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History in the making

By Jeffery Armstrong

When the Atlanta Falcons play the Philadelphia Eagles in the NFC Championship Game Sunday at 3 p.m., history will be made and I will be watching it first-hand. There will be two - that's right 2 - African-American men who will start at quarterback for their respective football teams, Michael Vick (Falcons) and Donovan McNabb (Eagles). One of those guys will lead his birds of prey to the Super Bowl, where one will be the third black quarterback to lead his team to the NFL's biggest game.

It's fitting that this history will happen a week or so after Dr. Martin Luther King's birthday and national holiday were celebrated and it's too bad Dr. King isn't alive to see it. I'm sure he would have been thrilled to see this game and as a black man myself, I'm definitely thrilled to be able to watch it.

Vick or McNabb will join the select list of Doug Williams and Steve McNair as the only other black quarterbacks to start in a Super Bowl; Williams was the only one to win it (a 42-10 Washington Redskins victory over the Denver Broncos in Super Bowl XXII on Jan. 31, 1988, where he won Super Bowl MVP). McNair's Tennessee Titans lost to the St. Louis Rams 23-16 in Super Bowl XXXIV in 2000.

What was interesting about this year's NFL playoffs was that three of the six NFC teams were headed by black quarterbacks - McNabb, Vick and Daunte Culpepper of the Minnesota Vikings. As long as I've been watching football, I don't ever remember a playoff field with that many starting black quarterbacks. With Minnesota's win over the Green Bay Packers and Atlanta's blowout victory over the St. Louis Rams, it ensured that a black quarterback will make it to the Super Bowl this year and it showed how far the black quarterback has come in the NFL.

Before writing this column, I did research to find out about black NFL quarterbacks and it led to interesting results. I found out that the first black quarterback to appear in an NFL game was the appropriately named Willie "The Pro" Thrower of the Chicago Bears on Oct. 18, 1953. Thrower, who helped Michigan State win the national championship in 1952, came in for George Blanda against the San Francisco 49ers and went 3 of 8 for 27 yards and an interception in a 35-28 Bears loss. That was the only game Thrower played in.

George Taliaferro started two games for the Baltimore Colts in 1953 and Charlie "Choo Choo" Brackens, from my alma mater Prairie View A&M University (go Panthers!), played in one game for the Green Bay Packers in 1955 before he was waived. Brackens was said to have more talent than Bart Starr, the eventual Packers legend, and holds records at Prairie View that still stand today.

No other black man played quarterback in the NFL until 1968, when rookie Marlin Briscoe started six games and played in 11 for the Denver Broncos, passing for 1,589 yards and 14 touchdowns. Briscoe never played quarterback again, but he did win two Super Bowl rings with the Miami Dolphins in 1972 and 1973 as a wide receiver.

"Jefferson Street" Joe Gilliam quarterbacked the Pittsburgh Steelers until Terry Bradshaw was given the position back in 1974, amid racist letters from fans, James Harris led the Los Angeles Rams to two straight NFC championship games and Vince Evans was drafted by the Bears in 1977 and was a starter for many years. These guys paved the way for QB stars and non-stars as Williams, Warren Moon, Randall Cunningham, Rodney Peete, Andre Ware and Jeff Blake and the current crop of black QB starters which also includes Aaron Brooks (New Orleans Saints) and Byron Leftwich (Jacksonville Jaguars). Many of the older black quarterbacks had interesting stories and if I had the space, I'd write much more.

Jeffery Armstrong is a sports writer for the Daily and his column appears on Thursdays. He can be reached at jarmstrong@news-daily.com .