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"The Big Book of Black QBs" - Deadspin researched and listed every single one in NFL history

Swiffness! Members Posts: 10,128 ✭✭✭✭✭
this is really dope and fascinating. a must read for any non-🤬 .


Lotta heroes and tragedies I never knew about in here:


"Opposing teams and fans delighted in raining both physical and verbal abuse on Pollard," Carroll writes. "To protect himself, Pollard developed a habit of rolling over when tackled, cocking his legs, and flailing them bicycle style to discourage piling on. On occasion Pollard had to be driven to mid-field in a car moments before kickoff to avoid a shower of bricks and bottles often thrown by unruly fans."


"He's probably the fastest quarterback in pro ball."—The Spokesman-Review

Marlin Briscoe was the first black quarterback to start in the NFL. Despite playing under center all his life, "Marlin the Magician" was drafted by the AFL's Broncos as a defensive back. An injury to the starter in his rookie year opened the opportunity for him to play quarterback. He started the final five games of the season and was in the running for Rookie of the Year.

The next season, Briscoe wasn't allowed even to compete for the job. Without notifying him, Lou Saban, the Broncos' coach, had signed a couple new quarterbacks and was conducting offseason workouts to see who would start the season under center. A furious Briscoe confronted Saban and demanded to be included in the QB battle or released. Saban complied with the latter demand, but not before sullying Briscoe's name around the league as an angry, black malcontent, essentially blacklisting him. No one picked him up off waivers.


Henry Johnson | 1968 | San Francisco 49ers

Drafted, 12th round (315) | 0 games

There is almost no information remaining on the life and career of Henry Johnson. There is a story presumably of the teenaged Johnson whose Miami Beach High squad was bashed by Miami Jackson. He's listed correctly as Fisk's quarterback in the History of the Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Conference, 1913-1990, possibly as a member of an All-Star team. Then there's an article from when the 49ers drafted him and one from when the 49ers cut him. That's all we know.


and then there's Joe Gilliam

Joe Gilliam's story made me tear up. his life should be a Spike Lee movie.

🤬 Dammit.

Joe Gilliam | 1972-1975 | Pittsburgh Steelers

"Tennessee State's answer to Broadway Joe Namath."—Daytona Beach Morning Journal

Gilliam had the talent and the will to avoid the typical fate of black quarterbacks entering the NFL—position change or exile in Canada. He was a coach's kid and a college star. He was cocky. And he was smart. At the NFL combine, he ran a slow 40-yard dash on purpose, so coaches wouldn't consider him at wide receiver or cornerback. He made the Steelers as a quarterback, and for two years served as a backup to Bradshaw and another young quarterback, Terry Hanratty.

Under Bradshaw—and behind the Steel Curtain—the Steelers were transmogrifying themselves into one of the most formidable organizations in the league. But then came the 1974 players' strike, which lasted between July and August, and ran through the fourth preseason game. Bradshaw and Hanratty picketed, but Gilliam saw this as his opportunity; he didn't care if he was being called a scab. The Steelers were unbeaten in preseason, and Gilliam impressed head coach Chuck Noll. Bradshaw and Hanratty both played in the preseason, but Gilliam was the best. He could run and extend plays with his feet. He had a cannon, and perhaps the quickest release in the league. There were rumors he could even throw with his left hand.

"He's done very well in the preseason," Noll said about Gilliam. "He's been the most productive and that's what we look at."

Reporters made excuses for Bradshaw and Hanratty.

"Both Bradshaw and Hanratty were hurt," said NFL writer Roy Blount, Jr. But even Bradshaw admitted that Gilliam had beaten them clean, in a 1980 interview with Playboy.

"Joe had a phenomenal preseason," Bradshaw said. "He won the job and I lost it."

This was important. No black quarterback had ever been named the starter to open an NFL season. Black Steelers fans packed the stadium. Gilliam was just 23 when he won the starting spot, but he was already being looked at as something bigger, a hero, a symbol. Though there had been black quarterbacks in the NFL before him, Gilliam was seen by many as the first.

Gilliam later said he was never truly aware of his significance, but that doesn't check out. Before he was even drafted, Joe Sr. spoke to media about the pressure weighing on his son.

"He couldn't eat," his father told the Miami News in 1972. "He was losing weight. There was a lot of anxiety involved, and there still is. All eyes are upon him. I told him to expect to be scrutinized, to expect to have his mistakes blown all out of proportion. But it's impossible to adjust to the pressure involved. Maybe he'll never completely adjust."

After an undefeated preseason, the Steelers opened up the year by rolling the Baltimore Colts, 30-0. Gilliam threw for two touchdowns. The second week, the Steelers tied the Broncos 35-35. It wasn't a victory, but the offense scored five touchdowns; Gilliam threw a 61-yard touchdown pass and rushed for another.

He was still a black quarterback in the '70s, though. He received death threats, and hate mail filled his mailbox daily. The Steelers themselves got bomb threats. He later said he always walked around strapped.

Noll stuck with Gilliam, even when the Steelers got blanked the next week by the Oakland Raiders. Bradshaw was so distraught, so certain he wouldn't get another shot, that after the game he asked new Raiders owner Al Davis to trade for him. (DAMN)

Pittsburgh won its next two games, jumping out to a 4-1-1 start. But there were concerns. Gilliam was inconsistent, for one, and Bradshaw had the faith of much of the locker room. There were the familiar reports that Gilliam felt entitled, that he was standoffish. There were rumors that he did 🤬 and heroin. After six weeks of Gilliam as the starter, Noll benched him for Bradshaw.

"He gave me my job back," Bradshaw would say, 26 years later. "I didn't earn it back. I didn't beat him out."

According to those close to him, something broke in Gilliam. He never threw another touchdown in the NFL. In January, he looked on as Bradshaw led the Steelers to their first Super Bowl win. Depressed, he increasingly turned to drugs and alcohol; once, teammate Ernie Holmes snatched drugs out of Gilliam's hand in the middle of the locker room and flushed them down the toilet (what drugs, we're not told). The Steelers cut him before the 1976 season when he missed a team meeting in training camp. He was only 25, but Gilliam's career was already over.

Bradshaw and the Steelers went on to win three more championships as Gilliam spent time in and out of rehab, and in and out of prison for drug possession. Addicted to 🤬 and heroin, Gilliam would eventually lose his family and his home, and for two years, he lived under a bridge in a cardboard box.

After two decades of addiction, Gilliam fought back. He moved home to Nashville and got clean—for a while, at least. He died Christmas Day in 2000, four days before his 50th birthday. It was a 🤬 overdose.

Gilliam is mostly forgotten, and if he's remembered at all, it's as a cautionary tale. He's every scary story that every single kid has ever heard about the perils of drugs, alcohol, and fame. In his death, he's been reduced to the worst kind of symbol.