The first African-American quarterback to win a Super Bowl was chatting early this week with the first African-American quarterback to start and win an NFL playoff game.
Gone are the days when black quarterback after black quarterback was cast in the role of pioneer, or forced to switch to receiver, or headed reluctantly to the CFL. Doug Williams became an inspiration for young black dreamers when he threw four touchdown passes one magical night at Jack Murphy Stadium and beat John Elway in Super Bowl XXII. All these years later, it is no longer the “impossible dream.”
“Me and James Harris were talking about the number of guys that were born too soon,” Williams told Serby Says. “The good part about this, I think the mind is open so much more now to the black quarterback. It’s not about the black quarterback, but just who is the guy [who] can get my team over the hump? Who is the best player on the field?”
Patrick Mahomes became the third black quarterback to win a Super Bowl, six years after Russell Wilson was the second. NFL 2020 is reminding us of the mushrooming rise of the elite black quarterback.
“I don’t know how much the country has changed,” Williams said, “as much as how much the people in the National Football League and the front offices and the coaches’ mentality has changed.”
At a time when a number of celebrated white quarterbacks are entering or already in their twilight years — from Tom Brady to Drew Brees to Ben Roethlisberger to Philip Rivers to Matt Ryan — there are 10 black starting quarterbacks, seven of whom are stars.
Williams, senior VP of player development for the Washington Football Team, offered his thoughts on each of them:
Patrick Mahomes (Chiefs): “He’s got some of the best arm talent. When I say arm talent, I’m not talking about the strength of the arm as much as he can move his arm in different motions, throw the ball any kind of way he wants to, across his body, underhand, around the defender, over the defender. I think he has helped himself the last couple of years from the mental standpoint of knowing who he’s playing against. He has grown by leaps and bounds in a short period of time.”
Russell Wilson (Seahawks): “He’s been Houdini since he’s been in the league.”
Lamar Jackson (Ravens): “Double Houdini. People saying he should have been a wide receiver, saying he can’t pass, but all he did last year was lead the league in TD passes, and that’s what a quarterback’s supposed to do. It’s just fortunate that people judge him mainly because he can do some things that a lot of quarterbacks have never been able to do or can do, a la Michael Vick. Them two had similar games, but Lamar Jackson, I think, has elevated himself a little bit by becoming a better passer.”
Kyler Murray (Cardinals): “Kyler Murray’s got a lot of Houdini in him. He can throw the football, he can improvise, he can make things happen, and I’m sure DeAndre Hopkins is feeling as good about Kyler Murray as he did about Deshaun Watson.”
DeShaun Watson (Texans): “When he was coming out, people were talking about, ‘He’s not this and he’s not that.’ He has that will to win.”
Dak Prescott (Cowboys): “Dak Prescott is more of your conventional quarterback. I think he’s got a good team around him, and I think what he has that I’ve seen is leadership. He can throw the football, and the guys rally around him. I think he’s in a great spot.”
Cam Newton (Patriots): “Cam has not changed. That’s who he is. By far probably the best athlete on the field when he takes the field. And he finds a way to will a team to win, and I think he’s in a spot that’s gonna give him opportunity to help the team win. No matter how pretty it is, no matter how ugly it is, you still got Cam Newton on your team.”
Dwayne Haskins (Washington): “Last year, people did not do him justice by having their own little comments about what he could or can’t do. They were wrong about this kid. I think Haskins could have easily been in the top one or two quarterbacks who’ve been drafted in the last two years. This kid’s got talent. This kid’s got arm talent too. He’s got some of the Patrick Mahomes ability to maneuver his arm and get the ball in places that a lot of people can’t.”
Teddy Bridgewater (Panthers): “Teddy’s not your guy that’s gonna get all the pub, but Teddy is smart. Teddy knows how to play this game, and he’s gonna help the team.”
Tyrod Taylor (Chargers): “I think Tyrod is a good manager. I don’t think nobody wants to live with Tyrod, but they’re glad to have him.”
The days of a Marlin “The Magician” Briscoe, dismissed out of hand as a quarterback because of racism and moved to receiver against his wishes, reared its ugly head when former Super Bowl champion GM Bill Polian opined before the 2018 draft that Jackson was better suited to play receiver. Jackson, who was the fifth quarterback selected and the 32nd pick after former Ravens GM Ozzie Newsome traded up for him, adamantly resisted any move.
“If Lamar was coming out 20 years ago, they would have,” Williams said.
Williams, 65, grew up in Zachary, La., in the segregated South. He played when he was 18 for a team that helped integrate American Legion Baseball in Baton Rouge, around where longtime Klan leader David Duke grew up.
“I slid into home plate,” Williams recalled, “and the catcher kind of took his mitt and kind of like slapped me upside the head, and somebody out of the stands said, ‘That’s the way to treat that N-word!’ ”
Accounts differ, but Williams maintains that he was asked the single most memorable question during Super Bowl week: “How long have you been a black quarterback?”
Williams today says: “Only when I left Grambling was I known as a black quarterback.”
Harris had preceded Williams as Grambling quarterback.
“We both were coached by Eddie Robinson,” Williams said. “One thing that him and Coach Rob instilled in me was the fact that, if you could block and tackle at Grambling, you can block and tackle anywhere. We felt like all we needed was an opportunity. These 10 guys that are starting now in the National Football League?
“All they were asking for was an opportunity.”
New York Post
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