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Marlin Briscoe Ran So Black QBs Could Fly, and Now He Can Rest


“The day we signed him we told him he would be given every opportunity to play quarterback,” Denver Broncos coach Lou Saban said. “He would rise and fall only on his merits.” [1]

“Merit” was the myth that Marlin “The Magician” Briscoe had to cut through. It was the word that supposedly explained why no Black man had started in modern pro football before Briscoe earned his start against the Cincinnati Bengals on October 6, 1968.

Briscoe knew what he faced.

He knew that NFL teams had switched great black quarterbacks to other positions because white leadership didn’t believe in a Black man’s ability to play quarterback. He knew that pro football teams consisted of white southerners that would refuse to follow Black leadership.

But all that didn’t bother Briscoe, because in his heart he believed “a black man could play quarterback as well as any other position.”[2]

And why wouldn’t he?

He was the best quarterback in Nebraska when he starred at Omaha South. And at Omaha University (now the University of Nebraska-Omaha), he was an NAIA All-American in 1967. Although small for a “typical” pro quarterback, Briscoe was blessed with unbelievable athletic ability.

As Gil Brandt, the Dallas Cowboys director of player personnel said, “Marlin has the greatest quickness of any college quarterback we’ve ever seen.” He also added, “He’s as good as any big time quarterback in college right now and just one heck of a football player.”

The New Orleans Saints agreed.

Their scout said, “He’s got the greatest arm I have ever seen on any quarterback—college or pro. He’s the only man I have ever seen who can run to his left and throw the ball right handed through the air with complete accuracy.”[3] That ability was on full display in a game against the Buffalo Bills when the rookie threw for 335 yards and 4 TDs, including a 59-yard bomb where he rolled left and threw right hitting running back Floyd Little to set up a game winning field goal.

Briscoe also believed that pro sports were changing. 

“Professional sports are becoming broad-minded,” he said before the 1968 draft. “There are some coaches who are looking for talent, not at the color of skin. I definitely feel I can make it as a quarterback.”[4]

At first, the Denver Broncos weren’t as convinced and selected him in the 14th round to play defensive back. The other Black quarterbacks that draft, Eldridge Dickey (1st round) and Jimmy Raye (16th round), were converted to receiver and defensive back, respectively. Dickey, who many thought would be the first starting Black quarterback, never received a fair shot from the Raiders.  But in Denver, with starting quarterback Steve Tensi injured and ineffective to start the season, coach Lou Saban turned to the Magician.

Continue reading over at First and Pen.

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