I Am Don McPherson, And I Am A Quarterback

In 1987, the talk of black quarterbacks leading their respective teams to a national title was at its paramount.  Jamelle Holieway of Oklahoma, Steve Taylor of Nebraska and Tony Rice of Notre Dame were all candidates for the crowning achievement. As the year played out and rivaled teams continued to cancel each others plans for an undefeated season, a six-foot, 185-pound senior from Brooklyn, NY was shining brightest.

Don McPherson was an outstanding quarterback who was recruited by some 70 colleges, including Miami, Michigan and Iowa. Some of the schools wanted him to use his speed and agility as a running back, wide receiver or defensive back—the traditional fate of black quarterback prospects. But McPherson flatly refused to change positions. 

"I was very direct," McPherson says. "I told them, 'If I'm not going to get a sincere shot at quarterback, I'm not going to your school. It's that simple."

When then Syracuse head coach Dick MacPherson told Don that he would not move him to a different position unless he told him to, the choice was easy. McPherson was a very good quarterback for Syracuse. Some may say serviceable in his first season as the starter in 1985. However the light would change from yellow to green as the following two seasons were somewhat majestic. In the aforementioned season of 1987, not only did he rejuvenate the Orangemen’s football program, he eclipsed every expectation that anyone could have hoped for. Expected to be mediocre once again, McPherson’s squad would finish the regular season undefeated with an 11-0 record and the No. 4 ranking in the nation. It was the first time in 28 years that Syracuse achieved an unblemished record. In his combined junior and senior seasons, McPherson completed 271 of his 498 passes for 4,168 yards, rushed 301 times for 722 more and accounted (by throwing, rushing or catching) for 46 touchdowns during SU's 22 games. He was, simply, an offensive franchise. And one, with a 16-2 record in his last 18 starts, easily recognizable.

During his magical run in ’87, McPherson put together a six-game stretch that was nothing short of spectacular: 

Penn State: 336 yards passing and three touchdowns. Also, two rushing touchdowns. A 48-21 victory and 6-0 record.

Colgate: 244 yards passing and four touchdowns. Also, one reception of a touchdown pass from Drummond. A 52-6 victory; 7-0.

Pittsburgh: 178 yards passing and two touchdowns. Also, one rushing touchdown. A 24-10 win and an 8-0 record.

Navy: 197 yards passing and two touchdowns. A 34-10 victory and 9-0.

Boston College: 211 yards passing and two touchdowns. Moreover, the direction of seven consecutive scoring drives and a 45-17 victory, moving to 10-0.

West Virginia: 246 yards passing and two touchdowns, including the one to Kelly that helped secure both a 32-31 victory and an unbeaten season at 11-0.

While averaging nearly 40 points per game during the stretch and finishing the season with nothing but victories, the voters were still not impressed enough to choose McPherson over the more recognizable candidate, Notre Dame’s Tim Brown. Although he finished second on the Heisman ballots, he would sweep all of the awards for the top quarterback in college football.


Upon leaving Syracuse, McPherson was a determined young man who, despite prognosticators repeatedly suggesting that he switch positions and play running back or wide receiver for a shot to play in the NFL, remained a quarterback. So much so that he wrote letters to all 28 franchises insisting that they either keep him at quarterback or ignore him. In the sixth round of the NFL draft that year, the then Eagles coach Buddy Ryan answered that letter and took the chance on McPherson.  

Don would only last two and a half seasons in the NFL before playing four more in the CFL. After retiring from football in 1994, McPherson joined the staff of Northeastern University's Center for the Study of Sport in Society, before becoming the first executive director of the Sports Leadership Institute at Adelphi University. As a feminist and social activist he has founded several outreach and mentoring programs, and regularly speaks at college campuses as a critic of gender roles, stating that the standard constructions of masculinity and femininity both limit men's emotions and overall well-being as well as contribute to "gendered violence" such as domestic violence. To learn more visit http://www.donaldmcpherson.com.  

#9 deserves #RESPECT both on and off the field.