WASHINGTON _ On Jan. 1, 1980, J.C. Watts was leading the
University of Oklahoma on a comeback drive against Florida State
as the final seconds ticked away in the Orange Bowl game.
With less than two minutes left, the quarterback found a
receiver in the end zone to put the Sooners within a point,
17-16. Seconds later he connected again on a two-point
conversion, winning the game and earning most valuable player
Today, Julius Caesar Watts seeks glory in a different arena.
A Republican from Norman, Watts is perhaps the most
controversial of the 73 GOP rookies in the House of
He is a black man with deeply conservative ideas that fit well
in the new Capitol Hill power structure, but are decidedly
different from those of most black lawmakers preceding him.
Watts wants to reshape the welfare system and limit its use,
build more prisons and hold offenders longer, force Congress to
balance the budget and spend more money on national defense.
He has said he believes that the social programs that many
blacks see as a safety net for minorities are part of a "decaying
system" that is "anti-opportunity, anti-family and anti-property,
and encourages irresponsibility."
He has said he thinks that Congress needs to eliminate funding
for inner-city midnight basketball, which advocates say has kept
kids off the streets at night in dangerous, crime-plagued
"The real question we need to ask is why are these kids on the
street at midnight at all?" Watts said. "Where are their
Watts says he won't support funding for those programs at the
urging of black leaders in the House.
"I didn't come to Congress to represent black people," he said
in an interview as he settled into his Capitol Hill office. "I
came here to represent America."
The congenial Watts, with athletic good looks and a disarming
demeanor, has found himself at times facing a furious attack from
the left. But like the Sooner quarterback who was Orange Bowl
MVP, he has stood his ground fearlessly.
At a conference last month in Washington, Watts was expressing
his ideas for revamping welfare when he was asked if he had
"forgotten his black constituency."
Unfazed, he countered that he would not be "pigeonholed" into
accepting the beliefs of others.
"I think she was probably saying that I need to restrict
myself to working for black people," he said.
"It's always been my belief that you should do the right
thing, but for the right reason. Some would only want you to
define the law to favor a certain group of people, define the law
to favor blacks or whites or men or women or Hispanics.
"Dr. King said a threat to justice anywhere is a threat to
justice everywhere," Watts said, referring to slain civil-rights
leader Martin Luther King Jr. "We need to fight injustice in
whatever community it is in."
Watts grew up a Southern Baptist in Eufaula. A star on the
local high school football team, he was recruited and signed by
Barry Switzer, then coaching a Sooner football program that was
as good as any in the nation.
He was raised by J.C. Watts Sr., a Baptist minister, now 71,
and his mother, Helen, who died last year. The fifth of six
children, J.C. was a likable, quiet youngster with a penchant for
hard work, his father said.
J.C. Watts Sr., who still lives in Eufaula on J.C. Watts Jr.
Avenue, said that he never expected his son to walk the halls of
Congress, but that he's not surprised.
"If you raise your children right _ to be good, honest,
hard-working people _ they'll surprise you with how far they can
go," he said, adding that he agrees with most of his son's
The younger J.C. started two years at quarterback for the
Sooners and Switzer, now head coach of the Dallas Cowboys, and
led the team to Orange Bowl wins in 1979 and 1980. …