Woman's Childhood Dream Leads to Hall of Fame

"No one ever said, 'Women don't do this,' but I got the message loud and clear," recalled Williams

A walk into Charean Williams' memorabilia room at her Arlington home is a football fan's dream.

The walls and shelves hold autographed pictures and mementos of a reporting career spent covering the greats of the game.

"A lot of these were at the Hall of Fame with Jerry (Jones) and Troy Aikman and Rayfield Wright," she explained. "Jim Brown's pretty cool, and the Raymond Berry. He played at SMU."

Williams is in her 25th year of asking questions, getting information and writing stories about the plays and players of the NFL.

And, now her name will have a place in the Pro Football Hall of Fame as the 2018 winner of the Dick McCann Award.

It's presented by Pro Football Writers of America. Williams is the first woman in its 50-year history to receive the award.

"In my profession, there's no higher award that you can achieve," she said. "This is the ultimate. There will never be anything higher than this."

Williams' road to the Hall of Fame was paved in childhood. She was in the second grade, growing up in Beaumont and already a die-hard Dallas Cowboys fan.

"My MawMaw, my mom's mom, lived in Hillsboro, and she was a huge Dallas Cowboys fan. And every Sunday after the Cowboys played, we would call and talk on the phone and dissect the games," Williams said.

The local paper featured the 7-year-old girl as the youngest Cowboys fan after a tip from her teacher.

"I asked my teacher, Cindy Bridges, 'How far is it to Dallas?' and she said, '300 miles. It's about five hours. Why do you want to know?' And, I said,'Pfew. I'm going to marry Roger Staubach,' and went back to what I was doing, as if, duh, what a stupid question. She thought it was funny, so she called the local newspaper, The Beaumont Enterprise."

Even then, Williams believed the Cowboys were her destiny. She was so serious about America's Team, and Roger Staubach, she'd practice play-by-play in the backyard.

"We had a metal A-frame swing set in the backyard. And I would climb up on it and take the metal cap off, and I wanted to hear my voice reverberating through there. And, so Roger Staubach probably threw 500 passes to Drew Pearson as I'm practicing play-by-play in the swing set," she said. 

Williams earned a reputation among classmates as a Cowboys guru. She recalls a story from middle school.

"There were two boys arguing over what number Leroy Jordan was. They said, "Hey, there's Charean. Let's ask her.' And they said, 'Hey, Charean, what number is Leroy Jordan?' And, I said, '55.' Again, as if what a stupid question. Everybody knows that," she said with a smile. "And my parents stayed behind to kinda see what the boys were gonna say, and one of them said, "See, I told you!', and the other boy paid him a dollar. My mom later said, 'They just took your word for it.' And, I said, of course, I was the expert on the Dallas Cowboys." 

It all made sense to Williams. Her lifelong goal was to grow up and be a reporter assigned to cover the Cowboys.

She had no idea that what she envisioned for herself would be something few women — at that time — dared to do.

"When I was growing up, I didn't know women didn't do this. It's just what I wanted to do, so I was gonna go do it."

And, she did. She started in Florida in 1994 covering the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Five years later, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram brought her on to cover the National Football League and her beloved Cowboys. 

"It was an honor to get to do exactly what I wanted to do, and, at a pretty young age, too, when I got to live out my dream," she said.

That dream includes 24 Super Bowls, seven Olympic Games, and yes, interviews with her childhood hero.

"And the first time I got to interview Roger, of course, I told him the story of being in the second grade and wanting to marry him and he laughs. He thought it was really cute and he made me tell his wife Marianne the story when i saw them together later," Williams said. "I think getting to interview Roger, having been a fan growing up, every time I get to talk to him on the phone or interview him in person, it's pretty special. Because you know, when you have a hero, a lot of times, and you actually get to meet 'em and interview 'em, they don't live up to that hero status. I think he's one of those rare people who lives up to that hero status. So that was probably one of the most special things I've done is getting to interview Roger and write a story on Roger. That meant a lot."

Now in her 25th year, Charean works for Pro Football Talk with NBC Sports. She's earned respect and credibility for knowing the game and being fair in her stories. 

Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones acknowledged that in a note he sent her after it was announced she'd won the writing award. Others in the league from players to fellow writers passed along their congratulations, too, but the one that impacted Williams the most was the text from a young woman working as the sports editor of a college newspaper.

"It said, 'I want to be you when I grow up.' And that probably meant the most to me of anybody who contacted me — Jerry Jones, Jason Witten, whoever you want to name, my peers — that probably meant the most to me of anything I got was that text message," she said. 

Williams did not set out to be a trailblazer, but she became one. She was often the sole female in the locker room. There were even times she was not invited into that space because of her gender.

"No one ever said, 'Women don't do this,' but I got the message loud and clear," said Williams. "You're working in a man's world and they're not used to women being around. Like I said, 30 years later, things have changed a lot."

Williams went on to become one of the first two women of the Pro Football Hall of Fame selection committee in 2007. And in the 2009-2010 NF seasons, she was the first female president of the Pro Football Writers of America.

Now, that same group has bestowed up her its highest honor. The Dick McCann Award is given to a reporter who has made a long and distinguished contribution to pro football through coverage. Williams' name will be enshrined in the same place where the greats of football are immortalized.

"My name will be on a plaque outside the bust room at the NFL Hall of Fame. They don't like to use the term, "You're in 'the Hall of Fame,' but it's as high as you can go in what I do," explained Williams.

Williams, ever the writer, crafted her acceptance speech weeks before the induction ceremony. She expresses gratitude to all who helped her along the way, yet she's keenly aware of her place in football history.

"Another thing I say in there is there are 303 Hall of Famers now, or there will be after this induction weekend, they all got there for a reason. And, I never made a block or a tackle. Never threw a touchdown pass or caught one. Never ran for a touchdown. I don't know all those feelings, but all those men who are in the Hall of Fame, you couldn't have written the history of the game without them, but you had to have someone to write that history. And I hope that in some small way, I was one of those people who helped write the history of the game and help tell their stories."

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