When thinking about the history of black quarterbacks in the NFL, many will call the names of Doug Williams or Warren Moon. Or they may mention names such as Randall Cunningham, Steve McNair, and Mike Vick. But when you speak of who pioneered the way for the modern day black QB, there is only one, Marlin "The Magician" Briscoe.
Briscoe was revolutionary, proving to the world that black players could play the position as well as their white counterparts. Although he was not the very first black quarterback to play in an NFL game, that distinction belongs to Willie Thrower who played in one game for the Chicago Bears in 1953, he was the first to start.
Born in Oakland at age five, Marlin and his family moved to Omaha, Nebraska where he would reside for his childhood and teenage years. Briscoe earned All-City and All-State honors while attending Omaha South High School. He would next choose to stay at home and play for Omaha University (now University of Nebraska-Omaha) where he would rewrite the record books. In his senior year (1967), Briscoe was named First-Team All-American passing for 2,283 and 25 touchdowns en route to leading the Indians to a Central Intercollegiate Conference title.
Despite being only 5'10 and 177 pounds, the Denver Broncos selected Briscoe in the 14th round of the 1968 draft. However, the team listed him eighth on the QB depth chart and switched him to defensive back. It wasn't until Week 3 of the season that opportunity would present itself as starting quarterback Steve Tensi suffered a broken collarbone. Head coach Lou Saban summoned Briscoe from the sidelines in the fourth quarter against the Patriots to give him a shot. Briscoe's first play was a 22-yard completion. On his second series he orchestrated an 80-yard touchdown drive. He completed a 21-yard pass and ran for 38 more himself, carrying it the last 12 yards for the score. The very next week, October 6th, 1968, Marlin Briscoe became the first black starting quarterback in NFL history.
Briscoe started the next five games, going 2-3 for Denver, but would go on to set an NFL record by throwing 14 touchdown passes in 11 games, a Broncos rookie record that still stands today. Despite showing flashes and performing well, he would be converted to a wide receiver for the remaining years of his career. Briscoe was selected to the Pro Bowl in 1970 while playing for the Buffalo Bills grabbing 57 receptions for 1036 yards and 8 touchdowns. He was also a member of the historic 1972 Miami Dolphins, the only NFL team to have a perfect season.
The year following Briscoe’s successful debut with the Broncos, four black quarterbacks were drafted, thus beginning a slow, but crucial, change in perception that helped transform football at all levels. Fast forward to today, and Briscoe's impact can be felt throughout the league. Before there was McNabb, Cam, and RGIII, there was the Magician. Respect.