never seen anything like that – where the tight end took the plays from the sidelines. The quarterback did other things. And that just didn’t sit well with me.
“So one evening I went to Randall, and I said, ‘Randall, they don’t pay me to do this. We need to sit down and get you acclimated to do those plays that they’re calling.’ And in about a week Randall was taking the signals himself.”
But that’s not all. Giles, who played five seasons with Williams before leaving for Detroit (1986-87) and later Philadelphia (1987-89), had another suggestion for the Eagles’ quarterback.
“The other thing I asked him to do after the season,” he said, “(was) I said, ‘Man, you need to go and spend a week with Doug Williams and just let him know what this is like, what being a quarterback in the National Football League is about.’ And he actually did that.
“He went to Zachary, La. (Williams’ hometown) and spent about a week with Doug. After that opportunity that he had to spend with Doug, Randall Cunningham was a much changed and much different quarterback.