Throughout NFL history, many black QBs have encountered obstacles preventing them from breaking into the league and hanging on long enough to realize their potential.
The majority surely received more quick hooks than second looks. While some franchises have never had a brother start at QB, there is one franchise that would make Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. proud.
The Vikings have been known for being open to acquiring and developing black QBs. In fact, you can call them “Reclamation Town” or “Franchise Affirmative Action,” because since the early ‘90s the Vikings have been the true second- chance destination for presumably washed up, veteran and underappreciated black QBs. They’ve even drafted black QBs of questionable talent and given them a shot at greatness. Imagine that.
When it comes to signal callers, they are the NFL’s true chocolate city.
That’s why it was no surprise that ex-Tampa Bay QB Josh Freeman—recently recently released by the Bucs—ended up signing with Minnesota.
In 2010 Freeman was the toast of Tampa, tossing 25 TDs with just six interceptions. He’s been erratic the last couple of seasons, throwing a gang of picks and he really doesn’t utilize his legs anymore. After leading Tampa to a 0-3 start, Freeman became HC Greg Schiano’s fall guy and Minnesota’s latest opportunity to fix a black QB who they feel still has star power.
"I think Josh Freeman is a good player," a Vikings source told ESPN's Josina Anderson. "We just have to figure out where things went wrong in Tampa Bay so we can help him. He is too young not to progress."
He’s at least as good as Christian Ponder and Matt Cassell, who have engineered the Vikings’ shaky 1-3 record. Despite Minnesota’s struggles, they are just two games behind the Chicago Bears and Detroit Lions in the NFC North. With a revived Freeman at the helm executing a new offensive system, and Purple Jesus in the backfield, why not take a crack at capturing lightening in a bottle…again?
Minnesota, as early as 1994, when they signed Warren Moon, the fourth-leading passer in pro football history, has been like a Soul Train line for brothers with wings.
After a decade of greatness leading the Houston Oiler’s revolutionary Run-N-Shoot offense and ripping down walls of prejudice, Moon arrived as a supposed diminished great. All he did was crush franchise records, tossing for 8,492 yards and 51 TDs in his first two seasons, and left a deep impression on the franchise.
During this period Minnesota even sported a black HC in Dennis Green, this at a time when the PGA golf tour and NFL HCs probably had the same number of African-American representatives.
The Vikings first major move in the (owner) Red McCombs Era was to name former Philadelphia Eagles star Randall Cunningham their starter. The four-time Pro Bowler and 1990 NFL MVP had just completed an illustrious 11-year career with the Eagles and signed in 1997 to back up Brad Johnson. While Moon was a traditional pure pocket passer, Cunningham was the originator of the recent crop of freakishly-athletic quarterbacks, who put it down through the air and with the athleticism of their legs.
Before Cunningham became the “Ultimate Weapon,” it was unheard of to see a QB hurdling defenders, flying through the air and speed-burning pass rushers with ease.
Cunningham was considered disintegrating goods by Philly, but went on to orchestrate one of the most prolific offensive juggernauts of all-time in 1998, as Minnesota posted a then-NFL record 556 points and boasted a 15-1 record. It was his finest season as a passer and his last as a healthy superstar too. Cunningham led the league with a 106.0 passer rating, making him the first black quarterback to lead the league in that category. In total, the father of spread option QBs threw for nearly 30,000 yards and rushed for almost 5,000.
The Vikes drafted another black QB Daunte Culpepper, a physically dominating, gifted “project” out of UCF in the first-round of the 1999 draft. In the 2001 season, one of Culpepper’s backups was a brother named Spergon Wynn. Wynn was drafted by the Cleveland Browns in the sixth round of the 2000 NFL Draft out of obscure Southwest Texas State. He couldn’t stick with the Browns and by 2001 was playing for the Amsterdam Admirals of the Canadian Football League. The Vikings gave him a second NFL shot as the third-string QB from 2001-2002. After season-ending injuries to Culpepper and second-stringer Todd Bouman, Wynn played in the last three games of the 2001 season, starting 2 of them. Then, he was back in the CFL to finish out his career.
Zygi Wolf assumed principal ownership in 2005. He carried on tradition, gambling on another project in Alabama State QB Tarvaris Jackson (Rnd 2, 64th pick) in 2006. Jackson started the 2007 season and parts of the next two seasons with mixed results. Though he wasn’t a consistent starter, they didn’t toss him to the curb, keeping him as a backup until 2011.
Jackson was replaced by former Philly great Donovan McNabb. McNabb was an elite QB for over a decade (1999-2009) and a Top 3 black QB to ever do it, before bouncing to the Redskins in 2010 and having the worst season of his career. The six-time pro bowler hit rock bottom when he got benched for Rex Grossman, but Minnesota gave him one last shot to be “that dude” when they traded for him in 2011. McNabb didn’t fare much better, going 1-5 as a starter for the 3-13 Vikings and retiring by season’s end.
Let’s not forget Joe Webb. It was no longer a shock to anyone when Minnesota picked the little-known college QB in the sixth-round of the 2010 NFL Draft. Webb’s situation perfectly exemplifies the against-the-grain thought process of the Vikings organization concerning QBs.
He was originally drafted as a wide receiver prospect, but then head coach Brad Childress wanted him to exclusively play quarterback. His reign as an NFL signal caller was short-lived and Webb’s back at receiver now, but not for the same racist and prehistoric reasons that used to turn promising signal callers into secondary soldiers.
Minnesota’s QB philosophy is totally contradictory to what has been the historical and social M.O. of the NFL.
Webb was hot garbage as a QB, but the Vikes still gave him a shot at one of the 32 most coveted and white-dominated jobs in America, along with a chance to fail like so many of his white predecessors.
Now, Freeman is getting the same opportunity that Moon, Cunningham and McNabb got, and to the Viking’s benefit he’s much younger. If past Minnesota history holds form, “Freeman, All Day” might be the new winning slogan in Vikings land.