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Archive for Friday, January 26, 2007

Coaches’ race becomes hot topic of Super Bowl

January 26, 2007

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When Doug Williams became the first black quarterback to start a Super Bowl 19 years ago, the buildup to the game between his Washington Redskins and the Denver Broncos was "all Williams all the time."

Including a question that has always been considered No. 1 on the list of wacky Super Bowl queries and has generated a controversy of its own: "How long have you been a black quarterback?"

The racial angle will be back twofold next week as close friends Tony Dungy of Indianapolis and Lovie Smith of Chicago become the first black coaches in the game. That theme overshadows all others, including Peyton Manning's pursuit of his first Super Bowl ring and Dungy's quest for validation as one of the best coaches of the last decade.

Still, it's likely the coaches will be asked more about their skin color than about football. And given the 24/7 nature of news these days, the Dungy-Smith matchup could be the biggest Super Bowl sideshow since Williams' trailblazing appearance, one in which he led the Redskins to a 42-10 victory.

"Nobody said the Washington Redskins against the Denver Broncos, which is what it really was," says Williams, who threw for 340 yards and four touchdowns and was the game's MVP. "It was me, a black quarterback, against the great John Elway."

This week will be more than a sideshow. It will be a significant event that demonstrates there is still a lot to be discussed about race relations in the NFL and, by extension, in the United States.

"This is one of the great moments in American history," the Rev. Jesse Jackson said this week. "It really is. It comes 60 years after Jackie Robinson broke through. It's an American feel-good moment."

There's more to this game, of course:

¢ Manning's high profile and his chase for a Super Bowl ring to add to a string of accomplishments in nine seasons, including two MVP awards and a single-season record for touchdown passes.

¢ The comparison between these Bears and their 1985 counterparts, the last Chicago team to make the Super Bowl.

¢ Any number of individual stories that for a week will turn obscure offensive linemen and special teamers into objects of worldwide scrutiny.

None of the craziness is new.

Even before the Colts beat the Patriots and the Bears beat the Saints to advance to this game, people were anticipating it.

Before the championship games, both coaches were questioned repeatedly about the significance of their potential meeting. Dungy was reticent because, like any coach, he was reluctant to look beyond the game at hand to the next one, especially with no guarantee there would be a next one for Indy.

Now that both coaches have reached the summit, Dungy is prepared to answer the questions.

Indianapolis defensive tackle Anthony "Booger" McFarland spoke for many of the black players in a league when he noted, "It shows that for Tony and Lovie to come this far that there are at least some organizations that have confidence that black men can be head coaches."

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