The Six Greatest Black Quarterbacks of All Time

Eric RhodyCorrespondent IMarch 8, 2009

Throughout the decades of football, no position on the field brings more glamour than quarterback. From Johnny Unitas to Peyton Manning, the quarterback is often the face of the team, and the locker room leader.

However, this position has almost always been dominated by whites. The belief that a black person could lead a team at quarterback did not come to fruition until a few breakthrough stars in the late 80s and early 90s paved the way for blacks to excel at the quarterback position.

There has been some good ones, some bad ones, and some real ugly ones. But here are my top six black quarterbacks.

The only criteria is the player must not be currently playing, so no Donovan McNabb for now.

6. Doug Williams

The only black QB to win a Super Bowl and a Super Bowl MVP had a less than spectacular career before it. Williams played a few promising years for the Bucs before leaving the NFL to play for the USFL's Oklahoma Outlaws due to a contract dispute in Tampa.

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He returned a year later to Joe Gibbs' Redskins, initially backing up Jay Schroeder. After Schroeder went down with an injury several times during the season, Williams impressed Gibbs enough to be named the starting quarterback throughout the playoffs.

Williams led the Redskins to Super Bowl XXII, and torched the Broncos 42-10 while throwing 18-of-29 for 340 yards and four TD passes. For his amazing effort, he was named Super Bowl MVP.

Doug Williams' Super Bowl glory cannot be forgotten, but his stats didn't exactly stack up next to the greatest. In his career, Williams threw for 16,998 yards, and 100 TDs next to 93 INTs. On top of that, his career passer rating was a mediocre 69.4.

But his legacy is far more important, and his Super Bowl win opened the floodgates for black quarterbacks everywhere.

5. Marlin Briscoe

The first black quarterback of the modern era never got another shot after playing 11 games for the Broncos in 1968. He had a decent season, throwing for 14 TDs to 13 picks while rushing for 308 yards and 3 TDs.

Those numbers today would be considered average, but at the time the idea that a black man could play quarterback was absurd. 1968 was the same year Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated and the same year the Civil Rights Movement was at its peak.

Marlin Briscoe was revolutionary in his own way, proving to the entire world that blacks were on the same level as whites, even in sports.

Despite being qualified to keep playing quarterback, Briscoe was converted to a receiver for the rest of his career, and played quite well. He went to the Pro Bowl as a receiver in 1970, after grabbing 57 receptions for 1036 yards and 8 TDs.

He was also a member of the historic 1972 Miami Dolphins, the only modern NFL team to have a perfect season.

But above all else, Briscoe is the grandfather of black quarterbacks, and a pioneer for all times. His 14 touchdowns remains a Broncos' rookie record.

4. Michael Vick

Too low? Too high? For now, No. 4 feels just right for Michael Vick.

Vick's dog fighting scandal stopped a higher ranking, and cut short an exciting career. He may still return, but it wouldn't be without controversy.

Vick was an explosive runner, and became the first quarterback of all time to rush for more than 1,000 yards in a season, but he never passed for more than 3,000 yards in a season, and never threw for more than 16 TDs.

It seemed like, in between all the hype, Vick didn't master actually playing the role of quarterback. His TD/INT ratio is slim, 71 to 52, and he had passed for just over 11,000 yards during his six-year career.

Vick could very well move up on this list if he returned to the NFL and had an even more successful career, emphasizing more on passing. But for now, Vick is stuck in the jailhouse, and at No. 4.

3. Steve McNair

"Air" McNair had a fantastic career, throwing for over 30,000 yards with 174 TDs and three Pro Bowl seasons, along with an NFL MVP award in 2003.

But the most infamous moment of McNair's career came at the end of Super Bowl XXXIV against the Rams, in what was the most dramatic ending in Super Bowl history and will forever be remembered in NFL lore as "One Yard Short."

With just 6 seconds remaining on the on the Rams' 10 yard line, McNair went for the game tying score with a pass to Kevin Dyson on the slant. However, Rams linebacker Mike Jones showed great awareness and wrapped Dyson up 1 yard short of the score.

The crushing defeat stopped McNair from possibly becoming the second black quarterback to win a Super Bowl. But the loss doesn't stop people from remembering McNair as a solid and reliable QB.

His injury-prone nature was the only thing that halted him from becoming the greatest.

2. Randall Cunningham

The epitome of "what if?". Cunningham was trapped on a Philadelphia Eagles team whose offensive philosophy was "Let Randall make a big play or two and the defense will take care of the rest."

Still, Cunningham had a fantastic career. Like Mike Vick, he could scramble fantastically, but unlike Vick, he could also throw.

Cunningham threw for more than 3,000 yards in five seasons as a quarterback, and holds the record for most rushing yards at the quarterback position. Combined with
four Pro Bowl seasons, it's hard not to make a case for Randall.

His potential was unlimited and it came to fruition in 1998 when he had one of the greatest supporting casts in history, and led the Vikings to a 15-1 record while throwing for 34 TDs to 10 INTs.

Had Cunningham been granted better coaching during his time in Philadelphia, and a better supporting cast, what could have been?

1. Warren Moon

No contest here really. Moon threw for nearly 50,000 yards, was named to nine Pro Bowls, and consistently led the Houston Oilers to the playoffs.

The only real knock against Moon was his inability to bring his team to a Super Bowl. Moon wasn't even able to guide the Oilers to a conference championship, nor was he able to do the same for the Vikings or Seahawks.

However, in the big picture, that hardly means a thing for the NFL and CFL legend. Moon's achievements earned him a place in both in the NFL Hall of Fame and the CFL Hall of Fame.

To be named to both Hall of Fames as a quarterback is an enormous achievement, it's even bigger when you haven't even been to a Super Bowl.

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