Doug Williams, Grambling state's freshman quarterback, had noticed the pretty young woman around campus and had pointed her out to his roommate. "I'm going to talk to that girl someday," Williams said.
Then, one evening, while leafing through newspapers in the undergraduate library, he saw her again. Williams made his move that evening, and for the next eight years, he and Janice Goss were best friends, soulmates and sweethearts. They married in early 1982. They teased each other endlessly, forever laughing and pulling pranks. A jab here, a poke in the ribs there. The teasing continued after their daughter, Ashley Monique, was born, Jan. 14, 1983. Doug referred to the baby as Monique, the name he had selected. His playful insistence made Janice giggle, but she kept calling the child by the name she had chosen, Ashley.
Two and a half months later, the laughter stopped. On a sunny March morning in Zachary, La., at the home of Doug's parents, Janice awoke with a throbbing headache. She got up to make breakfast but had trouble keeping her balance. Williams found his wife clinging to the refrigerator and rushed her to a doctor in Baton Rouge, 10 miles away. A CAT scan at a hospital revealed a brain tumor. Doctors operated that night. "I was in shock," Williams recalls. "I couldn't believe it was happening. Then reality set in."
Eight days later—10 days shy of their first wedding anniversary—Janice Williams died. "Her death taught me that no matter who you are or how much money you make, it doesn't matter," Williams says now. "You can't buy off death. You can't pay it to go away."
When the Washington Redskins meet the Denver Broncos in Super Bowl XXII, Williams will make NFL history as the first black man to start at quarterback in The Big Game.
It isn't the first time Williams has found himself in a unique position. As a Grambling senior, he was the first black quarterback from a predominantly black school to be named to the Associated Press All-America team. And he became the first black quarterback chosen in the first round of the NFL draft when the Tampa Bay Buccaneers made him the 17th pick in 1978.
"My whole life, whatever I was, I was 'the first of,' " says Williams, 32. "It was destined. It was in the cards."
Williams has never let "the first black quarterback" label become a burden. He has handled being a prominent black role model with dignity and, for the most part, tremendous grace.
"Segregation was a way of life for us in the South," says Robert Williams Jr., 46, Doug's oldest brother. "From an early age, Doug was faced with adversity. He knew how to stand up to it, to not let it stand in the way of success. So when he walked into any situation, the new obstacles never got the best of him."
On his first pass as a pro, in a preseason game against Baltimore, he heaved the ball 60 yards—over the receiver's head. The awed Tampa Stadium crowd gave Williams a standing ovation. For the next five years he was the toast of the town, leading the Bucs to the NFC playoffs three times; before Williams's arrival, the team had won two games in its two seasons of existence.