By Lenny Moon
When the calendar rolls around to the 12th of February of 2023, the National Football League turns the clock on its most significant position on the gridiron. The foundation was laid when Philadelphia defeated San Francisco to rep the National Football Conference led by signal caller Jalen Hurts. Later that same day, the American Football Conference champ was decided when Kansas City, led by their mercurial quarterback Patrick Mahomes II, prevailed over defending titlist Cincinnati. These ingredients provide the recipe for the two starting quarterbacks in a Super Bowl contest being of African American decent for the first time in the 57 year history of the bowl’s history. For the record, the NFL was established back in 1920 (47 years prior to the first Super Bowl). The first two Black quarterbacks to start in Super Bowl competition actually are products of Historically Black Universities in Doug Williams (Grambling/ Washington SB-XXII vs Denver) and Steve McNair (Alcorn/ Tennessee SB-XXXIV vs St Louis). Since 2014, there have been six starting appearances by Black quarterbacks with San Francisco’s Colin Kaepernick in SB-XLVII vs Baltimore, Russell Wilson’s two appearances ( both with Seattle; SB- XLVIII and SB-XLIX), Charlotte’s Cam Newton in SB-50 vs Denver and this year’s entry Patrick Mahomes (3rd Super Bowl) who previously appeared in SB-LIV vs San Francisco and SB-LV vs Tampa.
Let’s visit the history of Blacks attempting to receive a fair shot at competing for the quarterback position in the NFL. This is a topic that’s found itself in my columns seemingly for decades. In simplified terms, a NFL franchise is a billion dollar business. The face of any pro football organization in any market is the quarterback. Additionally, the single most vital component to the success of a team’s ability to score more points than the opposition is the signal caller (aka the field general). As in the business community, qualified Blacks and other minorities struggle to obtain the benefit of a level playing field when it comes to upper tier level opportunities. It’s akin to a glass ceiling that’s not quite visible, but designed to prohibit one’s advancement in spite of credentials. A case study is the trek that former Houston Oilers Hall of Fame QB Warren Moon was forced to travel across the border to later be considered by the NFL. For those who might not be familiar with his story, Moon was not even drafted by the NFL in the late 70s after earning the then Pac-8 Player of the Year while leading his Washington Huskies to the Rose Bowl victory as their signal caller vs powerhouse Michigan in his senior campaign. Consequently, the Southern California native refused to change positions and accepted an opportunity to play in the Canadian Football League for the Edmonton franchise. Moon promptly led the Eskimos to five championships in his six seasons there before the NFL came calling. Warren was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2006. Even prior to the aforementioned Oilers star, former Los Angeles Rams star James “Shack” Harris once shared with my radio audience that his offensive linemen would purposely make errors in practice drills proclaiming that they could not understand his diction (their way of proving he could not communicate the position). Coming from Grambling in the 60s, the Monroe, La native did not allow that to disrupt his rhythm and went on the become the first Afro-American opening day starter in the NFL along with earning Pro Bow MVP status (also a first by a Black QB). There are too many instances to mention in the allotted space for this commentary, but symbolic of the history of the Black QB and the NFL. When Doug Williams became the first starting Black quarterback in a Super Bowl during SB XXII, he was willing to play with one good leg after being injured in the first half (similar to Mahomes vs 49ers) and broke every significant passing record on the books. His exchange with his college coach, the legendary Eddie Robinson, was classic. Following his postgame on field interviews, he crossed paths with Robinson in the tunnel. Expecting a congrats from his coach about his record-smashing performance, instead Coach Rob in his exuberance stated “son, I’m so proud of you that you got back up to finish the job”. Provocative in a multitude of ways.
The evolution of the NFL has progressively gotten faster over the years, with better conditioned and stronger athletes. With increasing salary residuals afforded the modern day pro football player, year round training is now commonplace. Although protections have been implemented to protect the NFL’s precious commodity, quarterbacks have fewer seconds to release the football before the walls cave in. Both Super Bowl starting signal callers signify what’s required of the modern day NFL snap-taker in their ability to convert plays outside of the pocket; and/or matriculate the ball on the ground if necessary. (Ironically, Warren Moon, Doug Williams and James Harris were all pocket passes in the former prototype NFL model). The state of Texas will be beaming with pride in that both starting signal callers hail from the Lone Star State. Mahomes is a Tyler area native having starred at Whitehouse High, while Hurts is a Houston area product having starred at Chanelview High. At 27 years of age, Mahomes has risen as the top talent at his position in pro football, already having procured a Super Bowl championship (SB-LIV) earning the MVP in both the regular season and the Super Bowl. This year’s Super Bowl finds Patrick Mahomes II at the apex of his powers. The 24-year old Hurts is a second year starter in Philly and is constantly disproving his critics that he’s more than capable of passing the football to go along with his mobility. The baffling aspect about Jalen is that he’s always been a dual-threat talent. In high school he was ranked amongst the top double-threat quarterbacks in the nation prior to selecting collegiate powerhouse Alabama. Once there he became the first true freshman to start for the storied program in school history. He proved that decision correct by leading the Crimson Tide to a national title while throwing for nearly 2,800 yds and 23 TDs and rushing for 954 yards and 13 more TDs for a total of 36 end zone visits. His final collegiate season after transferring to Oklahoma, was a Heisman trophy finalist tossing for just under 3,300 yards with 32 TDs and rushed for 1,298 yards and 20 more TDs for a total of a whopping 52 TDs. What measuring stick are they using to appraise this guy’s skill-set pertaining to doubting his NFL capability. He’s been a winner wherever he’s performed. Both he and Mahomes are strong candidates for MVP honors for the recently completed 2022 season.