This post was originally published on Michigan Chronicle
By Donald James
Black History Month now has another amazing story to add to its long list of accomplishments made by African Americans. After all, when Super Bowl LVII kicks off on Sunday, Feb. 12, two Black quarterbacks will face each other for the first time since the inception of the Big Game on Jan. 15, 1967.
In this year’s Super Bowl, which some are calling the “Super Quarter-Black Bowl,” Patrick Mahomes of the Kansas City Chiefs will be under center against signal caller Jalen Hurts of the Philadelphia Eagles. While the Super Bowl is about two powerful teams battling to win, it’s not lost on Mahomes or Hurts about the history-making significance of this moment in time.
“The guys that came before me and Jalen set the stage for this, and now I’m just glad we can set the stage for kids that are coming up now,” Mahomes said at a national press conference. “It’ll be a great game against two great teams and against another great quarterback. I’m excited.”
“I think it’s something that’s worthy of being noted, and it is history,” Hurts said in a national interview. “I think it’s only been seven African American quarterbacks to play in the Super Bowl, so to be the first for something this big is pretty cool.”
The seven Black Super Bowl QBs are Doug Williams, Steve McNair, Donovan McNabb, Colin Kaepernick, Russell Wilson (twice), Cam Newton, and Patrick Mahomes (three times). And, in the history of the Super Bowl, there have only been three Black quarterbacks to win: Williams (Super Bowl XXII in 1988), Wilson (Super Bowl XLVIII in 2014), and Mahomes (Super Bowl LIV in 2020).
Williams was emotional after learning of this year’s Super Bowl matchup at quarterback.
“I had tears of joy in my eyes because I had an opportunity to witness this,” said Williams. “I just sat there and said to myself, ‘Man, we got two Black quarterbacks playing in the Super Bowl. Things like that give me chills.’ ”
There are many theories about why there have been periods of “Blackouts of Black quarterbacks” in the NFL’s 100-plus-year history. Most theories are rooted in systemic racism and perceived stereotypical beliefs about African Americans in general and Black males in particular. For starters, through much of the NFL’s history, White team owners and top executives believed Black QBs didn’t have the mindset, focus, discipline, intelligence, work ethic, and other leadership qualities – on and off the field – to successfully guide a pro team to championship status.
Interestingly, shortly after the American Professional Football Association started in 1920 and morphed into the National Football League in 1922, Fritz Pollard, the following year, became its first Black quarterback when he played for the Akron Pros. George Taliaferro was the first African American quarterback drafted by an NFL team, when the Chicago Bears picked him in the 13th round in 1949. Taliaferro, who played multiple positions, chose to play instead for the Los Angeles Dons of the All-America Football Conference before eventually playing for the Baltimore Colts (1953) and Philadelphia Eagles (1955).
Willie Thrower, a Michigan State University football standout, was the first Black quarterback to play in the Big Ten Conference in the late 1940s. While Thrower wasn’t drafted by the NFL, he did sign a one-year contract with the Chicago Bears in 1953 as a quarterback.
In 1955. the Green Bay Packers drafted African American Charlie Brackins, making him the first quarterback ever drafted into the NFL from a Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU) institution. Brackins played collegiately at Prairie View A&M University in Texas.
Over the years, about a dozen HBCU QBs have been drafted by NFL teams, including Doug Williams, James Harris, Matthew Reed, Joe Adams (Grambling State University), Steve McNair (Alcorn A&M University), Joe Gilliam and Eldridge Dickey (Tennessee State University), Parnell Dickinson (Mississippi Valley State), Jay Walker (Howard University), Ja’Juan Seider (Florida A&M University), and Tavaris Jackson (Alabama State University).
Dickey, in 1968, was the first Black quarterback ever drafted in the first round by an American Football League or National Football League team. However, he never got the opportunity to play quarterback for the Oakland Raiders. The team made him a wide receiver and punt returner, much to his dismay.
Yet, 1968 was magical for another Black rookie: Marlin “The Magician” Briscoe, who opened the eyes of those who doubted Black quarterbacks’ skills and abilities to lead a pro team. Although Briscoe was drafted in the 14th round by the Denver Broncos as a cornerback, the gifted player, who could play multiple positions, took over as quarterback after the White starter, Steve Tensi, was injured. By stepping in as the new starter, Briscoe, the rookie, became the first African American to play quarterback in the American Football League (AFL).
Despite playing well in the five games he started – 1,589 passing yards, 14 touchdowns, and 308 rushing yards – Briscoe wasn’t allowed to compete for the starting QB job in 1969. He was traded to the Buffalo Bills as a wide receiver. Ironically, the Bills drafted Black quarterback James Harris out of Grambling in 1969, who became the first Black QB “to start” an NFL season. Many of Harris’ incredible passes were caught by Briscoe, who eventually moved on to play for the Miami Dolphins, Detroit Lions, and New England Patriots. Briscoe won two Super Bowls with Miami – as a wide receiver.
Since Briscoe and Harris’ historical firsts, some of the Black quarterbacks who have played in the NFL have included, but are not limited to, Warren Moon, Donovan McNabb, Jeff Blake, Cam Newton, Dak Prescott, Michael Vick, Daunte Culpepper, Randle Cunningham, Doug Williams, Russell Wilson, Lamar Jackson, Jameis Winston, DeShone Watson, Patrick Mahomes, and Jalen Hurts.
In the Motor City, the Detroit Lions’ Black quarterbacks were Rodney Peete (1989- 1993), Andre Ware (1990 – 1993), Charlie Batch (1998-2001), and Daunte Culpepper (2008-2009).
If the 2022 NFL season indicates how far Black QBs have come, it won’t be long before two other quarterbacks meet on future Super Bowl turfs. At the start of the 2022 season, a record 11 Black quarterbacks were starters in the NFL.
“Historically, due to myths and falsehoods, there was an under-representation of Black quarterbacks,” Troy Vincent, the executive vice president of NFL Football Operations, said in a statement issued Week 1 of the 2022 season. “Today, the NFL is proud of the advancements of these talented men as starting quarterbacks. We look forward to seeing their continued success and accomplishments, not just through this season, but also into the future.”