Black History Month may have recently came to an end but in Philadelphia, its only just the beginning. The NFL seems to be trending in the right direction in regards to the amount of black starting quarterbacks around the league. As this past season kicked off, an entire race watched proudly as a record was set for the amount of black quarterbacks trotting out as opening day starters.
Cam Newton, Teddy Bridgewater, Dwayne Haskins, Lamar Jackson, Patrick Mahomes, Kyler Murray, Dak Prescott, Tyrod Taylor, Deshaun Watson, Russell Wilson
10 Black starting QBs in Week 1 — the most in a season opener in NFL history ?? pic.twitter.com/k0tyBrAb3k
— The Undefeated (@TheUndefeated) September 13, 2020
10 out of a possible 32 — that’s 31% of the starting quarterbacks around the league, who were black. And while that number fell from 10 to seven (or eight depending on how you view that strange Tua Tagovailoa/Ryan Fitzpatrick situation in Miami) to end the season, with a Dak Prescott return pending and two possible African American starters projected to be selected in this years. The future of African Americans at the position was now in better shape now, than its ever been. A far cry from 2017, where after 97 years of operation, every team in the league had finally started a black quarterback at one time or another. In fact the final two teams of the Colts and Patriots (both 2016), only started these quarterbacks due to injuries to their initial starters.
Despite this sequence prolonging inevitable events the African American quarterback has found a way to make significant impacts on the league throughout history. With two of the last three league MVP’s being African American, that makes a short of Lamar Jackson, Patrick Mahomes, Cam Newton, and Steve McNair as the only black quarterbacks to accomplish the feat. While each of these guys could be considered trail-blazers in their own way, each would probably point to the success of those before them as a major reason for their current and future success. A player who notably attributed to these guys is former Washington Football Team quarterback Doug Williams. Or better known as the first African American quarterback to win a Super Bowl and be named Super Bowl MVP. However if you asked Willams, just like those after him, he is quick to point to another prominent African American quarterback that doesn’t get enough respect if you ask him.
“Let me tell you about James Harris. I have an older brother, but James Harris served as my other older brother. And it’s unfortunate that Shack has not gotten the recognition he so rightly deserves. Because when we talk about pioneers at the quarterback position, and a lot of people are quick to give me that title, I say that the James Harrises of the world are the true pioneers.”
And in a way Williams is correct. In the 1970’s it was hard enough to maintain any sort of career as an African American. Well, not only did Harris maintain a job, he spent 10 years in the NFL and accomplished more than his fair share of feats during this time.
- The first African American QB to start a season opener.
The first African American QB to start and win a playoff game.
-The first African American QB to play in the Pro Bowl (also was named PB MVP).
Harris arguably opened doors for guys like Randall Cunningham (who we’ll touch more on in a few), Warren Moon, and the aforementioned Doug Williams. The same guys who in turn, opened doors for many of the African American quarterbacks that came to light through the entirety of the 2000s. You name them; Vick, McNair, McNabb, Culpepper, Young, RG3, Kap, Wilson, Jackson, Murray, and so on. A multitude of generations all inspired by those before them — all of which have produced a lifetime of NFL highlights. All from a race and at a position that supposedly specified for those that fit specific mold and in a society where “Whites accepted that blacks were physically evolved, but decided that they were intellectually un-evolved – that they were actually lower on the ladder of evolution than white people, and somehow closer to our animal ancestors. And that’s the ideology, the cultural context, that prevailed when the major sports in the US were desegregated.”
So how did the league come to breaking this incomprehensible mold? Well it started one franchise at a time, each hoping to land the next game changing player. While the mold of what the dual threat quarterback can be and how it can significantly impact games has been on full display throughout league history. And there have been a few teams that committed to the idea of building an entire offense around the prospects of a dual threat quarterback. African American quarterbacks are out to prove that they offer just as much as their counterparts.
“It’s really a product of the fact that we’ve been getting more and more opportunities to play the quarterback position over the years, and you see what happened this year from those opportunities. The talent has always been there, but you can’t display it if you don’t have the opportunity. It has all come together this year … and they’ll just continue to keep improving because they’re all young quarterbacks. Except for Russell being in his eighth year, the rest of these guys are early in their careers.” – Warren Moon
Lets just say that even the biggest companies across the world have a specific headquarters.
In this instance this headquarters is located in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. While there are many reasons Philadelphia is referred to as the City of Brotherly Love; this brotherly love is unlike any seen across the league. The Eagles have had their fair share of success African American quarterbacks from the legendary Donovan McNabb, who’s 158 starts rank first all time for a quarterback in franchise history was the signal caller behind the franchises most successful offensive stretch to date. To what became known around the league as The Michael Vick Experience, only this time a reloaded version where Vick was just as dynamic a passer, as he was a runner. We could even take this time to show some love to Rodney Pete and Vince Young, who each have helped make a mark on the Eagles holding such a prestigious title.
However, we’d have to go all the way back to 1985 to identify a beginning. The year when the man known as the Ultimate Weapon made history by becoming the first ever African American quarterback to start a game for the Philadelphia Eagles. And ladies and gentleman, lets just say that nickname was an understatement based on the capabilities Cunningham bought to the table.
“When Randall came into the league … he was just different. He was so athletic. That’s what you have to understand. There just weren’t guys like Randall. The way he could run. The way he could throw. He brought something that a lot of people hadn’t seen.”- Doug Williams
Now Philadelphia sits at 344 starts for African American quarterbacks, the team has a prime opportunity to put a comfortable distance between themselves the next closest team (the Titans –336) with Jalen Hurts possibly taking the reigns for the foreseeable future. The best thing about the prospects of a Hurts-led offense is that his best traits are his intangibles, the same things that the league questioned if African American quarterbacks could handle at the NFL level.
“Underlying that message really was that not only was the league fearful of the leadership potential of some of these men — and this is of course applicable to corporate America also — but they were fearful of the way that black men could improvise,” – Mark Anthony Neal (chair of the department of African and African American Studies at Duke University)
How Philadelphia became the home of the African American quarterback? It could be an organizational thing. However, its worth noting Vince Young, Michael Vick, and Donovan McNabb were all bought in while Andy Reid was in control of football operations. This is the same Reid who also recently hand pick Patrick Mahomes, so it’s possible Reid could have a preference although we’ve also seen him produce with offenses that feature white quarterbacks. Also worth mentioning is that every African American Eagles starting quarterback with the exception of Cunningham, each made roster appearances following Owner Jeffrey Lurie’s purchase of the team back in 1994. Lurie, himself has spoken out against racism on numerous occasions has recently made an emphasis on speaking out against social injustice. It is rumored that Lurie was highly involved in the selection of Hurts. What ever the ideology behind this is, its good to see an NFL franchise at the forefront of trying to create rightful change around the league and hopefully more teams follow suit.
Featured Image: Drew Hallowell/Getty Images