Doug Williams sat wordless on a short wooden platform in the center of the Washington Redskins' locker room at Soldier Field. Around him teammates exchanged cheers over the Skins' 21-17 victory over the Chicago Bears in the NFC playoffs. Williams stared straight ahead, looking more relieved than pleased. When someone asked if this was his happiest moment since he came to the NFL as a Tampa Bay Buccaneer quarterback out of Grambling 10 years ago, he nodded a simple yes. "Know what else?" he said. "It's already yesterday."
Walter Payton of Chicago is probably the finest running back ever. But that was yesterday. Bears quarterback Jim McMahon is an inspirational leader, a big, strong guy who can butt heads with a tractor trailer and come out with his sense of humor intact. Chicago couldn't be beaten in the polar cold of Soldier Field in the playoffs with big Mac at the helm. That was yesterday, too.
For Williams, beating Chicago meant only that he would have to prove himself once more, against Minnesota for the NFC championship. However, for a while on Sunday it looked as if Payton and McMahon would win that opportunity for Chicago. With just 5½ minutes gone in the first quarter and the thermometer reading 4°—Bear weather—Williams was brutally sacked by Richard Dent and fumbled. Chicago's Steve McMichael recovered at the Washington 30. Two carries by Payton moved the Bears to the eight. Three plays later McMahon, playing with a bad hamstring and a surgically repaired throwing shoulder, handed off inside to Calvin Thomas for the TD. Bedlam erupted in the stands. Then, after the Skins failed on a fourth-and-one at the Chicago 32 late in the first quarter, McMahon took the Bears on a 14-play scoring drive. The payoff came on a 14-yard pass to wide receiver Ron Morris, who beat cornerback Barry Wilburn to the post.
If the Super Bowl-champion Chicago Bears of two seasons ago—the old Bears, the Bears of the famed "46" defense—had still been around, the game would have been all but over at that point. No one overcame a 14-0 deficit against the old Bears. Those Bears blitzed from everywhere and sacked quarterbacks relentlessly. On Sunday, though, they could not get to Williams a second time, and that was the difference.
Williams trotted back onto the field without either running backs George Rogers or Kelvin Bryant, who, with game contributions of 13 yards rushing and three dropped passes, respectively, might just as well have taken the day off. But fortunately for the Redskins, they would get outstanding performances from Williams, rookie runner Timmy Smith (66 yards on 16 carries), their endless gallery of receivers and from the offensive line against the Bears' front seven. At one time, that would have been a terrible mismatch. Not today.
"This team never quits," said Washington offensive tackle Joe Jacoby. "After giving up that sack, I got a little more motivated. Dent was yelling the whole first quarter and half of the second quarter. Then he stopped."
Williams promptly took the Redskins on a seven-play, 72-yard touchdown drive, calmly dissecting the Chicago secondary as it attempted to disguise its coverages. But the Bears were an open book to Williams. "Doug was making great plays when things weren't there," said Washington coach Joe Gibbs.
Williams converted a third-and-nine with a 32-yard rope to wide receiver Ricky Sanders and then hooked up with tight end Clint Didier for 14 more. That put the Redskins on the Chicago three. Rogers scored from there to make the score 14-7. Chicago's Kevin Butler missed a 48-yard field goal, and Williams repeated himself. This time he needed only 58 seconds to take Washington 69 yards in seven plays. Williams got the touchdown with an 18-yard strike down the middle to Didier.
"I didn't have anything to lose," said Williams. "You all know me. I'm washed up. I can't play. There was nothing to say in the huddle when we were behind. We've all been there before."
"He caught us playing man, and he just kept doing the job," said Chicago's All-Pro outside linebacker, Wilber Marshall. "The man throws bullets. We couldn't get to him. That big body. That quick release."