Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Doug Williams: The Most Undervalued Most Valuable Player

Doug Williams was considered by some to be a better than average football player. He still recognized the need to develop his skills. As a rookie quarterback, Williams continued to work to improve. As a result, early in his professional career he achieved a measure of individual success. Each year he increased his pass completion percentage. By honing his skills Williams attained an ever greater level of group success. Through his development the team he played for became more competitive. He was able to the lead the franchise to its first playoff appearance. More impressive, he took them to the post season 3 times in 4 years. Williams and his team once even competed in the NFC Championship game.

Yet, for all of his accomplishments, his worth to the team's whose uniform he donned was questionable. Williams' salary compared to other quarterbacks in the leagues was substantially lower. According to the salary chart of NFL quarterbacks, Hugh Culverhouse, the owner of the team who valued Williams enough to draft him in the first round, undervalued him on the payroll. In 1978 as a starter for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Culverhouse paid Williams $120,000. That amount ranked last among NFL quarterbacks and 13th behind 12 back-ups in the league. Among all quarterbacks Williams' salary ranked 42nd. He was even paid less than some third string players at the position.

In 1982, when contract negotiations failed to competitively compensate him, Williams left Tampa Bay and the NFL. Four years later, after a stint in the USFL, he returned to the National Football league with the Washington Redskins. In 1987, during his second season with the team, starting quarterback Jay Schroeder was injured. As a back-up, Williams stepped in to play. He started 2 games and lost both of them. Nevertheless, at the end of the season his team qualified for the playoffs. Surprisingly, Williams who had only played in 5 games during the season, but had a higher passer rating than Schroeder, was named the starter for post season.

As the leader of the team, Williams guided the Redskins through the playoffs and into the Super Bowl where John Elway and the favorite Denver Broncos waited. On the day before the most important game of his career, Williams had root canal surgery. The procedure lasted for hours and left him in great pain. The discomfort was so severe it prevented him from getting a good night's rest. The day of the game, things started bad and quickly got worse. Already deprived of sleep, less than two minutes into the game, Williams and his team fell behind 7-0. By the end of the first quarter they were losing 10-0 and had lost Williams to a leg injury. No team in Super Bowl history had overcome a 10 point deficit. Amazingly, Williams and the Redskins withstood the challenging start and persevered against historical odds.

In the second quarter, despite his injury, Williams returned to the game. As quickly as things had gone bad in the first quarter, they swiftly turned around in the second. 45 seconds into the quarter Williams threw his first touchdown pass. in an offensive explosion he threw three more before the quarter ended. Williams passed for a record four touchdowns in the quarter. Behind an impressive defensive effort, Washington scored 42 unanswered points and defeated the Denver Broncos. When the final statistics were calculated, Williams had set 5 Super Bowl records, total passing yards in quarter (228), total passing yards in a game (340), touchdown passes in a quarter (4), touchdown passes in a half (4) and the longest completion (80 yards). He had the best day of his career on the biggest stage in the world, as the first African American quarterback to start in the Super Bowl.

5 years after Doug Williams left Tampa, a team and a city where he was undervalued, he returned to the state of Florida for the recognition of his worth to the Washington Redskins. His journey took him to a magical place a few miles northeast of Tampa, in Orlando. There he celebrated his performance as the Most Valuable Player in Super Bowl XXII, at a theme park called Disney Land.

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