QB Position No Longer A Black And White Issue

By Off the BASN Sports Wire
Updated: November 29, 2004

Byron Leftwich & Daunte Culpepper

MINNEAPOLIS — As James Harris stood on the sideline before Sunday’s game and watched the two starting quarterbacks — Daunte Culpepper of the Minnesota Vikings and Byron Leftwich of the Jacksonville Jaguars — warm up, he knew it was all worth it.

All the waiting. All the wondering. All the worrying.

All those years when he heard the ridiculous whispers about how a black man lacked the intelligence to play quarterback — the most cerebral position in the NFL. All those questions every week about the color of his skin instead of the quality of his play.

“I am so happy that young men get the opportunity now to play this game and play any position they want,” said Harris, the Jaguars’ vice president of player personnel, before the Jags’ 27-16 loss to the Minnesota Vikings. “People don’t use the term black quarterback anymore; they just say quarterback.”

On this Sunday, Harris watched Leftwich, one of the best young quarterbacks in the game, face off with Culpepper, one of the best quarterbacks in the game — period. Last Sunday, Harris watched Jaguars’ backup QB David Garrard face off with Tennessee Titans star Steve McNair. All four are quarterbacks who happen to be black, not black quarterbacks.

In fact, the Jaguars — with Leftwich, Garrard and third-teamer Quinn Gray — are the first team in NFL history to have its entire quarterback roster made up of blacks. A decade ago, this would have been a huge story; now it barely merits mention.

“Nobody even thinks twice about it anymore,” Harris said. “But isn’t that the way it should be?”

Harris, perhaps more than anyone, knows it wasn’t always that way. He was a superstar in college who led Grambling to a share of the Black College national championship in 1967. He was a pure pocket passer and, at 6 feet 4 and 210 pounds, had the prototype NFL body. If he’d been born white, he would have been a sure first-round draft pick. Instead, the Buffalo Bills of the American Football League drafted him in the eighth round, 192nd overall. And almost immediately, the Bills tried to persuade him to switch positions.

“At that time, it was totally unrealistic to think a black man would get a fair chance to play quarterback,” Harris remembers.

Eventually, after moving out west and joining the Los Angeles Rams, Harris did get his opportunity. He was one of the league’s top passers in 1974 and became the first black quarterback to ever start and win a playoff game.

Much has changed since then. Black quarterbacks have won Super Bowl MVPs (Doug Williams); they’ve been drafted No. 1 overall (Michael Vick) and they’ve been paid more than any other player in the league (Donovan McNabb).

And on Sunday, two of the best, Leftwich and Culpepper, dueled underneath the Metrodome roof as a sellout crowd of mostly white fans screamed their approval. It’s not about the color of your skin anymore; it’s about your touchdown-to-interceptions ratio.

And, get this, after the game was over Sunday, not a single white reporter approached Culpepper and asked the infamous question asked of Doug Williams all those years ago.

“Doug, how long have you been a black quarterback?” the reporter asked.

“All my life,” Williams replied.

Yes, Daunte Culpepper says he has a lot to be thankful for on this post-Thanksgiving weekend.

“I can’t tell you how grateful I am for guys like James Harris and Doug Williams and some of the other pioneers who went through those tough times,” Culpepper says. “Those guys went through it and made it easier for guys like me. Without their struggles, I’d probably be an outside linebacker right now.”

Instead he is one of the best quarterbacks in the game.

No color-coded qualifier needed.