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This was the year he thought Williams would get the status McKay had predicted for him through a protracted, often painful learning period. Maybe even carry the Bucs to the Super Bowl. The morning before the trip to Green Bay, McKay had nursed a pre-breakfast cup of coffee on the sun porch of his home on Tampa's Bayshore Drive and discussed how one coach will handle his quarterback differently from another. He said he was never one to get too close to players. But with Williams, he said, the rapport had been extraordinary. If you could possibly characterize a short, white football coach and a tall, black quarterback as soul mates, McKay and Williams were that: Williams, the 6'4", 215-pound heavenly body with the rifle arm, and the unflappable, innovative McKay, whose record for indifference to color has bordered on the legendary. At USC, almost all of McKay's star players were black. He had two black quarterbacks there. And from the start his Buccaneer teams have been well marbled. The official Buccaneer poster last year was a montage of seven players, one of whom was Williams. They were all black.
"People said we couldn't win with a black quarterback," McKay said. "People said there were 'rumors' about Doug's intelligence. The rumors were wrong. He's a smart young man. They used to 'rumor' about Terry Bradshaw's intelligence, too. Bradshaw took Pittsburgh to four Super Bowls. I'd love to have a quarterback dumb enough to take me to four Super Bowls."
In 1978, Williams was the first black quarterback ever to be drafted in the first round. McKay's scouts told him Williams was raw talent. He was an All-America, but at Grambling the opposition was not big time. A knock was that Williams had no "finesse" passes in his arsenal. He threw mostly downfield, what coaches call "haul-ass stuff," never to his backs.
But McKay saw films and liked what he saw—"the kind of player you go with for the long pull," he said. "The future of the franchise." And he said something else, remarkable in its appositeness: "I'm 55 years old. If Doug Williams isn't the future, we'll have to start over, and I'm too tired to start over."
The best quarterbacks are not an extension of the coach on the field. They are more than that. Play-calling is overrated. If the quarterback is on the same wavelength as the coach, he will usually call the same plays the coach would anyway. It is after the play starts, when he is on the run facing a myriad of alternatives—keying on defensive backs, reading coverages—it is at those crucial moments that a quarterback must shine.
"Doug had started to get that," McKay said on the sun porch. "He was becoming—not there yet, but on the way—one of the better quarterbacks in the game. The biggest thing he had to control was his emotions. That thing about being the first great black quarterback might have been the problem, but I thought he was controlling that. I had to tell him, 'No matter what happens, Doug, you're the quarterback. Nobody's going to come out there and take your place.' "
McKay told that to Williams through the giddy highs and through the abysmal lows, when the coach took so much heat he began to think his full name was McKay You Idiot. At times Williams was so brilliant he took your breath away. At other times he played like a man without a coordinating bone in his body.
He did have trouble throwing to the outlet man or players coming out of the backfield, but his space shots downfield won games; he played hurt; and the Bucs in 1979 became the youngest team ever to reach the playoffs. And made them two out of the next three years.
But although it was a colossal improvement over what Tampa had done before, Williams was, in five years, only a .500 pitcher—won 33, lost 33. He never made the Pro Bowl and never ranked among the leaders in the quarterback ratings. Sometimes he made bonehead plays, and sometimes he made bonehead remarks. Early on, after being roundly booed, he said, "Let 'em boo; I'll still be taking my money to the bank." A fan wrote in: "I just hope Doug's not required to throw his money in the door. He'll only hit it one out of five times."
But through it all, McKay stuck by him. And after the '82 season, McKay even fired his quarterback coach, Bill Nelson, because he thought Nelson and Williams "weren't getting along." Williams worked hard in the off-season, said McKay, "and he learned. Last year our leading receiver caught 53 passes—and he was our fullback, James Wilder. I knew then that Dougie was on his way."