Marlin Briscoe was drafted by the Denver Broncos in the 14th round (#357 overall) of the 1968 draft. When negotiating his contract, Briscoe stipulated his desire for a three-day tryout at quarterback before agreeing to sign as a defensive back. When starting quarterback Steve Tensi broke his collarbone and the other quarterbacks performed poorly, Briscoe became the first starting African-American quarterback in the history of the NFL. After just 11 games, he was nominated and became the first runner-up for Rookie of the Year. The Denver Broncos released him from his contract before the start of the 1969 season.
He was recently named as Mile High Report's Greatest Bronco to Wear #15.
What follows is Mile High Report's interview with Marlin Briscoe. His is truly an amazing story that offers incredible insight into what the Denver Broncos and pro-football were like in the late 1960's.
…and now Part IV of the interview with the greatest Denver Bronco to wear #15: Marlin Briscoe.
Jess Place: You mentioned Floyd Little, earlier, was there any special feelings you had when he was elected to the Hall of Fame?
Marlin Briscoe: Oh yeah, in fact Floyd invited me [...] for his induction. I thought that was something special; that he would consider me somebody that he would want at one of the greatest events in his life. I'm sorry that I couldn't make it. [...] I see him at the reunions, and he always tells the story how I saved his job in a game, when Lou Saban cut him.
Jess Place: I've heard that. What's your side of it?
Marlin Briscoe: It's a true story. We were playing Buffalo and we were winning the game in the last couple of minutes. We were ahead, so I wanted to run out the clock. If we run out the clock, the game is over. So I was calling sweeps, so we would run out time. I call out Floyd on a sweep, and he fumbled the ball. Buffalo picked it up, and ran all the way down the field and scored. Now we only had a couple of minutes [...], not even two minutes left in the game, and Saban didn't call in - he didn't send any plays [...]. So I had a play that I wanted to run, because I was calling my own plays.
On this particular play, I was going to isolate Floyd on a linebacker on a down and out and up. I figured Floyd could beat the linebacker. So, I was getting ready to call the play and I look in the huddle, and Floyd's not [there]. Fran Lynch was in the huddle. Fran didn't have the speed that Floyd had. I still had to call the play, because we didn't have enough time in the huddle. [...] So I got ready to call the play, and in runs Floyd, and Fran goes out. I call the play, and I got flushed out of the pocket, and I turned right and threw the ball. It was like 66 yards in the air - a perfect strike - and Floyd caught it. We were down on the 12, Bobby Howfield kicked the field goal, and we win the game.
I never knew what transpired between the time that Floyd wasn't in the huddle until the time that he ran into the huddle. I didn't know what was going on. I was on the field with my team, trying to win the game. I congratulate Floyd [as we] were coming off the field and Lou Saban ran up to Floyd. [He] said, "You got one more game, you got one more game." And I'm trying to figure out what he [was talking about] and then he walked away. I said, "Floyd, what's that all about?" He said, "Magician, do you realize that he cut me?" He said, "He cut me, you know, when I fumbled that ball, and I put myself back on the field." Yeah, true story, Lou had cut him.
Jess Place: Was that common for Lou to cut people on the field like that?
Marlin Briscoe: He cut his captain at half time.
Jess Place: Oh my gosh.
Marlin Briscoe: Yeah, [...]Otis Taylor [of the Kansas City Chiefs] caught a couple of post patterns on a free safety and Saban cut him at half time.
Jess Place: Basically sent him home.
Marlin Briscoe: Sent him home. He said, "My friend, hit the I-25 in the morning."
Jess Place: Oh my gosh.
Marlin Briscoe: Yeah, he was a character.
Jess Place: What is a story with the Broncos that no one knows?
Marlin Briscoe: Well, I think that back in the day, when quarterbacks, including myself, called their own plays, it was always the thought, [that] the black man could not think, throw and lead - particularly on that level. Like I said, I never considered myself a black quarterback. I went out on the field as a quarterback. That's the way I felt. I never let race become a factor in my ability to play quarterback, irrespective of what level. And the fact that, back in [...] 1968, the majority of my linemen - in fact all of my linemen - were white. Three quarters of the linemen that I had were from southern schools - Georgia, Georgia Tech, Alabama, [and] some other schools. [...] We're talking about 1968, where those white players probably come to the pros, never played with a black quarterback, in fact they never played with black players, period. Because it was a no-no - a taboo in the south - [the fact] that they would even recruit black players, let alone being a black quarterback was unheard of.
For me to be able to command the respect of those guys, I don't know how long it took, maybe it was that first game. I had that first game where they saw, hey, maybe this kid can play. And they weren't being very successful with the quarterbacks they had, so here's this guy - this kid from Omaha. He comes in and ignites the crowd and we almost pull it out. Now, all of a sudden, it's not about the color of your skin, you're out here to do a job, and so Mike Current, and Goeddeke and all those guys, my linemen, they said, "don't let nobody touch the magician." That was [...] their mindset. I was their quarterback, and they blocked for me and they played for me. We won some, we lost some, but the fact [is] that they played hard for me.
Not only did I have to gain the respect of white players, I had to gain respect from black players. A lot of those players, they never played with a black quarterback. Floyd never played with a black quarterback. You know, the only ones that played with a black quarterback was the players that came from the Gramblings, the Florida A&Ms - those schools. They still had to be convinced that, because there were none, that a black man could think, throw and lead on a professional level. That was a hurdle in itself. [...] There was a perception that a black man, as a quarterback, didn't have the intelligence or the leadership skills to guide a team, particularly in college.
Now you know, basically I should not have been the first black quarterback. There was Sandy Stevens, Wilbert Howlett, there were a lot of black quarterbacks - Jimmy Ray - who came out of college who should have got an opportunity before I did, but they were, of course, switched to another position. Also there was the fear factor that there would be a fan backlash, fans wouldn't come to the game. Well after that first game, when I almost pulled it out, we had droves of fans come to the games. [...] It was just the opposite effect [from what] the naysayers said - that fans will stop coming to the game. Well it was just the opposite. They saw this kid running around, throwing like he's crazy, running around throwing. So more fans showed up for the game than the previous games that we had..
[...] in 1969, four blacks were drafted as quarterbacks. So that experiment - my experiment - paved the way for James Harris and [three] other quarterbacks that got drafted that year [...]. If I had failed, they would not have gotten drafted [as quarterbacks] and it would have taken a lot longer for that to happen, but it happened the very next year.
One of the criticisms of Briscoe was that at 5'11", he was too short to play quarterback.
Marlin Briscoe: Those guys were six-four and above, so they couldn't use the height deal on them. I think that they said, well if he can do all this at 5'11", now we can start looking at these black quarterbacks that are tall in stature and have the arm. I feel very proud that I didn't fail in that effort, and I that was able to dispel any negative myths surrounding a black quarterback, being able to perform on the biggest stage of this sport.
Everything worked out for me, better than I could ever hope. I often tell people, I don't know if I could have quarterbacked myself into two Super Bowl rings, so-- but it is what it is, that's the truth of the story, and I went through it and I survived, more than survived, so-- but maybe it could spearhead others who feel that they don't know what to do in the face of adversity.
Hopefully this movie [details below] and my book has been able to do that, and so that's hopefully the theme. We've done the screenplay and everything else, and we're looking at investors.
Mile High Report thanks Marlin Briscoe for his time and granting this interview. Indeed, his is a story that needs to be remembered and revered. Next time you see a #15 jersey trot out onto the field, remember what that number means to pro-football and the Denver Broncos. We've got one heck of a football team with an incredible history.
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Marlin Briscoe's story is currently being developed as a major motion picture. THE MAGICIAN chronicles Marlin's successes, struggles and triumph over racism and substance abuse throughout his life. His is an inspirational and historic story that every football fan should know. For more information on the movie, go here. To visit the Marlin Briscoe store, go here.