Super Bowl XXII MVP Doug Williams visits ESPN, reflects on Black History Month, friendship with Jon Gruden

Former NFL quarterback Doug Williams during an ESPN Newsmaker Luncheon. (Rich Arden/ESPN Images)

Former NFL quarterback Doug Williams speaks to ESPN employees during a luncheon.
(Rich Arden/ESPN Images)

Editor’s note: ESPN celebrates Black History Month throughout February with related programming and content.

Super Bowl XXII MVP Doug Williams traces his fondness for ESPN back to the network’s inception in 1979.

Then a second-year NFL quarterback for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Williams bonded with a young reporter for the fledgling network who was visiting the team’s training facilities.

“I’ve been following ESPN since 1979 when [SportsCenter anchor] Chris Berman came down to Tampa Bay and I had the opportunity to throw him a couple of passes,” Williams said this week, when he visited the network’s Bristol, Conn., headquarters as a guest of P.U.L.S.E, one of ESPN’s eight Employee Resource Groups.

Williams, in his second stint as alma mater Grambling State’s head football coach, spoke to ESPN employees as part of the company’s celebration of Black History Month.

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Williams, 57, is a football pioneer. As ESPN.com senior writer Greg Garber and ESPN producer Michael O’Connor chronicled for a Sunday NFL Countdown piece that aired earlier this month, Williams’ Super Bowl performance 25 years ago for the Washington Redskins continues to resonate.

The first black quarterback to win a Super Bowl, Williams remains the only one to do so.

In the midst of his first visit to the ESPN campus for appearances on various shows, Williams spoke to Front Row.

What did you think of the Sunday NFL Countdown feature on your historic Super Bowl?
My hat’s off to the crew that did that. I was so glad when [current Washington Redskins QB Robert Griffin III] RG III agreed to narrate it. I thought it put a little more pizzazz in it, brought it home emotionally. Twenty-five years . . . I thought it was special and I’m just gratified that ESPN was able to do it.

What does Black History Month mean to you?
I look at it from a fortunate standpoint and an unfortunate standpoint. When you talk about Black history, it’s 24/7, 365 days a year. But at the same time, we take this month and stuff it with every opportunity to get all the historical things that African-Americans have been able to accomplish over the years [publicized]. I think we all have got to take advantage of that time and make sure that not only do our young kids get it but everybody understands the impact of African-Americans in this country.

How far back do you go with [ESPN Monday Night Football analyst and former Tampa Bay Buccaneers coach] Jon Gruden?
I’ve known Jon since he was about 15 years old. When I was in Tampa, his dad [Jim] was one of my assistant coaches. Jon and I, we’ve bonded. We’ve had a friendship for a long time. When I left Grambling the first time to go to Tampa Bay I went because Jon offered me a chance to come work with him. I’ve always admired Jon for his work ethic, his passion and his love for the game of football. [Note: Jon Gruden later would hire Williams to work in the Buccaneers’ personnel office during Gruden’s coaching tenure with that team.]

How was Chris Berman, rookie wide receiver?
Chris Berman did a yeoman job. It’s unfortunate that we didn’t sign him to a long term contract. I think ESPN beat us to it. They kept him and he’s still here. But I certainly think that we would had the opportunity to win it all in Tampa if we would have had Chris.

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