ASHBURN, Va. – The first time they talked, they hit it off – two quarterbacks talking football and history. One just happened to be a young star at Florida State; the other the first African American quarterback to win a Super Bowl.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston and Washington Redskins personnel executive Doug Williams met at a football show in Orlando after Winston’s sophomore season and saw one another at various awards shows. They exchanged text messages – Williams bowing to Winston’s preferred mode. And a friendship was built. Winston wasn’t born yet when Williams won a Super Bowl with the Washington Redskins after the 1987 season. But Williams’ story remains strong and it’s one Winston knew.
“He was very engaged and asking a lot of questions about me and what it was like and how he had followed me,” Williams said. “We just bonded. He’s very respectful and respectful to history. He appreciates what I’ve done and under the circumstances and he doesn’t mind talking about it. We talk about what to expect and some obstacles he faces even now.”
After a recent bad outing by Winston, Williams texted him and told him to “keep his head up.” If Winston has a strong day, he might text to offer his congrats. But mostly what they discuss focuses on life issues.
Winston called Williams after the stone crab controversy, one of several issues he had during his time at Florida State.
“He called and we had a long talk about what is expected of him and who he was and how he’s always under the microscope,” Williams said. “He was always respectful. … He called me one day and said, ‘Mr. Williams.’ I said, 'No, call me Doug.' He said, ‘I know you went through a lot. I’m going through things and I want to know how you handle it.’ I told him the timing was different. They’re a lot under the microscope. There’s not a move you can make that someone’s not watching, whether it’s good or bad.”
During a conference call with the Washington media on Wednesday, Winston called it a privilege to talk with Williams, who was a former first-round pick by the Buccaneers. But they played in a different era, not only for African-American quarterbacks but because of social media. As Williams said, Winston has had to mature under a harsher spotlight, but he also knows Williams can help navigate situations for him.
“He once was here, ended up having a great career in Washington winning the Super Bowl, and just what he means to my life as being the first African-American quarterback to win the Super Bowl, that means a lot to me,” he said. “I definitely have a pretty stable relationship with him.”
But Williams hasn’t only helped Winston. He met Ohio State quarterback Cardale Jones last offseason and they exchanged numbers. Williams texted him earlier this season when there was talk he might get benched. Williams also is close to New York Jets coach Todd Bowles. Last week, when the Redskins played at the Jets, the two were talking during pregame. Williams then went over to the stands to meet someone when he felt a tap on his shoulder. It was Jets quarterback Geno Smith.
“He said, ‘I always wanted to meet you and I’m glad to meet you,’ “ Williams said.
More numbers exchanged, another young quarterback to help mentor.
“I enjoy doing what I do,” Williams said. “I enjoy football. But the most important thing, it’s not about me as much as the kids, the players’ embrace of history, of what football has done not only for them but a lot of people. I don’t seek guys out but some are not that type and might not want to talk about it. Some might not want to be part of being a black quarterback. You don’t force yourself on them and we’re past that stage of color now. So it’s not about that as much as it’s about back in the good old days it happened. There has to be respect. I respect the game.
“There are a lot of players on a team who value history. That’s the key. Some of them just play the game because they got a chance and they’re gifted enough to play it, but they don’t value the people that came before them. That’s the key. You have to give credit to people who helped cultivate this league and got it to where it is now so you can make the amount of money you’re making.”
And, Williams said, Winston understands that point. For now, though, Winston wants to focus on advice he has received from Williams. Winston is going through the typical rookie growing pains; good moments followed by rough ones. Through it all, Williams’ advice has stuck.
“You can’t stress too much,” Winston said. “You’ve got to be yourself and play ball. You’ve got to apply yourself and play ball.”