It's been 20 years since either one of these guys has made news on the football field. But while wearing the burgundy and gold, both Doug Williams and Billy Kilmer drew the love and attention of every Redskins fan out there.
Billy Kilmer:He was before my time, but you can't grow up in this town without learning of certain players you never saw play. Kilmer was one of these players. His teammates called him "Ol' Whiskey" on account of his famous (or infamous) nightlife. I recall an evening as a kid talking Redskins with my parents, grandparents and their friends. In that small group, it was evident that Kilmer was a very polarizing figure. There was the Sonny Jurgensen camp, and then there was the Billy Kilmer camp. Both sides talked passionately about their favorite. When speaking about Kilmer, the Sonny fans would offer a roll of their eyes, asserting their belief that Kilmer pulled the carpet out from underneath Jurgensen. The response from the Kilmer guy was that Sonny's shoulder couldn't make it, and that without Kilmer, the Redskins would have been held hostage to the bum shoulder. These people didn't argue politics this aggressively.
Thanks to a love of NFL Films, I learned all about Kilmer and his style of play on the field. Did he throw the beauty spiral that Sonny did? Nope. He was a the kind of scrappy player who got it done however he could, by hook or crook. He came into the league as a running back for the 49ers but his career was changed forever by an auto accident in which he drove his car into the San Francisco Bay. The resulting leg injury limited his running back abilities, and the 49ers let him go in the expansion draft, where he was picked up by the Saints. He became their starting QB, but as we all know, the Saints didn't do squat. He requested a trade, and he joined up with George Allen to back up Sonny Jurgensen.
Then Sonny's shoulder started acting up and Kilmer got the chance to get on the field. He spent the majority of the season as the starter (giving way to Sonny midway through the season before his shoulder was hurt again). The Skins made the playoffs that year, getting a playoff win over the 49ers. One year later, Kilmer led the Redskins to an 11-3 record, and a Super Bowl appearance (Super Bowl VII, the loss to the perfect Dolphins.)
George Allen clearly leaned toward Kilmer at this point. But after Allen's departure, Kilmer took a back seat to Joe Theismann.
Billy Kilmer was a scrapper, not afraid to use his legs to gain yardage, and he commanded the respect and loyalty of his teammates. Sonny Jurgensen continues to downplay the perceived animosity between him and Kilmer to this day. It is simply amazing that the Sonny vs. Billy controversy remains a topic of conversation so many years later.
Doug Williams:Another journeyman football player. Another story of heart, guts, and seizing the opportunity given to him. He was a first round draft pick out of Grambling for a Tampa team that, well, uhhhhh....come on, do I have to say it? They were bad to be sure, but those orange jerseys are simply among my most favorite of all time.
His record of 31-34-1 in the regular season, as well as his 1-3 record in the postseason made him (at the time) the greatest QB in Bucs history. He led that team to the playoffs three times, yet he was being paid like a backup. Less, in fact, than a dozen backups in the league. The owner of the Bucs at the time (Hugh Culverhouse) would not budge from an offer that still would have kept Williams among the lowest-paid QB's in the league. So Doug jetted to the USFL and enjoyed moderate success, though he never made the postseason there.
The USFL shut down in 1986 and thanks to having worked with Joe Gibbs in Tampa, he re-joined his former offensive coordinator in Washington, serving as the backup to Jay Schroeder. That season, Williams would come off the bench not once, not twice, but THRICE to lead the Skins to victory. When the Redskins made the playoffs, Coach Gibbs decided to go with Doug as our starter (even though in his two starts that season, the Redskins had lost.)
The rest, as they say, is history. The team fought their way into the Super Bowl, and peed all over John Elway's parade. As the Super Bowl MVP, Williams threw for 340 yds, and 4 TDs. He became the first African American to play in and win a Super Bowl, and he was an absolute hero to all Redskins fans.
Interestingly (because of the company he keeps in this article), he found himself in another of Washington's quarterback controversies, this time between him and Mark Rypien. Williams peaked in the Super Bowl, and injuries kept him from really being a huge favorite in the competition between him and Rypien. Instead of the bitterness and vitriol that had been such a mainstay of these QB controversies, what transpired between Rypien and Williams was nothing short of a love-fest. They wore T-shirts that expressed support for the other--a twist on the "I'm for Sonny" and "I'm for Billy" slogans that divided Redskins fans in the 70s. This picture will always stand out as the lasting memory of Doug Williams for many Redskins fans:
There were other #17's in our history. In fact, there is one out there right now--Jason Campbell. As much as I love JC, I can't include him in there with Billy Kilmer and Doug Williams. But I also wouldn't lump him in with Danny Wuerffel (here is a link to a Sportscenter bit on Wuerffel that paints him a little better than the memories we have), Rob Johnson, or John Friesz! I can't believe John Friesz was a QB here, sandwiched nicely between the Mark Rypien/Cary Conklin/Rich Gannon era and the Gus Frerotte era.
I will say this about JC (cue the dead horse)--I think we will find out this year that he is not only good enough to be our starter, but good enough to get this team into the playoffs and into contention for a title.
As always, we are eager to hear your favorite moments and stories about these players and any others who wore #17.
Who do you guys like at #18-#20?