Monday, May 18, 2009

Doug Williams Returns to Tampa, 5/14/84

On May 14, 1984, former Buccaneer quarterback Doug Williams returned to Tampa Stadium as a member of the USFL's Oklahoma Outlaws. The game against the Tampa Bandits should have been an occasion for local football fans to offer one last salute to the man who led the Buccaneers to three playoff berths in four seasons. If only life were that simple.

Instead of a hero's welcome, Williams returned to town as public enemy number one. A bitter contract dispute with Buccaneer owner Hugh Culverhouse following the 1982 season, sadly, forced many fans to choose sides.

At the time, Williams made less money than every other starting quarterback in the NFL -- including 12 backup quarterbacks -- and wanted a substantial raise from his base salary of $120,000. Culverhouse failed to meet his contract demands as the two parties were just $200,000 dollars apart. Publicly, Williams asked for $875,000, but had been willing to settle for $600,000. Culverhouse offered $400,000 with a chance to make $600,000 by the third year, an offer which Williams said at the time made him feel unwanted.

Things eventually turned ugly when Williams wondered whether racism was really at the core of Culverhouse's offer, suggesting that if he was white, "Don't you think I'd have gotten what I wanted?" He also questioned whether Head Coach John McKay did enough on his behalf, as McKay called the Culverhouse's bid to keep Williams a "fair offer."

The situation had become untenable by August 1983. Unsure of their quarterback situation, the Buccaneers traded a number one draft pick to the Cincinnati Bengals for backup quarterback Jack Thompson. On August 9, Williams announced his intention to play the following spring in Tulsa for the Oklahoma Outlaws of the USFL. On his way out of town, the quarterback declared that he hoped Tampa Bay would finish 0-16 without him. The team came pretty darned close, finishing the 1983 campaign a disastrous 2-14.

This all set the stage for Williams' dramatic return to Tampa for a Monday night contest against the Bandits at Tampa Stadium. A local coin dealer named Art Arbutine got into the spirit by offering 50 silver dollars -- worth $750 -- to any Bandit player for each sack of Williams. The offer, made purely out of fun, paled in comparison to the vociferous booing Williams endured by Bandit fans.

Many in the local football-watching populace called Williams greedy and selfish, blaming him for turning his back on the Buccaneers and leaving the team a disaster. Williams got an earful from the majority of the 45,000-plus fans as he took the field for his opening offensive drive against the Bandits.

Despite a chorus of boos, Williams completed six of his first seven pass attempts while leading the Outlaws to touchdown on their opening possession. The quarterback did his part to silence the detractors in the stands by tossing three touchdowns in the first half to keep his team -- a 13.5 point underdog -- within seven points of the Bandits, trailing just 28-21 at the half.

For all his heroics in the first half, however, Williams fared just as poorly in the second half, throwing three interceptions and no additional touchdowns. Williams lost his cool after two of the interceptions, drawing an unsportsmanlike conduct for arguing with a referee and later an unnecessary roughness call for tackling Bandit safety Tim King out of bounds. The later offense resulted in debris being thrown at Williams from spectators behind the visitor's bench.

On the night, Williams finished 25 of 48 for 347 yards with three touchdowns, but it clearly was not enough against a Bandit offensive-machine that racked up a team-record 511 yards of total offense en route to a 48-21 victory.

While local football fans earned a measure of revenge that night, Williams ultimately found redemption in his career by leading the Washington Redskins to a Super Bowl championship in January 1988, earning the game's Most Valuable Player award in the process. The Buccaneers, meanwhile, would endure a string of 14 consecutive losing seasons from 1983-1996.

Welcomed back to the Buccaneer family with a front office position in 2004, today Williams serves as the team's Coordinator of Pro Scouting, proving that despite the bad blood and hard feelings of the past, it truly is possible to come home again.

“Coming back to play here was emotional because I felt I never should have left anyway,” Williams recalls today. “Playing the Bandits, who were one of the most productive and well-supported teams in the USFL, made it even better. You knew they’d bring their best because I was coming to town.”

The response from the fans that night, he says, was expected and he doesn’t let that cloud his perspective on the present.

“People weren’t really sure why I left Tampa,” he says. “It was a lot different back then. The team really controlled the spin, not the player. People understand that now though and you go forward.

Some people respect what I did, some maybe not, but at the end of the day you just have to roll with the punches. I have enjoyed my time being back here and the respect that has been given to me.”

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