The National Football League is celebrating the Golden Anniversary of it’s biggest event on Sunday, February 7th as Cam Newton and the Carolina Panthers take on Peyton Manning’s Denver Broncos in Super Bowl 50 at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, California.
Over the next two weeks, The Shadow League will be sharing some of our most memorable reflections from the game that has become much bigger than football, morphing into an essential piece of the tapestry that defines who we are as an American society.
The Latino community is ecstatic that Carolina Panthers head coach Ron Rivera, whose father is Puerto Rican and mother is Mexican, has an opportunity to join the likes of Tony Dungy and Mike Tomlin as men of color who have led their teams to Super Bowl victories.
The first man to do so, however, and the first Latino as well, was Oakland’s Tom Flores in 1981, when the Raiders defeated Dick Vermeil’s Philadelphia Eagles, 27-10 in Super Bowl XV.
That was a tense time in the United States, with the game taking place a mere few days after the release of the Americans that were captured during the Iran Hostage Crisis.
With the country’s patriotic fervor at fever pitch, Raiders QB Jim Plunkett (the only eligible signal caller to start and win two Super Bowls that is not in the Pro Football Hall of Fame), himself a Latino of Mexican descent, threw for 261 yards and three touchdowns on the game’s brightest stage, becoming the second Heisman Trophy winner to be named Super Bowl MVP after Roger Staubach did it in 1972.
Cam Newton will look to join that list as well in Super Bowl 50, which has since added Desmond Howard and Marcus Allen as the only others to accomplish the feat.
Flores, nicknamed the Ice Man because of his stoic facial expressions as a player, became the first-ever Hispanic starting quarterback in professional football with the Raiders in 1960. The fifth-leading passer all-time in the history of the old American Football League, he won a championship as a player with the Kansas City Chiefs in 1970, as an assistant with Oakland in 1977 under John Madden, and as the Raiders head coach during the 1980 and 1983 seasons.
As we look forward to Cam Newton and Ron Rivera possibly becoming distinguished men of color to lead their squads to an NFL championship from the QB and head coach positions, let’s pay homage to the two men who broke down the doors, overcame the obstacles and pushed the barriers aside for them 35 years ago.