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Xs and O's LONNIE WHITE

Limbaugh Is Lacking in NFL History

October 05, 2003|LONNIE WHITE

Thank you, Rush Limbaugh, for pointing out how far African American quarterbacks have come in professional football.

It wasn't so long ago that just having a black quarterback on an NFL roster made news. That's not the case anymore.

Eight teams will start black quarterbacks this weekend, and there are 17 on active rosters. That's real progress.

Even so, Limbaugh made his idiotic comments about Philadelphia quarterback Donovan McNabb last Sunday on ESPN's pregame show:

"I think what we've had here is a little social concern in the NFL. The media has been very desirous that a black quarterback do well. There is a little hope invested in McNabb, and he got a lot of credit for the performance of this team that he didn't deserve. The defense carried this team."

Tennessee's Steve McNair, the second black quarterback to start in the Super Bowl, was baffled by Limbaugh's comments.

"Until this episode, I thought it was gone," McNair told Associated Press last week when asked if he had encountered racism in the NFL.

"Evidently, there will always be a small portion out there. That's just people's opinion and how people look at different things."

If Limbaugh had done his homework, he would have known a little history about black quarterbacks in professional football.

He would have known about George Taliaferro, who played for the Los Angeles Dons in the old All-America Football Conference in 1949.

In 11 games, Taliaferro passed for 790 yards and four touchdowns, and had 14 passes intercepted, as the Dons finished 4-8. Taliaferro also rushed for 472 yards and five touchdowns.

Taliaferro, a versatile athlete from Indiana, went on to play six seasons in the NFL, four at quarterback.

Although his statistics were not great, Taliaferro passed for 334 yards and two touchdowns for the New York Yanks in 1950 and 1951; 298 yards and two touchdowns for the Dallas Texans in 1952, and 211 yards and two touchdowns for the Baltimore Colts in 1953.

Taliaferro's quarterbacking is often overlooked because he also played running back, defensive back and punted. He led the NFL in kickoff returns in 1951, played in the Pro Bowl three consecutive times and averaged nearly 38 yards a punt.

After Taliaferro, professional football did not rush out to find more black quarterbacks. Willie Thrower played one game with the Chicago Bears in 1953, and Charlie "Choo Choo" Brackins took snaps in seven games for the Green Bay Packers in 1955.

Marlin Briscoe became the first African American starting quarterback in the AFL when, as a rookie, he passed for 1,589 yards and 14 touchdowns for the Denver Broncos in 1968.

But like many black quarterbacks over the years, Briscoe had to switch positions to keep playing.

Things finally began to change in the 1970s, when black quarterbacks "Jefferson Street" Joe Gilliam and James Harris received opportunities to play regularly.

Not only did they play well, their teams won and they influenced the next generation of black athletes.

From Super Bowl-winning quarterback Doug Williams to Vince Evans, Randall Cunningham and Warren Moon, black quarterbacks began to get more exposure in the 1980s and '90s. Moon led the NFL in yards passing twice and Cunningham had the league's highest passing rating in 1998.

Since then, more and more black quarterbacks have entered the league. Some have done well, others have been busts.

That's why the controversy over Limbaugh's statement is so ironic.

The days when black quarterbacks didn't get opportunities to play because teams felt safer playing white quarterbacks, even if they were overrated, are over.

If today a black quarterback led his team to a 4-1-1 record, there's no way he would be replaced. Yet that's what happened in 1974, when Gilliam started for the Pittsburgh Steelers but was benched in favor of Terry Bradshaw.

But that's the way it was back then, when black quarterbacks were judged more by their skin color than their performance on the field.

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