For the past 26 years, Washington Redskins quarterback Doug Williams was the only Black starting quarterback to ever win the Super Bowl. He has now been joined by Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson. Wilson’s accomplishment is one of several signs that point to Blacks being able to succeed in positions where they were once thought to be not intelligent enough to excel.
Before William’s accomplishment, most Black high school and college quarterbacks were told to switch to other skill positions, such as receiver or defensive back. When Hall of Fame quarterback Warren Moon came out of Hamilton High School in 1974, most colleges recruited him as a receiver, but he turned down several offers because he wanted to remain at quarterback. To stay at that position, he had to start his college career off at West Los Angeles College. After setting school records, he was signed by the University of Washington, and he made it clear that he was not switching positions.
Even after a stellar college career at Washington, where he led the team to a Rose Bowl victory in 1978 and was named most valuable player of the game, Moon was not drafted into the NFL. He had to start his professional career in the Canadian Football League. After winning five consecutive championships, he was finally given a chance at the NFL in 1984, and he had a Hall of Fame career. If he had not had to start his career in Canada, he would have held all of the major NFL career passing records when he retired, surpassing Miami Dolphins quarterback Dan Marino, who held those records.
Williams’ road to the NFL was smoother than Moon’s, as he was drafted in the first round by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers out of Grambling State University in 1978. Before that year, the Buccaneers had never made the playoffs. With Williams, they went to the playoffs three times in four years, and they made it to the 1979 NFC Championship Game.
Even though Williams helped turn the organization around, he was the lowest paid starting quarterback in the league, and a number of back-up quarterbacks were making more money. The owner of the Buccaneers refused to offer him a market value contract, so Williams left for the United States Football League (USFL) for two seasons. The Buccaneers missed the playoffs 14 years in a row after Williams left the team.
After a two-year stint in the USFL, Williams signed with the Redskins, and after the 1987 season, he became the first starting Black quarterback to win the Super Bowl. He was also named the game’s MVP.
Since Williams’ feat, other starting Black quarterbacks have come close to joining him as a Super Bowl champion. Steve McNair came within a yard of winning the Super Bowl with the Tennessee Titans, Donovan McNabb led the Philadelphia Eagles to within three points of winning the Super Bowl, and last year, Colin Kaepernick nearly pulled off a Super Bowl winning drive for the San Francisco 49ers.
The storyline of the second Black quarterback winning the Super Bowl has somewhat flown under the radar, which is not really a bad thing. It means that Black quarterbacks have become so successful in the NFL that they are now merely viewed as quarterbacks, without race tagged to them. A Black quarterback is no longer an oddity, they have nearly become the norm. With the amount of Black quarterbacks doing well in professional and college football, it will not be surprising if Black quarterbacks start winning Super Bowls at a much higher rate.
Quarterback is not the only position where Blacks are now getting the opportunity to excel. Since 2001, there have been more Black head coaches than the previous 80 years combined. Tony Dungy and Mike Thomlin have won Super Bowl titles, and Lovie Smith and Jim Caldwell have led teams to the big game. Also, Ozzie Newsome is regarded by many as the best general manager in the NFL, as he has built both of the Baltimore Ravens Super Bowl winning teams.
For nearly 70 years in the NFL, Black players, coaches, and front office personnel were held out of the “intellectual” positions. But now that they are getting a chance, they are proving that they can get the job done as well as their White counterparts.