Lately the NFL has come under some criticism over its diversity and acceptance of African-American coaches and players, namely quarterbacks. The NFL has a long history of great quarterbacks in the league, but in that history, the position is mostly dominated by Caucasian athletes.
It is no secret that in the early days of the NFL, the owners and coaches were very reluctant to give the reigns of a team to a black player. As recently as 2007, the New York Giants had never had a black quarterback throw even a single pass. In 1934, there was an informal ban on black athletes. The charge was led by then-Washington Redskins owner George Marshall, but the ban was lifted again in 1946. Still, the abolishing of the ban did not do a whole lot to help enable blacks to play the quarterback position.
In 1978 Doug Williams became the first black quarterback drafted in the first round when he was selected 17th by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. After Williams’ selection, there was a drought for black QBs entering the league. It took five more years to see another black player drafted for the quarterback position. It wasn’t until the 1980s that the black quarterback became a little more acceptable, yet still not very common. As the 80s and 90s progressed, however, so too did the acceptance of black quarterbacks.
The NFL today has come a long way from just a short time ago, but there is still much progress left to be desired. Entering the 2016 season, the NFL has six QBs slated to be starters who are African-American, versus 26 who are white. The landscape may be making a change sooner than later however. The last four Super Bowls have featured a black player at the quarterback position.
It has been a long journey for the-African American quarterback, but hopefully the change is here. Today, we will look back at the 15 greatest African-American quarterbacks the game has ever seen.
15. James Harris
James “Shack” Harris was drafted in the 1969 NFL draft out of Grambling State. Harris finished his career with over 8,000 passing yards and 45 touchdowns. Harris also was a pioneer for the black quarterback. In 1974, Harris guided the L.A. Rams to the conference championship game, becoming the first black QB to play in a conference championship game. He was also named to the Pro Bowl in 1974, and was crowned the game’s MVP, another first for a black quarterback.
14. Frederick “Fritz” Pollard
Fritz Pollard was the very first black quarterback way back in 1920 for the Akron Pros, who won the NFL Championship. During the 20s, the quarterback position was a lot different than we know it today. Forward passing was practically outlawed and Pollard would act more like a running back who received the snap directly to him. Nevertheless, Pollard was technically the first African-American QB. Shamefully, the NFL banned all black players in 1926 and that would mark the end of Pollard’s career, but his legacy should live on forever.
13. Vince Evans
Evans, a product of the University of Southern California, had a career that spanned nearly two decades. After being selected in the 6th round in 1977, Evans would go on to have a very respectable NFL career. Evans ended his career with over 9,000 passing yards and 52 touchdowns. Evans also holds the distinction as the only quarterback in Chicago Bears history to finish a game with a perfect quarterback rating.
12. Colin Kaepernick
Colin Kaepernick is one of the new breed of quarterbacks in the current NFL landscape. Kap is a lanky, but an extremely athletic sprinter with a cannon for an arm. He led the 49ers to back-to-back conference championship games, including an appearance in Super Bowl XLVII. Currently, he is fighting for his job with Blaine Gabbert in San Francisco with new coach Chip Kelly at the helm. There’s still plenty left to be told about Kaepernick’s career.
11. Vince Young
Young is one of the greatest college quarterbacks in the history of the game. Coming off one of the greatest Rose Bowl games in 2006, Young burst onto the scene in the NFL. In his rookie season, Young would help carry the Tennessee Titans to an 8-5 record as a starter, winning Offensive Rookie of the Year in the process. His career looked like it was destined for greatness, yet Vince had some psychological demons and an unorthodox throwing motion which prevented him from keeping a starting QB job.
10. Kordell Stewart
Kordell Stewart came into the NFL in 1995 when he was drafted by the Pittsburgh Steelers. Stewart got his chance to start for the Steelers in 1997, and he took full advantage, leading Pittsburgh to an 11-5 regular season record and an appearance in the conference championship game. He would help lead the Steelers to several more playoff appearances before his career began to dwindle. Stewart ended his career with over 14,000 passing yards and over 50 touchdowns.
9. Doug Williams
Doug Williams will always be remembered and should never find himself out of the top 10 on a list like this. Williams was the first black quarterback to start a Super Bowl game, as well as the first to win a Super Bowl. Williams was also the first black quarterback to be drafted in the first round of the NFL draft. Williams’ career spanned 11 seasons, wherein he was able to pile up almost 17,000 yards and 100 touchdowns.
8. Cam Newton
Cam Newton is climbing this list at rapid speed. Just a couple of seasons ago he would not be on the list at all. Cam is arguably the most electric player in the NFL today, and he has been able to harness the electricity into a positive direction. Cam led the Carolina Panthers to the Super Bowl in 2015-16, while also winning his first MVP award, joining Steve McNair as one of the only black QBs to win the award. Look for Newton to continue his ascent up this list in the seasons to come.
7. Michael Vick
Most people remember Mike Vick as the guy who went to jail for his highly publicized dog fighting operation, but before that, Vick was something the NFL had never seen before. He was the fastest player in the NFL, while also having the strongest arm in the game. He made four Pro Bowls as well as being the NFL’s all-time rushing leader for the quarterback position. Vick is still looking for a back-up role for this season, but if he was to hang ’em up today, he would still have had a very strong career.
6. Randall Cunningham
Cunningham was drafted in the second round of the 1985 draft by the Philadelphia Eagles. Cunningham was a revolutionary for the quarterback position, as he was the first black QB to use his legs as a serious weapon, which was also amplified by the fact he could throw the ball over 70 yards on the fly. Cunningham set the league on fire during his days in Philly. Later in his career, he bounced around the league, ultimately having his best successes with the Minnesota Vikings, where he teamed with Randy Moss and Cris Carter. Cunningham retired with over 200 touchdowns and almost 30,000 passing yards.
5. Daunte Culpepper
Culpepper was selected 11th overall in the first round by the Minnesota Vikings in the 1999 draft. His prime years were short-lived, but during his time atop the league, there was no one better. Culpepper got his chance to start during the 2000 season. He rattled off seven straight wins as a first time starter and helped lead the Vikings to the conference championship. Culpepper retired with over 24,000 passing yards as well as 149 touchdowns.
4. Russell Wilson
Russell Wilson is only in his 5th NFL season, yet he has already reached two Super Bowls, one of which was a blowout victory over Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos. Wilson is already a three time Pro Bowl selection and led the league in passer rating during the 2015 season. The Seahawks look like they could be good for many many years to come and it is due in large part to the franchise leader, Russell Wilson. There seems to still be many great things ahead for this already accomplished quarterback.
3. Steve McNair
Along with Cam Newton, Steve McNair is one of only two black quarterbacks to win the league MVP award. McNair made it to the playoffs five times with two different franchises, including a Super Bowl appearance in 1999 with the Tennessee Titans. McNair’s life was sadly cut short in 2009 when he was the victim of a homicide inside of his home in Nashville, TN. Nevertheless, McNair will always be remembered for helping lead the way for black quarterbacks.
2. Donovan McNabb
McNabb was the second overall pick in the 1999 NFL draft by the Philadelphia Eagles, and not surprisingly, the Eagles fans booed the selection at the time. The fans in Philly would soon grow to love McNabb, as he went on to six Pro Bowls and lead the Eagles to a Super Bowl appearance in 2004. The Eagles have retired his number 5, and McNabb is a lock for the Hall of Fame. McNabb retired with over 37,000 passing yards and 234 touchdowns.
1. Warren Moon
This one is kind of a no-brainer for most people. Warren Moon spent the first five years of his career proving himself worthy of NFL consideration in the Canadian Football League (CFL). Prove himself he did! Moon is one of only two men to be inducted into the CFL Hall of Fame and the NFL Hall of Fame. Moon is 7th on the all time passing list with over 49,000 yards, but if you include his CFL total, he ranks 3rd of all time. He also passed for 436 touchdowns, ranking him 3rd of all time as well. Many of the players on this list are great, and they deserve their recognition, but there is clearly only one option when it comes to the greatest black quarterback in NFL history.
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