Opinion: It's not just about the first Black quarterback or coach, but how many
History can’t have it both ways. Yet, the National Football League seems to want it that way.
If history is the whole series of past events connected with something or someone, well our country has destroyed most of that when they destroyed many historical statues that represent historical events. As for the National Football League, they’ve seemed to follow a similar path. The history of Black quarterbacks for one.
Back in 1968, Marlin Briscoe started a game. Did you even know that?
In 1974, James "Shack" Harris, a graduate of Grambling State, won a playoff game with the Los Angeles Rams. He played for the Buffalo Bills (1969-72) and San Diego Chargers (1977-81).
In 1973, Harris was the understudy to veteran John Hadl as the Rams went 12-2 and returned to the playoffs for the first time since 1969. As the 1974 season began, the Rams offense sputtered under Hadl and the team stood 3-2 after five games. In an effort to spark the Los Angeles offense, Rams head coach Chuck Knox promoted Harris as the starting quarterback. He completed 12 of 15 passes for 276 yards in his start against the San Francisco 49ers and Rams won easily, 37-14 at the Los Angeles Coliseum.
Two days later, Hadl was traded to Green Bay, and Harris became the first-string quarterback for the remainder of the 1974 season. He led the team to its second-straight NFC Western Division title as well as their first playoff victory, 19-10 over the Washington Redskins.
Harris thus became the first African-American quarterback to start and win an NFL playoff game. The Rams lost the NFC Championship Game to the Minnesota Vikings 14-10. Harris was named to the NFC Pro Bowl team in 1974 and was awarded MVP of that game.
And who can forget Doug Williams winning a Super Bowl in 1988.
This year’s Super Bowl LVII featured two African-American quarterbacks − Patrick Mahomes of the Kansas City Chiefs and Jalen Hurts of the Philadelphia Eagles. But where are the other pioneers? Those players and coaches who were halted by the racist beliefs of white team owners. Where are they?
In 1921, as coach of the Akron Pros, Fritz Pollard became the first Black head coach in NFL history. Along with Bobby Marshall, he was also one of the first two Black players. He made history while facing extreme racism.
Since the inception of the National Football League, there have been over 500 head coaches. Only 24 of those coaches were Black.
Art Shell became the first Black head coach since the 1920s. Coaching then the Los Angeles Raiders from 1988 through 1994 when the team moved to Oakland. He was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1989.
Last week, Jonathan Gannon was hired as the head coach of the Arizona Cardinals. There were five head coaching openings in the league − only one of the five men hired, DeMeco Ryans (Houston Texans), is a coach of color.
In the NFL, where an estimated 60% of the players are Black, only three head coaches are of color. In fact, there were five Black NFL head coaches at the end of the 2022 season. Mike Tomlin (Pittsburgh), Mike McDaniel (Miami), Todd Bowles (Tampa Bay), Lovie Smith (Houston) and interim head coach Steve Wilkes (Carolina) in 2022.
Today the three are: Tomlin, Bowles and Ryans.
Sports is so quick to jump on superlatives, first, last, best and worst. In this case, let’s forget about who was first − and concentrate on the important fact. It’s not the first Black − it’s how many.
Andy Furman is a member of the Enquirer Board of Contributors. He also talks sports nationally on Fox Sports Radio, serves as PR coordinator for The Point/Arc in Northern Kentucky and writes for the Brooklyn (NY) Daily Eagle.
This article originally appeared on Cincinnati Enquirer: Andy Furman column on Black quarterbacks in the NFL