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Doug Williams, the first Black quarterback to win a Super Bowl, came to campus to accept the Icons of DC award.

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Doug Williams speaks from a podium at the Icons of DC event. Photo by Jeff Watts.

Doug Williams learned not to miss his moments.

Thirty-six falls ago, he entered the 1987 NFL season as the now Washington Commanders’ backup quarterback. But when his counterpart separated his shoulder in the first game of the season, suddenly, it was Williams’s time to shine.

That season started with Williams on the bench and ended with him hoisting the Vince Lombardi Trophy as Super Bowl MVP. His legend was born in a four-touchdown, 42–10 rout of John Elway and the Denver Broncos to become the first Black quarterback to ever win a NFL championship.

“I say this to anybody out there: Don’t count yourself out, whatever you want to do. I never saw myself as the backup. I prepared [to become] the starter, and those opportunities will come if you just keep working,” Williams said on September 19 during an event sponsored by AU’s chapter of the Public Relations Student Society of America (PRSSA), the Kennedy Political Union, and the School of Communication.

Williams recounted his career as part of a wide-ranging conversation following his acceptance of this year’s Icons of DC award from PRSSA. SOC professor Gemma Puglisi and students organized Williams’s visit to campus to accept the honor, which recognizes impactful people and organizations in the community.

“He is truly an icon,” Puglisi said. “We were so lucky to have him at AU. He has broken barriers; he has inspired us, and he continues to be the voice for those who have had to face a great deal of racial injustices.”

The cofounder of the Black College Football Hall of Fame and senior advisor to Washington Commanders president Jason Wright took audience questions during the event about everything from Colorado head coach Deion Sanders to diversifying NFL front offices to name, image, and likeness in college sports.

He also imparted wisdom to the next generation and doted on the DMV, which became a second home to the Zachary, Louisiana, native. “This city, after the Super Bowl, took me in with open arms,” Williams said.

Williams made a name for himself in DC after starting his professional football career with the Buccaneers, who drafted him in 1978. In Tampa, Williams said he was better known as a “quarterblack” than by his own name. He was the lowest-paid starting quarterback in the league during his Buccaneers tenure, making less than some backups.

Williams left the team due to a contract dispute after the 1983 season and sat out a year before landing in the US Football League. When the league folded in 1986, he made the most of an opportunity in Washington.

Williams can see how his legacy lives on in today’s NFL, which currently has 14 Black starting quarterbacks. He closed out the event by recalling what it meant to attend Super Bowl LVII last year and see two Black quarterbacks—the Kansas City Chiefs’ Patrick Mahomes and the Philadelphia Eagles’ Jalen Hurts—face off against each other for the first time.

“That was one of the most gratifying days in my life to be at that game,” Williams said. “It was a shame somebody had to lose.”