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A new mark for Black quarterback matchups in the NFL

Week 2 will feature the most contests between Black starting QBs – ever

Sometime on Sunday afternoon in Long Beach, California, trailblazer Marlin Briscoe plans to settle into his sofa, put up his feet and grab a remote control. He’ll have a lot of football to watch.

The first Black quarterback in the old American Football League, which merged with the National Football League in 1970, Briscoe shattered the glass ceiling that existed in both leagues. Briscoe, who revels in the rise of Black passers to the top of today’s NFL, has eagerly anticipated Week 2’s slate of games that feature four matchups between Black starting signal-callers – the most in any week in NFL history, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

“I keep my eye on all of them, stay up on what they’re doing and it has been great,” Briscoe, 75, said on the phone this week. “Way back when I was playing, I never could have imagined we’d be where we are today. Last year was great. Really historic. And now this [week] is another step, which is absolutely amazing.”

If you’re watching an NFL game Sunday during the league’s late-television window, which begins at 4 p.m. ET, every team on your screen will have a Black signal-caller atop its depth chart. Many within the group are also in the top tier of the league’s most important position.

Most Matchups Between Black Starting QBs – Single Week in NFL History

2020 Week 2 (4)
Lamar Jackson vs. Deshaun Watson
Cam Newton vs. Russell Wilson
Kyler Murray vs. Dwayne Haskins
Patrick Mahomes vs. Tyrod Taylor
2013 Week 1 (3)
Cam Newton vs. Russell Wilson
Geno Smith vs. Josh Freeman
Michael Vick vs. Robert Griffin III
2004 Week 12 (3)
Aaron Brooks vs. Michael Vick
Byron Leftwich vs. Daunte Culpepper
Quincy Carter vs. Shaun King

The Houston Texans play host to the Baltimore Ravens, pitting Baltimore’s Lamar Jackson – last season’s Associated Press MVP – against Houston’s Deshaun Watson, the league’s second-highest paid player. Former league MVP Cam Newton, who’s off to a good start in trying to revive his career with the New England Patriots, faces the Seattle Seahawks and Super Bowl winner Russell Wilson. Arizona Cardinals second-year player Kyler Murray, last season’s AP NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year, faces Washington Football Team passer Dwayne Haskins, who was selected 14 picks after Murray in the 2019 draft. And Super Bowl MVP Patrick Mahomes leads the Kansas City Chiefs against the Los Angeles Chargers, who are directed by their new starter Tyrod Taylor after moving on from Philip Rivers.

A sensational lineup indeed, Briscoe said.

“These guys have so much talent, and they’ve been succeeding with so much grace,” he said. “When you look at how they’ve played, and how they’re representing us, it makes you feel good that you did something to help. You feel good that you did something so we could even have a day with [a lineup of] games with so many great Black quarterbacks.”

One could definitely draw a line from what Briscoe and other pioneers endured to where things stand now at the beginning of the Era of the Black Quarterback.

Briscoe played quarterback in college but, as was the standard wrongheaded policy of the time, the Denver Broncos drafted him as a defensive back because the AFL and NFL had no interest in Black men throwing passes.

Undeterred, Briscoe pushed for an opportunity to compete at quarterback and was impressive. With the Broncos reeling at 0-3 to start the 1968 season and without better options, they made a quarterback change, inserting the 5-foot-10, 177-pound rookie into the starting lineup. That season, he played in 11 games, including five starts, and passed for 1,589 yards with 14 touchdowns. An elusive runner, Briscoe also rushed for 308 yards (with an impressive 7.5-yard average) and three touchdowns. He finished second in voting for AFL Rookie of the Year. Then, the Broncos pushed him aside. Briscoe was never given a reason for the team’s decision, but there is one word to aptly describe the situation: racism.

After one season in Denver, Briscoe reinvented himself as a top wide receiver. He became an All-Pro with the Buffalo Bills and contributed to two Miami Dolphins Super Bowl-winning teams. As it turned out, as a quarterback, Briscoe was ahead of his time.

“These young guys now, these great young quarterbacks now, wouldn’t have been quarterbacks back in my day. They wouldn’t have been allowed to play the position,” Briscoe said. “So that’s progress. And that’s good for the game. Look at what they did last week.”

In Week 1, Black passers produced seven of the nine highest Total QBR figures. Combined, they went 7-3, had 15 touchdown passes, only two interceptions and a 68.1 completion percentage. Briscoe keeps close tabs on Arizona’s Murray, who reminds him of another onetime undersized passer.

“Just like me, you heard [some] people say he’s too short,” Briscoe said of Murray, who’s listed at 5-foot-10. “But if you can play, you can play. And he can definitely play. All of these guys can. Everybody can see that now. They’re just amazing.”

On Sunday, the show continues. And as Briscoe could attest, it’s must-see television.

Jason Reid is the senior NFL writer at Andscape. He enjoys watching sports, especially any games involving his son and daughter.

Doug Clawson is a senior researcher in the ESPN Stats & Info group. He loves playing and watching sports, crunching numbers and telling unique stories.