Michael Vick Vs. The Top 10 African American Quarterbacks

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Michael Vick Vs. The Top 10 African American Quarterbacks
Doug Benc/Getty Images

It's been a scramble for black quarterbacks in the NFL, but the light at the end of the end zone is visible.  

The term "black quarterback" has become an enigma in the National Football League.

In 1946, the year before Jackie Robinson broke the color line in pro baseball, pro football legend Paul Brown signed an undrafted RB named Marion Motley to play for the Cleveland Browns.

Motley broke the color line in American professional sports with his signing. 

Twenty-two years later, the color line was broken in the professional quarterback position when the American Football League’s Denver Broncos made rookie Marlin Briscoe a starter in 1968.

It was the AFL’s ninth season, the National Football League’s 49th season, and the season before the AFL-NFL merger. 

The 1968 season ended with Joe Namath's and the New York Jets' upset of Johnny Unitas and the Baltimore Colts in Super Bowl III.  

It was ironic that a historically black university, Florida A&M, performed during halftime of Super Bowl III at the Orange Bowl in Miami, Florida.

Briscoe would become a flanker for the Miami Dolphins in 1971, but in 1968, he threw 14 touchdown passes.  Incredibly, Briscoe still owns Denver's rookie passing TD record (Hall of Famer John Elway threw seven TD passes as a rookie in 1983). 

Briscoe’s 17.1 yards per completion led the AFL in 1968, and he rushed for 308 yards and three more TDs that season.

The Broncos inexplicably cut him in 1969’s preseason, and the AFL's Buffalo Bills signed him as a receiver since they already had future Hall of Fame QB Jack Kemp, Tom Flores, and James Harris, another black quarterback.   

Briscoe never played QB again, but he did enjoy a splendid career as a receiver: He led Buffalo in TD receptions in each of his three seasons with the Bills. 

In 1970, he became an All-Pro receiver only two years removed from starting as a quarterback.

Former Tennessee State University starting QB and Nashville legend, “Jefferson Street” Joe Gilliam, also trail-blazed the way for African-American pro QBs. 

Drafted in the 11th round by the Pittsburgh Steelers in 1972, he started for the Steelers in 1974, but was replaced by future Hall of Famer Terry Bradshaw after six games. 

Gilliam led Pittsburgh with 1,274 yards passing that season, but his biggest accomplishment was providing inspiration for future black QBs

"Joe made it possible for every one of us black quarterbacks," Doug Williams said at Gilliam’s funeral in 2000. "The struggles he went through eased the struggles we had to endure. That's why I had to be here today.”

Briscoe and Gilliam both fell into drug addictions, and both men recovered to turn their lives around and make even more positive impacts on others in this top 10 list.

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