There has been much discussion in recent years about the ability of an African American to quarterback in the NFL. Prior to the new millennium, the Warren Moon’s and Randall Cunningham’s of the world were more exceptions to the rule rather than a rewriting of the rule. It wasn’t until the late 90’s and into our current time that African American quarterbacks finally began to be taken seriously by NFL teams, scouts, coaches, the media, and everyone else in America. There is no longer any debate that African Americans are every bit as able to command and lead at the quarterback position, nor is there any debate that a person is unable to grasp complex schemes and systems based on their race.
The road to total equality in the NFL was a long one, with many sad stories along the way(Google Eldridge Dickey and Joe Gilliam). We all know that the first major breakthrough for African American quarterbacks came against our own Denver Broncos in Super Bowl XXI against the Washington Redskins. Doug Williams was never really taken seriously by coaches and was only starting in the Super Bowl because of an injury. After his Super Bowl MVP performance he slipped away into oblivion and it would take the NFL another decade before true equality was achieved.
Long before any of these guys entered the NFL there was a humble quarterback from
Interestingly, Marlin Briscoe refused to sign an agent and negotiated his own contract with the Denver Broncos. He insisted that the contract contain a provision that allowed Briscoe to be given a three day tryout at quarterback. Broncos Head Coach, Lou Saban, was so impressed that he made Briscoe the backup to starter, Steve Tensi. As fate would have it, Tensi got injured early in the season and Briscoe became the first black quarterback to start in the modern era of football.
The 1968 season would be one filled with many exciting moments. After an 0-3 start, Marlin Biscoe led the Broncos to four wins over the next five games before the season fell apart(A common theme early in Bronco history). During that amazing five game stretch, the most exciting game was the one that the Broncos had lost. Week 7 against the Chargers was a shootout. The final score was 55-44. By the end of the season, Briscoe had set many Bronco rookie records that still stand today. The Broncos finished the season a disappointing 5-9 and the following season they sent Briscoe packing.
Marlin Briscoe will forever hold the distinction as the first African American to start at the quarterback position in the modern era of pro football. Even though he was quite successful in his rookie year, he was still considered too small(5’11") to play the quarterback position and was forced to sign with the Buffalo Bills as a wide receiver. He went on to have a rather successful career at that position and even made the Pro Bowl in 1970. He was traded to the Dolphins the following season and was part of that teams perfect season in 1972. He finished his career in 1976, but to Bronco fans we will always think of him as a quarterback before anything else.
Marlin Briscoe continues his efforts to foster racial equality in football at all levels. In 2007, Briscoe was inducted into the Nebraska Sports Hall of Fame. He also has a website called Marlin Briscoe Football Camps. Thanks to him and others like him, we now have a league that is color blind and grades talent without bias or agendas.
[Note by Zappa, 05/20/08 7:51 PM PDT ] I was contacted by a person who is working on a movie about Marlin Briscoe's life and achievements. Though he spent just one season with the Broncos, it is obvious that he made a deep long lasting impact on our organization and the entire National Football League. This might be a movie worth watching: Marlin Briscoe Movie