"The coolest quarterback I've ever seen," Luckman said of Montana. "Nothing ever seemed to bother him."
"I'd been throwing on the move ever since high school," says Montana, who still lives life on the go, traveling the country making speeches and endorsements, and checking out the California wine country for investments. "The beauty of Bill's system was that there was always a place to go with the ball. I was the mailman, just delivering people's mail, and there were all kinds of houses to go to."
The Montana-Walsh legacy in San Francisco is three Super Bowl victories, and Montana would add a fourth under George Seifert. Walsh's disciples spread the system throughout the NFL, sometimes in modified form but always recognizable. Mike Holmgren took it to Green Bay, where it was perfect for Brett Favre, another quarterback who was gifted on the move. Steve Young, nimble and creative, kept it alive in San Francisco and brought the 49ers one more NFL title. It's no wonder Young (97.0) and Montana (92.3) have the top two career quarterback ratings in NFL history. No one, however, took the system to a higher level than Montana.
On one glorious January afternoon in 1988 Doug Williams changed the perception of a nation, changed it for all time. He removed an adjective. "When I came into the league," he says, "I was never Doug Williams, quarterback. It was always Doug Williams, black quarterback. Nowadays you don't hear that when people talk about Jeff Blake or Kordell Stewart or Steve McNair. They're just quarterbacks. I like to think I had a hand in that."
On a hunch, Redskins coach Joe Gibbs had benched Jay Schroeder for the playoffs and started Williams in his place, and now Super Sunday had arrived and Williams would go against John Elway and the Broncos, who were favored by 3½ points. The first quarter ended with Denver leading 10-0. The second ended with Washington in front 35-10. For all intents and purposes, the game was over.
Williams put up eye-popping single-quarter numbers: 228 yards passing, four touchdowns. The struggles of a career-two division championships in five years with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (still the only titles in that franchise's history) without much recognition; a two-year stopover in the USFL; a couple of seasons as an off-and-on starter in Washington—had crystallized in one inspired quarter. He finished with four touchdown passes and a Super Bowl-record 340 total yards in the 42-10 triumph, and, of course, he was voted the game's MVP, but what he remembers best is what someone asked him during an interview in the week leading up to the game: "How long have you been a black quarterback?"
"Everyone laughed at the question," he says, "but I knew what the guy meant. I answered, 'Since I've been in the NFL.' At Grambling I'd just been a quarterback."
He's back at Grambling this season as the successor to Eddie Robinson, the Tigers' retired coaching legend. In May he was working out of a temporary office in a converted trailer. There was no secretary on duty when we talked. He took all phone calls himself.
"Did I change history?" he said. "Well, I'm not going to the Hall of Fame. I like to think that I was part of history. But maybe I changed the way people looked at things. Maybe I changed things for the black quarterbacks who followed me."
He wasn't the first black quarterback in the NFL. In the dawn of pro football there was Fritz Pollard, a run-and-pass tailback in the 1920s. In the '50s there were Willie Thrower and Charlie (Choo Choo) Brackins, mere blips on the screen. Marlin (the Magician) Briscoe was a one-year wonder for the '68 Broncos before he was converted to wideout. Joe Gilliam once started ahead of Terry Bradshaw in Pittsburgh, but drugs cut his career short, and James (Shack) Harris had productive years with the Buffalo Bills and the Rams, although he never achieved stardom.