For the first time in NFL history the Super Bowl will have two starting Black quarterbacks and it’s Black Heritage Month…yes, you read that right! On Sunday, February 12 as Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs take on Jalen Hurts and the Philadelphia Eagles on football’s largest stage, history will be made.
While we’re used to seeing Black athletes like Mahomes, Hurts, Lamar Jackson, Dak Prescott, Russell Wilson, Justin Fields, Kyler Murray, Malik Willis, Trey Lance and the many others that came before them, thrive in a now more diverse and inclusive NFL, it wasn’t that long ago that Black men were robbed of the opportunity to play quarterback. The quarterback position is one of the most celebrated in football and when their feet hit that field, they’re lining up to not only take the snap but to lead their team and often to become the face of the of the franchise. Ahead of the Mahomes-Hurts matchup, we take a look at the history of Black quarterbacks in the Super Bowl, the barriers Black athletes have faced to reach the highest levels of the sport and the push for continued forward progress.
Who was the first Black quarterback to play in a Super Bowl?
On January 31, 1988 Williams led Washington to a 42-10 victory over the Denver Broncos in Super Bowl XXII. The Zachary, Louisiana native finished 18-of-29 for 340 yards with four touchdowns, and one interception.
How many Black starting quarterbacks have played in a Super Bowl?
Entering Super Bowl LVII, only 7 Black quarterbacks have played in the Super Bowl:
- Doug Williams – Won Super Bowl XXII
- Steve McNair – Lost Super Bowl XXXIV
- Donovan McNabb – Lost Super Bowl XXXIX
- Colin Kaepernick – Lost Super Bowl XLVII
- Russell Wilson – Won Super Bowl XLVII and Lost Super Bowl XLIX
- Cam Newton – Lost Super Bowl 50
- Patrick Mahomes – Won Super Bowl LIV, Lost Super Bowl LV
Black Quarterbacks that Blazed the Trail:
*just a few of the many
A Thinking Position
In the early 1950s through the 1970s, there was an abhorrent stigma suggesting that Black men lacked the instinct, intelligence, and leadership ability required to play quarterback — a “thinking position” — simply because of the color of their skin. Black athletes who had the skill, talent, work ethic, experience, and demonstrated history of success to play quarterback were often lured to the professional level but told they had to play another position to have a role in the league.
Imagine being hired for your dream job after spending years of your life mastering your skillset and honing your craft, only to be told you had to learn and fulfill a completely different role simply because people that look like you are not capable of performing well.
That was the case for Sandy Stephens, the first Black man to play quarterback at the University of Minnesota. After leading the Gophers to back-to-back Rose Bowls (1960 and 1961) and a national championship (1960), Stephens was selected by the Cleveland Browns in the second round of the 1961 NFL draft but was told he had to switch positions if he wanted to play in the league.
Jimmy Raye II helped lead Michigan State to a national title in 1966 yet had to line up as a defensive back–a position he had never played before–after he was selected by the Los Angeles Rams in the 1968 NFL draft.
Tony Dungy–known for his trailblazing efforts to become the first Black coach to win a Super Bowl–was a two-time MVP quarterback at the University of Minnesota (1975 and 1976), yet was overlooked, undrafted, and had to sign as a free agent safety in order to make his dreams of playing in the NFL a reality.
Few were able to achieve long-term success in the league, whether at the quarterback position, a converted on-field role, or in coaching. There were so many others who succumbed to the grief of broken dreams and and the weight of unreasonable expectations.
Paving the way
Men like Stephens, Dungy, and Warren Moon — who was the first Black and first undrafted quarterback enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame — made cracks in the glass ceiling that Doug Williams was able to shatter so that Jalen Hurts and Patrick Mahomes could play quarterback today and be recognized for their talent alone.
And if you think that we’re so far removed from that time period and way of thinking–we’re not. Strains of the same conversation were had in 2018 when critics questioned whether or not Lamar Jackson, who became the youngest player to win the Heisman trophy in 2016, would “have what it takes” to play quarterback in the NFL.
Sunday’s game isn’t just another Super Bowl. Let it be a reminder that no matter what you look like–you too are capable and worthy of thriving in every space you set foot in.
Black Coaches in the NFL Still Struggling for Opportunity:
While we’ve seen progress in the fight for diversity within the league, the effort to elevate Black coaches to head coaching positions is still an ongoing struggle. Check out this segment from NBC’s Brother from Another where Michael Holley and Michael Smith discuss the continuing hardships of black coaches getting opportunities in the NFL and whether there is hope.
RELATED: 2023 NFL Playoffs scores: Final bracket, recaps, results for every AFC and NFC postseason game
NBC Sports has a dedicated site to showcase content celebrating Black Heritage check it out here!