In the 1978 NFL Draft, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers selected quarterback Doug Williams from Grambling State University with the 17th overall pick.
As Grambling’s quarterback, Williams won three Black College National Championships and two SWAC championships. Williams is a 2001 inductee of the College Football Hall of Fame.
In 1988 Williams became the first Black quarterback to start and win a Super Bowl. He was part of the Super Bowl XXII win for the now-called Washington Commanders against the Denver Broncos.
Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Jalen Hurts and Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes will make similar history 35 years after Williams’s Super Bowl win. As co-MVP favorites Mahomes and Hurts will be the first Black quarterbacks to face off against each other in a Super Bowl.
The acceptance and playstyle of the two headlining quarterbacks tell the tale of the Black quarterback in the NFL. At the end of his fifth season Mahomes electrified NFL stadiums with no-look passes and flourished in head coach Andy Reid’s offense.
Philadelphia selected Hurts in the second round and have since built one of the best offensive attacks in the NFL. Both quarterbacks led their teams to the best record in each conference, respectfully, on their way to Super Bowl appearances, the first for Hurts and third for Mahomes.
There was not as much excitement around having a Black franchise quarterback when Williams first entered the NFL. According to footballperspective.com, no Black quarterback had been selected before the sixth round until Williams was selected.
Also, another Black quarterback wouldn’t enter the league for another five years after Williams was drafted. By that time, Williams had been playing in the USFL and was no longer in the NFL. Many believed at that point in history that a Black quarterback could not competently run an NFL offense.
Super Bowl LVII will be played on Sunday, meaning that Mahomes and Hurts will be breaking new ground on what a Black quarterback is capable of during Black History Month. When we look back on pioneers like Williams, who threw for over 8,000 yards during his career at Grambling State University, we must also look to those who have received the torch to continue to set an example.
Randall Cunningham and Michael Vick are each known for revolutionizing a new style of play that would send not just Black quarterbacks but the whole National Football League into a new atmosphere. In 2000, Vick went first overall to the Atlanta Falcons for the amazing running ability he displayed at Virginia Tech. Cunningham also made history like Hurts as a Philadelphia Eagles rushing quarterback.
The number of Black quarterbacks selected in the NFL Draft has substantially increased since the 1978 season. There have also been a number of Black quarterbacks to appear in a Super Bowl. Some notables are Colin Kaepernick in 2013, Cam Newton in 2016, and Russell Wilson appeared back to back in 2014 and 2015.
Lamar Jackson, Justin Fields, and Kyler Murray are among the young Black NFL quarterbacks who have yet to make a Super Bowl appearance.