Black quarterbacks do not survive in Chocolate City.
One by one, they fade away, like mist, and always under circumstances that make you go, “Hmmm.”
Doug Williams led the Washington Redskins to the 1988 Super Bowl championship, the first Black quarterback to achieve the milestone. He also won the MVP, throwing four touchdown passes in the blow out over Denver.
He was a hero, a champion and history-maker. And guess what: four games into the next season, he was benched in favor of Mark Rypien and never played in D.C. again.
This is worth noting today because of the news that Robert Griffin III has been sidelined by Redskins coach Jay Gruden, who has yet to impress in any way.
Williams works in the Redskins’ front office and would not touch the Griffin situation. But he did tell Atlanta Black Star that playing quarterback in the NFL in general and Washington, D.C. in particular is a far more daunting proposition than most can fathom.
“Yeah, it’s tough to play quarterback here,” Williams told ABS. “The fans are demanding. Expectations are high. But quarterbacks are under great scrutiny everywhere you go. It’s the key position.
“But people have no idea how difficult it is to play quarterback in the NFL. And it’s more difficult to play today. There are more specialized players. The athletes are better than when I played it. The schemes have changed dramatically.”
“Sitting in my position, within the organization, it’s not my place to talk about Robert. I just can’t.”
So, I will. Griffin has been far from the QB that showed remarkable poise and accuracy in his rookie year. He also was devastating running the ball. But injuries broke him down and a ridiculously sorry offensive line has doomed him.
It has been too easy for critics to point to Griffin’s ills while ignoring that he man seldom has time to read coverages and check off to another option. And coaches seldom move to the pocket to give him run options, stem the rush and create passing lanes.
Still, he is a flawed quarterback who needs to improve his footwork and other aspects, with immense talent. Should he be benched? Not for Colt McCoy, who was a first-round draft pick that no one realized was still in the league until Kirk Cousins—the other quarterback who was supposed to be better than Griffin—stunk up the joint a few weeks ago while Griffin recovered from an ankle injury.
And herein lies the curiosity about Black quarterbacks’ lack of staying power in Washington.
When Williams was benched, all of Black D.C. was incense and confused. Several months earlier he was on a float in a parade celebrating Super Bowl XXII’s title. And then he was unceremoniously gone. Poof. No loyalty to the QB that led the team to the summit.
Years later, along came Jason Campbell in 2005. The Redskins selected him in the first round out of Auburn, the 25th pick. He was 6-foot-5 with all the tools that would make him a star.
He had the longest stay with the Redskins. Campbell did not play as a rookie, but he started from 2006-2009.
He was saddled with Jim Zorn as coach. Zorn went in to interview for the offensive coordinator position and came out as head coach. Seriously. He was miserable at the job. Despite Zorn, Campbell threw for 6,863 yards with 33 touchdowns and 21 interceptions in his final two seasons—and then he was gone.
Enter Donovan McNabb, the veteran who led the Philadelphia Eagles to a Super Bowl and multiple NFC Championship games. Black fans, overall, were disappointed to see Campbell go, but it was cushioned by the arrival of McNabb in 2010.
McNabb was ordinary in his one year in D.C., but he was insulted in a way few quarterbacks have been: He was benched at the end of a tight game in favor of Rex Grossman. Coach Mike Shanahan made it worse by offering that McNabb was not “in shape” to run the two-minute drill. It was pure baloney and everyone knew it.
As fate would have it, Grossman was sacked and fumbled on his first play, and the Redskins lost. McNabb lasted one season.
The one common in all this: owner Dan Snyder. He is a paradox. Snyder has been willing to acquire Black quarterbacks, but they do not get extended opportunities to flourish.
Is that Snyder’s fault? Probably not. But for certain if he wanted Griffin to start this Sunday against Indianapolis Colts, if he wanted McNabb to stay for another season, if he wanted Campbell to fulfill his potential with the Redskins. . . it would have happened.
Instead, the best quarterback on the team’s roster gets to hold a clipboard this weekend and watch an inferior player man his position. It will kill him inside.
Chocolate City. . . the place where Black quarterbacks go to die.