Black NFL Quarterback History

By Gary Norris Gray BASN Staff Reporter
Updated: August 31, 2011

Willie Thrower

Willie Thrower


The Face of the National Football League happens to be the man behind center; yes, the quarterback. Most owners want the quarterback to look like himself, so, there is an inherent conflict when a team hires a black quarterback.

In 2011 there are six starting quarterbacks and three are rookies. The sports intelligentsia will cast weary eyes towards these three fine athletes.

Go back in time to the very first Black man behind center. He was Fritz Pollard in 1920 who played for the Hammond Pros. Pollard would also be the first Black professional football head coach.

Willie Thrower of the Chicago Bears in 1953 was the first NFL quarterback. Thrower played only one game. The League had a secret agreement to keep African Americans out of the game until the Civil Rights movement in the 1960’s. This band was led by the Washington Football Club.

In the 1960’s the AFL American Football League drafted players from HCBU’s Historically Black Colleges and Universities which the NFL ignored. The Kansas City Chiefs, the Oakland Raiders, and the Houston Oilers made progress in the league with talented Black stars. The AFL was faster, younger, had players of color, and more was exciting than the NFL.

The first AFL Black quarterback was Marlon Briscoe of the Denver Broncos. The Broncos wanted Briscoe to play wide receiver and when he would not agree he was traded to Buffalo.

This is a phenomenon that many Black college quarterbacks face when entering the NFL back then and today. They are asked repeat to play other positions like wide receiver, tight end, free safety,

or play defense. The question is how many white quarterbacks were ever asked to be tight end, wide receivers, or play defense?

The Pittsburgh Steelers created a new name for this position called “Slash” an icon on the keyboard of a typewriter. Cordell Stewart became the first Slash in the NFL.

Black college quarterbacks who have switched positions in 2008 are Antwaan Randel El, Ronald Curry, Corry Jankins, Darnell Dinkens, Reggie McNeal, and Michael Robinson. Between 2009-2010 14 more African American quarterbacks did not get the call to go behind center.

The most recent effort to change position in 2011 was with rookies from Ohio State‘s Terrell Pryor and Auburn‘s Cam Newton. It will fail because both are very good quarterbacks and should start for the Oakland Raiders and Carolina Panthers. Because of this factor, the scheme will be unsuccessful. Example:- September 4, Cam Newton passed for over 400 yards with two touchdowns and another score running. The New Carolina star broke the rookie record of Indianapolis Colts quarterback Payton Manning.

African American quarterbacks have to prove that they are worthy of the position of field general and can lead teams to victory time and time again. Remember Warren Moon ( Minn. Vikings- Houston Oilers), Randell Cunningham (Phila. Eagles-Minn. Vikings), Donavan McNabb (Phila. Eagles- Minn. Vikings), Vince Evans (Chicago Bears-Oakland Raiders), Rodney Peete (Det. Lions-Carolina Panthers), Jeff Blake (New York Jets), John Walton (New York Jets), Steve McNair (Tenn. Titians) a man who broke many HBCU passing records, and Donte Culpepper(Minn. Vikings-Tenn. Titians). These men paved the way for the Black rookie quarterbacks of today.

Jefferson Joe Street” Gilliam was never given the chance to lead the powerful Pittsburgh Steelers of the 1970’s even with his 4-1-1 record he was pulled for All Pro Terry Bradshaw.

James Harris from Grambling State University of the Los Angeles Rams was the first African American to lead his team to a playoff victory. Players complained that he threw too hard and caused sprain fingers for receivers who caught his spirals all year long. Harris never got his due.

Another Grambling State University graduate Doug Williams guided the Washington Football Club to a Super Bowl victory beating the Denver Broncos. Williams shattered eight Super Bowl records. He also shattered the myth that African American quarterbacks could not lead a team to a championship.

©Copyrighted Gary Norris Gray @ Gray Leopard Prod