While NFL fans enjoy the exploits of dynamic Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson, the man who blazed a path for him and other Black quarterbacks has been largely forgotten. His name is Marlin Briscoe and he has been acknowledged by the Pro Football Hall of Fame as the first Black quarterback to start a professional football game.
Briscoe was born on September 10, 1945 in Oakland, Ca. He moved to Omaha, Nebraska, playing football at Omaha South High School before moving on to Omaha University, now the University of Nebraska at Omaha. The 5’10, 177 pound QB was nicknamed “The Magician” while starring as quarterback. But In 1966, Briscoe was drafted to the AFL in the 14th round as a cornerback by the Denver Broncos.
In 1968, what we know as the National Football league today was two different leagues – the American Football League and the National Football League. Denver was then an AFL team. Unwilling to give up his position, Briscoe asked to audition at quarterback. His tenacity helped him win a start at quarterback, which made him the first Black quarterback to start at the position in professional football. (Another pioneer, the aptly named Willie Thrower, was the first to appear as a quarterback in the NFL for the Chicago Bears in 1953, but was only active in 2 NFL games, ultimately playing four seasons in Canada.)
Briscoe’s first game was against the Boston Patriots on October 29, 1968. He started the next game against the Cincinnati Bengals and four more that season, throwing for 1,589 yards and 14 touchdowns. Like Jackson, Briscoe was a mobile quarterback who ran for 308 yards, scoring three touchdowns.
Despite his accomplishments, Briscoe would not return at quarterback for Denver and was released from the team at his request. But his football career didn’t end there. After a stint in the Canadian league, Briscoe returned to the NFL as a receiver, first for the Buffalo Bills. He ultimately won two Super Bowls with the Miami Dolphins, one of them in the 1972 championship season when the team went undefeated.
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Briscoe’s nine-year NFL career ended with the New England Patriots in 1976. He went on to a successful business career, overcame a cocaine addiction and is now retired and living in Long Beach, California. Warren Moon, the first Black quarterback to be inducted into the NFL’s Hall Of Fame; Doug Williams, the first to win a Super Bowl; Russell Wilson, the second to win a Super Bowl (and who is similar to Briscoe in size) Jackson, who also refused to change his position coming out of college, and several others, all owe a debt of gratitude to Briscoe for being the very first to change the game.
PHOTO: National Football Foundation/ Fair Use