Doug Williams basks in NFL’s landmark day

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NEW YORK (AP) – Doug Williams almost two decades ago became the first black quarterback to start a Super Bowl. He says this past week advanced the cause of blacks in the NFL as never before.

Williams cited not only the matchup of Tony Dungy and Lovie Smith in the Super Bowl, the first two black coaches to get there, but the promotion by the New York Giants of Jerry Reese to general manager and the hiring by Pittsburgh of Mike Tomlin as its head coach.

“What happened in New York on Monday, what happened in Indianapolis and Chicago on Sunday and what happened in Pittsburgh the next Monday may make it the most significant week ever for African-Americans in football,” Williams told The Associated Press by phone from Mobile, Ala., where he is attending the Senior Bowl as a personnel executive for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Williams threw for a 340 yards, then a Super Bowl record, and four touchdowns in the Washington Redskins’ 42-10 win over Denver in the 1988 Super Bowl and was the game’s MVP.

That followed a week in which he was asked question after question about his role as the first black quarterback to play in the NFL’s championship game, including the now-storied query: “How long have you been a black quarterback?”

Black quarterbacks have since become prevalent in the NFL – as many as a dozen have started in a given week. And the likes of Steve McNair, Donovan McNabb and Daunte Culpepper have become perennial Pro Bowl players whose race is secondary to their accomplishments.

Williams had a successful career as the coach at historically black Grambling, his alma mater.

He left coaching three years ago to join the Bucs.

He noted that while NFL rules require that minorities be interviewed for head coaching vacancies, the rule does not apply to front offices. He was especially happy the 43-year-old Reese and the 34-year-old Tomlin were hired by the Giants and Steelers, noting those teams and the Mara and Rooney families who run them have the NFL’s deepest roots.

“If the Giants step up like that and the Steelers step up like that, it sends a message around the league,” Williams said.

“It’s as important as Tony and Lovie winning because those two teams are among the storied franchises in league history.

“If they can do it, the other owners can at least give minorities a chance.”

As for the conference championship victories by Dungy and Smith, Williams said: “Winning the Super Bowl that day wasn’t as significant to me as this past Sunday. I didn’t see it then. I can see this. I can feel this.”

AP-ES-01-25-07 1544EST

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