A Black Quarterback In the Super Bowl – It Still Does Matters

By Doug Lesmerises
Updated: January 20, 2005

Atlanta's Michael Vick and Eagles' Donovan McNabb and
Atlanta’s Michael Vick and Eagles’ Donovan McNabb

PHILADELPHIA, PA — For the third time in NFL history, an African-American quarterback will start in the Super Bowl. Whether that player is the Eagles’ Donovan McNabb or Atlanta’s Michael Vick will be determined Sunday in the NFC championship game.

Either way, I didn’t think that mattered anymore. I considered myself somewhat enlightened to no longer talk about race at the quarterback position. It seemed like progress had been made since Doug Williams’ breakthrough Super Bowl win with Washington in 1988, even though Tennessee’s Steve McNair is the only other African-American to follow him, reaching the 2000 Super Bowl, when the Titans lost to St. Louis.

There were six African-Americans holding starting quarterback jobs in the NFL this season, and McNabb, Vick and Minnesota’s Daunte Culpepper were elected as the three NFC quarterbacks for the Pro Bowl. Last season, 12 African-Americans started at least one game at quarterback. With McNabb, Rodney Peete and Randall Cunningham, the Eagles have had a black quarterback on the roster since 1985.

In the past seven years, black quarterbacks have started in eight of the 14 conference championship games.

So to ask McNabb or Vick a question regarding their skin color would have been almost an insult in my mind. To me, the black quarterback issue was a nonissue.

“Because you’re not a black guy,” said Eagles third-string quarterback Jeff Blake, a 13-year NFL veteran and one of 12 African-Americans to fill the 96 QB jobs in the league this season. “Let me put you in my body and you will notice.”

Everyone noticed Wednesday.

Asked a question about playing against a big-name quarterback like Vick, McNabb brought up the point.

“It’s a special weekend for myself and for him, because this is an opportunity for an African-American quarterback to represent in the Super Bowl,” McNabb said. “It hasn’t happened since Steve McNair.”

It is the first time that two black quarterbacks have gone head to head in a game this significant.

“The larger meaning,” McNabb said, “is that we’ve kind of stepped over the negative stepping stone of people saying that an African-American quarterback can’t lead his team to the Super Bowl.”

Vick also considers this game a milestone.

“It shows how far we’ve come, how far this league has come,” Vick said. “So, this game does mean a lot to me. Like Donovan said, it’s a big step for all of us.”

Other Eagles players care, too.

Said defensive end Hugh Douglas: “It’s important for the whole stigma that black quarterbacks aren’t as smart as white quarterbacks. Every time you hear about Michael Vick, you never hear about his quarterback skills. You hear about his athleticism. When you talk about [white Indianapolis quarterback] Peyton Manning, you always hear about how smart he is and how great he is for that position. Whether they know it or not, [media members] are always stereotyping black quarterbacks.”

Blake was the real expert. He doesn’t believe that stereotype really exists anymore. But he is certain that black athletes don’t get a fair shot at playing quarterback in the NFL. He sees NFL defensive backs and receivers who were high school quarterbacks before being asked to switch positions in college. He sees black quarterbacks playing in the Canadian Football League who he is convinced could play in the NFL if given the chance.

“It’s something we think about and talk about all the time,” Blake said. “We don’t make it a big issue, because there’s nothing we can do about it. We know that we’re a minority in the position and we have to play better than the next guy. We have to be exceptional; we have to bring something extra to the table. We can’t just be the average guy playing that position.”

So they have to acknowledge what will happen Sunday. They have to talk about it before a room full of media members that included just a handful of black reporters.

“What our society does is try to get past things, and if it’s the past, we don’t want to discuss it anymore,” said Wilmington Mayor James Baker, a former athlete and a big Eagles fan. “But if you do that, you never see the need for progress and you fall back into a pattern you thought you were out of, because no one is talking about it.”

Said former Wilmington Mayor James Sills, another Eagles fan: “For a long number of years, many Americans though African-Americans were not up to that type of leadership position. Those attitudes are not as widespread as they were 20 years ago, but they still exist. Players like Donovan and Michael Vick help refute that.”

There will be a black quarterback in the Super Bowl. The quarterbacks and their teammates care about that. They talked about it.

If it matters to them, it should matter to all of us.