18.7 C
New York

Trailblazing NFL quarterbacks Doug Williams, James Harris talk race

Published:

CANTON − James “Shack” Harris recalled when legendary sportscaster Howard Cosell posed an issue to Grambling State University football coach Eddie Robinson.

Although the legendary Robinson had seen scores of his athletes play within the NFL, the provocative Cosell asked him why none of them were a quarterback.

So Robinson told Harris that in 4 years he would depart Grambling prepared to play quarterback for an NFL team.

“He got here by my house and talked to me and … he said, ‘James … America’s not ready now, but in 4 years, America might be ready for a Black quarterback when you come to Grambling,” said Harris, who played for the Grambling Tigers from 1965 to 1968.

Harris shared the story during an appearance Thursday night with fellow Grambling alum and former NFL quarterback Doug Williams. The duo spoke on the Canton Palace Theatre as a part of the Stark County Library’s Dr. Audrey Lavin Speaking of Books Writer Series.

Moderating the discussion was Adrian Allison, chief relationship officer for the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

The event also was among the many events leading as much as Sunday’s 4 p.m. Black College Football Hall of Fame Classic. Central State University faces Winston-Salem State University.

Doug Williams, left, and James Harris, right, share a laugh at the Palace Theatre in Canton on Thursday, September 1, 2022. Williams and Harris are the the founders of the Black College Football Hall of Fame.

‘They questioned our ability to steer, they questioned our character.’

Recalling Robinson’s plan, Harris said he was committed to playing quarterback within the NFL. That is why he plummeted to the eighth round of the 1969 draft before being chosen by the Buffalo Bills. Most teams wanted to change him to a different position.

But Harris was undeterred, and have become the primary Black quarterback to begin a season in NFL history. For the Los Angeles Rams, he became the primary Black quarterback to begin a conference championship game. Harris was named to the NFC Pro Bowl team in 1974.

NFL teams and scouts traditionally had questioned the intelligence of Black quarterbacks, Harris recalled. “They questioned our ability to steer, they questioned our character,” he said. “But those are things I could control, and I wasn’t going to get cut because I wasn’t smart enough. I wasn’t going to get cut due to my character.”

Buffalo Bills quarterback James Harris in action against the Miami Dolphins at the Orange Bowl, Nov. 7, 1971.

‘I used to be the Washington Redskins quarterback who just happened to be Black.’

Williams, meanwhile, followed Harris’ trailblazing path because the No. 17 overall draft pick of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 1978. He would lead the franchise to the playoffs before leaving the NFL for a stint within the USFL.

Returning to the NFL with the Washington Redskins, Williams led the team to a Super Bowl victory in 1988 while being named MVP. He was the primary Black quarterback to begin in a Super Bowl.

Williams, nonetheless, doesn’t view his Super Bowl feats through the lens of skin color.

“That wasn’t essential to me,” he said. “I used to be the Washington Redskins quarterback who just happened to be Black.”

Jan 31, 1988; San Diego, CA, USA; FILE PHOTO; Washington Redskins quarterback Doug Williams (17) looks to throw against the Denver Broncos during Super Bowl XXII at Jack Murphy Stadium. Washington defeated Denver 42-10. Mandatory Credit: Manny Rubio-USA TODAY Sports

The comment drew a burst of applause from the theater audience.

Williams spoke modestly of his record-setting performance, quickly crediting the offensive line and other teammates for his or her contributions.

“Nobody man’s going to win a game by himself,” he said. “You wish the team.”

Each men told the Palace Theatre audience of the discrimination and obstacles they’d faced as youth. Nonetheless, it was Robinson whom they praised and credited for shaping them each on and off the football field. Academics, faith and character were prioritized as much as football, Williams and Harris explained.

“Failure is if you fail to organize for a chance when it comes,” Harris said.

Added Williams: “It wasn’t about going to the NFL; it was about caring for yourself and your loved ones if you left Grambling.”

Jan 31, 1988; San Diego, CA, USA; FILE PHOTO;  Washington Redskins quarterback Doug Williams (17) celebrates on the field after defeating the Denver Broncos 42-10 to win Super Bowl XXII at Jack Murphy Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Darr Beiser-USA TODAY Sports

Williams and Harris said their stories are reflective of other players from Historically Black Colleges and Universities. A few of them proved their abilities within the NFL. Others were never given the chance.

That is why Harris and Williams co-founded the Black College Football Hall of Fame before a everlasting home was secured on the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton.

Pro Football Hall of Fame officials “felt this was a spot where our story needs to be told,” Harris said.

Ten percent of Pro Football Hall of Fame inductees are from an Historically Black College and University, he noted.

“One reason we wanted this story to be told is we predict these players and coaches have contributed a lot to (skilled football),” Harris said.

Adrian Allison, right, the chief relationship officer with the Pro Football Hall of Fame speaks with Doug Williams, left, and James Harris, center, at the Palace Theatre in Canton on Thursday, September 1, 2022. Williams and Harris are the the founders of the Black College Football Hall of Fame.

Reach Ed at 330-580-8315 and ebalint@gannett.com

On Twitter @ebalintREP

sportinbits@gmail.com
sportinbits@gmail.comhttps://sportinbits.com
Get the latest Sports Updates (Soccer, NBA, NFL, Hockey, Racing, etc.) and Breaking News From the United States, United Kingdom, and all around the world.

Related articles

spot_img

Recent articles

spot_img