By halftime, the Buc-kicking had reached 49-7 and Tampa Bay had nailed down its fifth straight defeat. Williams said justice was being served. Once, he said, he thought being a Buccaneer "was the greatest thing in the world," but he learned "in a hurry" that pro football was strictly business. He said the business was what he got when he and the Bucs could not come to contract terms and he had gone to the USFL in August for "a better deal." From now on, he said, "I play for the paycheck."
He said he'd be lying if he said he hadn't wanted to stay in Tampa. And, yes, he was bitter. "You get slapped in the face enough, you get bitter. I bit my tongue for five years."
He said there was no turning back, even if the USFL folds: "Too much emotion involved. The fans had signs for the first game in Tampa: 'Doug who?' Well, they'll remember Doug Williams. A lot of people came to see me play. Attendance is down. In 63 years of NFL football, a black quarterback had never done as much as Doug Williams."
But he said he was not just a novelty. "Doug Williams was the guy the Bucs looked to to get it done," he said. "Maybe with Doug Williams they wouldn't be 0 and 5. Maybe they'd be 5 and 0. Maybe they really would be going to the Super Bowl."
He blamed the Tampa Bay "organization," its intransigence in contract talks. He blamed Hugh Culverhouse, the owner, for not making him feel "wanted." To make him feel wanted, he said, would have required only $600,000 a year for three years, not the $875,000 he was publicly demanding. Culverhouse, he said, had drawn the line at $400,000. He blamed racism. ("If I was white, don't you think I'd have gotten what I wanted?") And, finally, he blamed John McKay.
"I'll always be grateful to Coach McKay for the opportunity he gave me," Williams said. "It took guts to make me his quarterback my rookie year and then stick with me through all the criticism. But he could've done something, as much power as he has. He said, 'It's a fair offer.' If I was the owner, and John McKay told me that, I'd do what Mr. C. did, too."
Ashley now was groping for the railing of the crib, trying to pull herself up. Williams bent down tenderly and lifted her, turning her to reveal the lettering on her I LOVE TULSA T shirt.
"Janice would have wanted us to stay in Tampa," Williams said. Janice was his wife. She died of a brain tumor last April. Janice, he said, "didn't like controversy. She would have made me stay. But it wouldn't have been right. Next year, I'll be in Oklahoma, and it won't matter so much, but it would hurt me to the heart if Tampa Bay went to the Super Bowl without me. I can't be a hypocrite about it. I hope they go 0 and 16. I'll always have respect for Coach McKay, but I hope they go 0 and 16."
The second half had been kinder to Tampa Bay; at the end the score was 55-14. The next morning McKay sat subdued in the backseat of a company car, shrouded in his own cigar smoke as he was being driven to the taping of his weekly television show. After the game he had threatened to punch a Milwaukee columnist for asking, simply enough, why Tampa Bay had played so miserably. Past nightmares were being recalled.
In his first two years in Tampa, after a supernal college career at USC, McKay had suffered through 26 straight defeats without losing his wits. (Or, for that matter, his wit. "What about the Bucs' execution?" he was asked then. "I'm in favor of it," McKay replied.) But in those days he was putting life into dreams. This was different. This was dreams dying.