Growing up, Doug Williams never thought about playing in the NFL, much less leading a team to victory in the Super Bowl and etching his name as a Super Bowl MVP.
But in the 28 years since, not a day has gone by that he hasn’t remembered it.
“Every day, you get up and some kind of memory comes to you as far as the Super Bowl is concerned,” said Williams, who led the Washington Redskins to a 42-10 rout of the Denver Broncos in Super Bowl XXII. “Every guy who played in the NFL has the ultimate goal of playing in the Super Bowl. I was fortunate enough to achieve that.”
More than 800 men born in Louisiana have played in the NFL, a state that produces more pro football players per capita than any state except Alabama. But of that number, only seven Louisianans have started at quarterback in a total of 14 Super Bowl games. And of that number, four of them — Williams, Terry Bradshaw, Eli Manning and Peyton Manning — have been Super Bowl MVPs.
Even the quarterbacks who didn’t win the ultimate game or claim its ultimate prize can still think fondly of their place in Louisiana football’s elite fraternity.
Breaux Bridge native Jake Delhomme knows why fully one-seventh of the starts in Super Bowl history were made by Louisiana quarterbacks.
“I like to think we’re not afraid to produce some good quarterbacks in Louisiana,” said Delhomme, the Louisiana-Lafayette star who led the Carolina Panthers within a field goal of upsetting New England in Super Bowl XXXVIII.
“There’s been many quarterbacks from Pennsylvania, and they talk about the high school football there and things like that, but I’d rank Louisiana with anyone,” he said. “There’s a passion. Football is like a religion down here, you know? The quarterbacks from Louisiana, I’m a firm believer that they’re extremely tough and they have the grit. They know how to win. They will try to win by any means necessary.”
Terry Bradshaw went to Pennsylvania to play quarterback, and no quarterback has won more Super Bowls.
The Shreveport native went to the Pittsburgh Steelers by way of Louisiana Tech. Derided early in his career for not having the intelligence to be an NFL quarterback, Bradshaw led the Steelers to victories in Super Bowls IX (the last of three played at Tulane Stadium), X, XIII and XIV.
The latter two Super Bowl titles also came with MVP awards for the Hall of Famer known as the Blonde Bomber. Only Joe Montana and Tom Brady, with a win in last year’s Super Bowl, have won as many.
Shreveport has been a hotbed of NFL quarterbacks over the years. Growing up there, Stan Humphries remembers the NFLers coming back to his hometown in the summer and working out with aspiring quarterbacks there.
“I used to throw passes with Joe Ferguson, (wide receiver) Pat Tilley, all the Louisiana Tech guys who played in the NFL,” said Humphries, who quarterbacked the San Diego Chargers in Super Bowl XXIX in their 49-26 loss to San Francisco. He’s now an assistant women’s basketball coach at his alma mater, Louisiana-Monroe. “You’d look up to Bradshaw, Ferguson, David Woodley and try to follow in their footsteps and carve your niche.”
Woodley, who died in 2003 at age 44, was the youngest Super Bowl starting quarterback when at 24 he led the Miami Dolphins against the Washington Redskins in Super Bowl XVII. Woodley threw an early 76-yard touchdown pass to Jimmy Cefalo but threw for only 21 after that as the John Riggins-led Redskins roared back with two fourth-quarter touchdowns for a 27-17 victory.
Woodley was a rather tragic figure later in life. Always a loner, he suffered through years of alcohol-related health problems. His Super Bowl footnote includes the fact that he is the youngest quarterback to start the big game to die.
Williams’ story was happier — and more inspirational.
No quarterback in Super Bowl history had a better quarter than Williams, the first African-American to start at quarterback in the game’s history. Despite hyperextending his knee near the end of the first quarter, he led the Redskins out for the second quarter against Denver and began a record onslaught.
Eighteen plays. Five touchdowns. By halftime, Washington led 35-10 and coasted through the second half to the lopsided victory.
“I never even dreamed of playing in the NFL,” said Williams, who’s back with the Redskins as a personnel executive. “My only dream was to be a coach in high school, like my older brother. Go to college, get a degree, come back and coach high school.”
Williams did that, too, coaching his alma mater Grambling and hometown Northeast High. (Williams played for Chaneyville High before a merger created Northeast.) Williams’ Northeast team even beat Peyton Manning’s Newman High in the state playoffs.
Fortunately for Peyton, he wasn’t fazed. He went on to a stellar college career at Tennessee, then was the first overall pick in 1998 by Indianapolis.
Manning had an MVP turn as the Colts quarterback in Super Bowl XLI, beating Chicago 29-17 in rainy Miami. Three years later, Manning and the Colts were back in Miami as the favorites over the Saints, falling 31-17 with the clinching score a 74-yard interception return off Manning by Port Allen native Tracy Porter.
Peyton was back in the Super Bowl two years ago with Denver, but his Broncos were overwhelmed 43-8 by Seattle, the biggest Super Bowl rout in 21 years.
Manning and the Broncos are back in the Super Bowl on Sunday against Carolina. His younger brother Eli, the two-time Super Bowl champion and MVP who threw the most famous pass in Super Bowl history to David Tyree in Super Bowl XLII against unbeaten New England, will be there watching.
“I get emotional about it,” Eli said this week. “Hopefully, we’ll have lots of reasons to cheer and get excited. I’m rooting for him hard. I want him to win every game that he’s playing — unless he’s obviously playing the Giants — but always rooting for him, wanting to have success and play well.”
Well enough to add another winning chapter to Louisiana’s Super Bowl quarterbacking legacy.
Advocate sportswriters Joel A. Erickson and Luke Johnson contributed to this report.