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Timeline of African American Quarterbacks


 By Lloyd M. Vance

Editor, The African American QB Website


·       1923: Halfback/Signal Caller Fritz Pollard becomes the first African American Quarterback in the NFL, playing the position and taking direct snaps from center for the Hammond Pros in a couple of games.

·       1951: Former Syracuse University quarterback Bernie Custis from Philadelphia becomes the first professional black quarterback since Pollard when he signs a contract and plays for the Hamilton Tiger Cats of the Big Four League (predecessor to the Canadian Football League - CFL).  As a rookie Custis, a former 3-year starter at Syracuse, is named the league's Most Valuable Back.  Shifted to halfback in '52, Custis' journey in Canada ends 30 years later at the Canadian Football Hall of Fame

·      1953: Seven years after Kenny Washington and Woody Strode broke the modern color barrier in pro football; Backup Chicago Bears QB Willie Thrower became the first African-American quarterback in the NFL to solely play quarterback in an NFL game on October 18, 1953 against the San Francisco 49ers.  He played under center and received the snap directly, making him the first NFL African American Quarterback since Pollard in 1923.  In his historical game, Thrower went 3 for 8 for 27 yards in a 35 to 28 loss.  What was unfortunate about the game was George Blanda, who had struggled before Thrower was inserted was reinserted into the game at the 5 yard line to complete a drive Thrower had started. After his debut against the 49ers, Thrower never appeared in another NFL game. 

·       1953: George Taliaferro, a single-wing tailback from Indiana University started two games as a T-formation quarterback for the Baltimore Colts.  He only got the chance to play Quarterback, because of a rash of injuries to the three other QB’s on the roster and the coach relenting.  After those two games, he played Halfback primarily and only attempted two more passes in his career. 

·      1955: Charlie "Choo Choo" Brackins became the fourth black quarterback to play in an NFL game when he played in the closing minutes for the Green Bay Packers in a blowout game against Cleveland on October 23,1955.  Green Bay won the game 41-10 and Brackins had two incompletions.  The Packers placed him on waivers later in the season after he had broken curfew before a game in Chicago and other unnamed problems.

·      1960: Sandy Stephens leads the University of Minnesota to a national championship in the Rose Bowl.  He scored two touchdowns as the Gophers beat UCLA 21-3. Minnesota finishes with an 8-2 record  Stephens becomes the first African-American major-college All-American quarterback and finishes fourth in the Heisman Trophy balloting.

·       1968: Tennessee State Quarterback Eldridge Dickey is drafted by the Oakland Raiders in the 1st Round with the 25th Overall pick.  Dickey became the first African-American Quarterback selected in the first round by an AFL or NFL team.  However the Raiders decided that Dickey should play wide receiver first and be allowed to practice with the quarterbacks in training camp.  Dickey plays quarterback in a preseason game in Alabama, but he never plays in a regular season game as a quarterback.

·       1968: Marlin Briscoe from University of Omaha was drafted in the 14th Rd by the Denver Broncos (AFL).  Briscoe finally got his chance in the 3rd game of the season against the Boston Patriots.  He enters the game with the Broncos trailing 20-7 and almost helped them pull out a victory in a 20-17 loss, scoring a touchdown running the ball.  After his showing Head Coach Lou Saban reluctantly named him the starter and he became the first African American Quarterback to start for a team.  He ended up playing in 11 games, 7 of which he started finishing with a Broncos rookie record of 1,589 yards passing and 14 TD’s, plus 308 yards rushing.  Briscoe's touchdown record as of October 2007 is still a Broncos' record for first-year players.

·       1969: James Harris is the first black quarterback to be named a team's starter for the first game of a season.  In the first game versus the New York Jets played in Buffalo, the Bills lose 33-19.  Harris goes on to play in 4 games in the 1969 season.

·      1970: University of Toledo (OH) Quarterback Chuck Ealey from 1969 to 1970 is undefeated as Toledo’s QB, going 35-0 and leading his team to victory in the Tangerine Bowl and finishing 8th in Heisman Trophy Balloting.  His NCAA Record for wining percentage and winning streaks stands as of 2007.  Ealey unfortunately is overlooked by the NFL and goes undrafted in the 1972 NFL Draft.

·       1974: Joe Gilliam an 11th-round draft pick by the Steelers in 1972 NFL Draft became a starter when some players including Quarterback Terry Bradshaw went on strike.  When all of the players returned, Gilliam kept the starting job through six games with a record of 4-1-1.  He however faltered and Bradshaw returned to lead the Steelers to a Super Bowl victory.  Outside pressure and his on the field struggles regrettably led Gilliam to his unfortunate history of drug abuse.  Gilliam played very little for the Steelers in the 1975 season (Another Super Bowl Victory) and was cut in the off-season. 

·       1974: James Harris is the starting quarterback for the L.A. Rams and the team was winning.  He is the first African American to start a NFL Playoff game, leading the Rams into the NFC Championship where they lost to the Vikings.  He was named the first African American Quarterback to the Pro Bowl for the 1974 season, where he was named the MVP of the game.  His numbers for the 1974 season were 106 Completions on 198 Attempts for 1544 yards and 11 TD’s in only 11 games. 

·       1978: The former expansion Tampa Bay Buccaneers select Doug Williams in the 1st Round, 17th overall of the 1978 NFL Draft.  Williams became the first African-American quarterback drafted in the first round since the 1970 merger and he would not be asked to convert to another position unlike Eldridge Dickey before him.  Williams was a record setting quarterback at Grambling, finishing in 1977 with a NCAA Record 93 Touchdowns and 8,411 yards passing. 

·       1980: Doug Williams establishes himself as a player on the rise in the 1979-1980 NFL Season.  He throws for 2448 yards and 18 TD’s and runs for additional 2 touchdowns leading the Buccaneers to NFC Central Division title and a playoff victory over the Philadelphia Eagles, losing to the L.A. Rams in the NFC Championship.

·       1984: Houston Oilers decide to sign Warren Moon to a Free Agent for $1 million contract.  Moon went undrafted in the 1978 NFL Draft and signed with the Edmonton Eskimos of the CFL, leading the Eskimos to five Grey Cups.  He passes for 21,228 yards and 144 TD's in just six seasons in the CFL.

·       1987: Several African American Quarterbacks get to play in the NFL in replacement games including: Walter Briggs from Montclair (New York Jets 1987), Homer Jordan from Clemson (Cleveland Browns 1987), Ed Blount from Washington State (San Francisco 49ers 1987), Mark Stevens from Utah (San Francisco 49ers 1987), Larry Miller from Northern Iowa (Minnesota Vikings 1987), Willie Gillus from Norfolk State (Green Bay Packers 1987), Tony Adams from Utah State (KC Chiefs 1987), Reggie Collier from South Mississippi (Pittsburgh 1987) Bernard Quarles from Hawaii (LA Rams 1987), Tony Robinson from Tennessee (Washington Redskins 1987), Vince Evans from USC (Raiders 1987) and Willie Totten from Mississippi Valley State (Buffalo Bills 1987).

·     1988:  Doug Williams of the Washington Redskins after signing as a backup in 1987 starts the playoffs.  It was widely known around the league that most of the Redskins locker room was firmly behind Williams and believed he was the better leader and could take the team further.  Williams responded by beating Chicago and Minnesota to get to Super Bowl XXII against the Denver Broncos and making him the first African American Quarterback to start in the Super Bowl.  In the game Williams twisted his knee in the first quarter and the Broncos jumped out to a 10-0 lead.  Williams was taken out of the game for a few plays, but responded in the second quarter with a Super Bowl record 228 yards passing with four touchdowns, in what some call the greatest performance by a quarterback in a quarter.  He finished the game with Super Bowl record 340 yards and 4 TD’s in the 42-10 triumph and was named the MVP.

·     1989: A major breakthrough in College Football came during this time when Quarterback Andre Ware of Houston was named the 1989 Winner of the Heisman Trophy.  Ware became the first African American Quarterback to win the award after others had contended, but were passed over.  Ware broke almost every major college record for passing while leading the Houston Cougars “Run and Shoot” explosive offense.  In his Heisman Trophy winning junior season he threw for 4,699 yards and 46 TD’s and led the Cougars to a 9-2 record.  

·     1990: Randall Cunningham leads the Philadelphia Eagles to the playoffs and has a MVP season rushing for 942 Yards with 5 TD’s and 3,466 Yards Passing with 30 TD’s and is named to his 3rd straight Pro Bowl. 

·     1993: Florida State quarterback Charlie Ward is named the 1993 Winner of the Heisman Trophy and leads Florida State over Nebraska to win the National Championship in the Fiesta Bowl.  Ward becomes the second African American Quarterback to win the award. He goes undrafted in the NFL Draft, but he is drafted by the NY Knicks and signed in the NBA Draft.

·    1994: Tommie Frazier from Nebraska leads the Huskers to the 1st of his two National Championships by beating Miami in the Orange Bowl.  He repeats the feat in 1995 by dismantling Florida in the Fiesta Bowl.

·     1995: Steve McNair of Alcorn State becomes the 2nd African American Quarterback drafted in the 1st Round, third overall player (Highest at the time) in the NFL draft.  His incredible college numbers include the only player in NCAA history to gain over 16,000 yards (16,823) in total offense during his college career.  He set collegiate record by averaging 400.55 yards in total offense per game and became only the third player in Division I-AA to throw for 100 TD's in a career (119).  He finished with 928 completions in 1,673 attempts (55.5%) for 14,496 yards passing with 119 TD's and added 2,327 yards and 33 TD’s.

·     1998: Randall Cunningham leads the Vikings to a 15-1 record and they set an NFL record of 556 points scored.  Cunningham finishes with 3704 yards passing and 34 TD’s, plus 127 yards rushing and was named the MVP for the 3rd time by several media outlets.  The Vikings storm into the playoffs and miss the Super Bowl by the slightest of margins losing to the Atlanta Falcons 30-27 in the NFC Championship game. 

·    1999: Dameyune Craig in a NFL Europe game playing for the Scottish Claymores passes for a record 611 yards and five touchdowns on only 27 pass completions in a 42-35 victory over the Frankfurt Galaxy.  His uniform after the game is given to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

·    1999: The monumental 1999 NFL Draft where Donovan McNabb of Syracuse was picked by the Philadelphia Eagles in the 1st Round with the second pick overall, which at the time was the highest draft pick ever for an African-American quarterback. Also in this draft McNabb was joined by several other African American quarterbacks including Akili Smith of Oregon selected third overall by the Cincinnati Bengals, Daunte Culpepper of Central Florida selected eleventh overall by the Minnesota Vikings, Shaun King of Tulane selected in the 2nd Round by the Tampa Bay, and Aaron Brooks of Virginia selected in the 4th Round by the Green Bay Packers.

·    2000:  In Super Bowl XXXIV, Steve McNair of the Tennessee Titans becomes the second African American to start in the Super Bowl in the 23-16 loss to the St. Louis Rams.

·    2001: Virginia Tech QB Michael Vick is selected as the Number 1 overall pick by the Atlanta Falcons.  This marked the first time that an African American player was selected as the top pick and marked the end of questions of whether an African American Quarterback could be considered top player in the draft and a “franchise” player.  Vick went on to post numbers of 785 passing yards with two touchdowns and 300 yards rushing with 1 TD in limited action.

·    2005: Signal Caller/Back/Coach Fritz Pollard is finally inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame almost 80 years after his playing days were over.  Pollard's family accepts the honor on his behalf as Pollard had passed away in 1986 at the age of 92.

·    2005: Donovan McNabb of the Philadelphia Eagles and Michael Vick of the Atlanta Falcons start versus each other in the NFC Championship.  Ray Didinger (Hall of Fame Writer) when speaking about this NFC Championship Game said “It spoke volumes of how far the NFL and society have come that two African American Quarterbacks were opposing each other and little was made of it.  No USA Today Cover Story or other fanfare”.  The Eagles and McNabb win the NFC Championship and McNabb became the third African American Quarterback joining Steve McNair and Doug Williams to start the Super Bowl in a 24-21 loss to the New England Patriots.  McNabb threw for 357 yards with three touchdowns, but also had three interceptions in the game.

·    2005: The Pro Bowl is marked by history, when Donovan McNabb led a NFC Quarterback group of Daunte Culpepper and Michael Vick into the Pro Bowl.  It is the first time that all 3 QB’s elected for the NFC or AFC were African Americans.

·    2006: Vince Young of the University of Texas is named the MVP of the 2006 Rose Bowl bringing Texas the 2005 National Championship by beating USC.  In the game he sprints 8 yards for the winning touchdown with 19 seconds left.  Overall he rushes for 200 yards and three touchdowns and completes 30 of 40 passes for 267 yards without an interception.

·    2006: Warren Moon is the first full-time African American QB to be elected in the Pro Football Hall Of Fame.  Moon threw for more than 49,000 yards 391 touchdowns in the NFL and won 5 Grey Cups in the CFL. He finished with more completions, passing yards, and touchdowns than anyone if you combine his CFL and NFL numbers (70,553 yards and 435 touchdowns). 

·    2006: Ohio State Senior QB Troy Smith is named the 72nd Heisman Trophy winner.  As expected Smith was the landslide winner of the award, appearing on 99% of the ballots.  Smith receives 801 first-place votes and 86.7percent of them which breaks the record of 84.9 percent established by Reggie Bush in 2005.  Smith is 25-2 as a starter and his pre-bowl numbers are impressive (67 percent completions, 2,507 yards, 30 touchdowns, five interceptions). 

·    2007: Florida Gators Senior QB Chris Leak leads Florida to the national championship beating Ohio State 41-14 in the BCS National Championship game in Phoenix, Arizona.  In the game Leak throws for 213 yards with 25 completions on 36 attempts and a touchdown.  He finishes season passing for 2942 yards with 23 TD's.  Leak joins Willie Thrower (Michigan State ’52 - played a lot as a backup), Sandy Stephens (Minnesota ’60), Jimmie Jones (USC ’72), Homer Jordan (Clemson ’81), Jamelle Holieway (Oklahoma ’85), Tony Rice (Notre Dame ’88), Darian Hagan (Colorado Co-Champs ’90), Shawn Jones (Georgia Tech Co-Champs ’90), Charlie Ward (Florida State ’93), Tommie Frazier (Nebraska ’94 and ’95), Tee Martin (Tennessee ’98),  and Vince Young (Texas ’05) as African American quarterbacks that have led their teams to a 1-A college football championship.

·    2007: The weekend of July 21st, three former standout African American college quarterbacks (Joe "Tarzan" Kendall, Tracy Ham, and Charlie Ward) are inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame. The trio joins past African American quarterbacks in the College Football Hall of Fame: Brad Calip Class of '03 - East Central 1981-1984, Harold Davis Class of '06 - Westminster (PA) 1953-56, Willie Totten Class of '05 - Miss. Valley 1982-1985, Andre Ware Class of '04 - Houston 1987-1989,
and Doug Williams Class of '01 - Grambling 1974-1977.

·    2007: The CFL's 95th Grey Cup final four is historic as all four teams the Winnipeg Blue Bombers (Kevin Glenn), Toronto Argonauts (Michael Bishop), Saskatchewan Roughriders (Kerry Joseph), and British Columbia Lions (Jarious Jackson) are led by African American quarterbacks.  Behind quarterback Kerry Joseph the Saskatchewan Roughriders defeat the Winnipeg Blue Bombers 23-19 to win the 95th Grey Cup in Toronto.  Joseph joins Chuck Ealey (Hamilton Tiger Cats 1972), NFL and CFL Hall of Famer Warren Moon (Edmonton Eskimos 1978, 1979, 1980, 1981 and 1982), Conderdge Holloway (Toronto Argonauts 1983), Tracy Ham (Edmonton Eskimos 1990, Baltimore Stallions 1994), Roy DeWalt (BC Lions 1985) and future CFL Hall of Famer Damon Allen (Edmonton Eskimos 1987, 1993; BC Lions 2000; Toronto Argonauts 2004) in leading their team to the CFL's biggest prize.




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