There will be all kinds of storylines in the week leading up to Super Bowl LVII. Did you know that Chiefs head coach Andy Reid used to coach the Eagles? Did you know that Jason and Travis Kelce are the first set of brothers to oppose each other in the big game? Did you know that Eagles head coach Nick Sirianni served as an assistant in various roles in Kansas City from 2009-2012? And on and on.
The most significant of these storylines may well be the one created by Patrick Mahomes and Jalen Hurts. This Super Bowl will be first in which both starting quarterbacks are Black. And if you think that isn’t a big deal, maybe you don’t understand just how much Black quarterbacks have had to overcome to get to the place of possibility at all.
Neither Mahomes nor Hurts want to minimize it.
“To be on the world stage and have two Black quarterbacks start in the Super Bowl – I think it’s special, and I’ve learned more and more about the history of the Black quarterback since I’ve been in this league,” Mahomes said Thursday. “The guys that came before me and Jalen set the stage for this and now I’m just glad we can kind of set the stage for the kids that are coming up now. It’ll be a great game against two great teams and against another great quarterback. So, I’m excited to go out there and try to do what we can to win against a great team.
“I think you’ve seen over time whenever a guy like Doug Williams or Michael Vick or Donovan McNabb go out and plays great football against other guys, it gives other guys like me and Jalen chances to have this platform and have this spot on an NFL team. If we can continue to show that we can consistently be great, I think it’ll just continue to open doors for other kids growing up to follow their dreams and be a quarterback of an NFL team and it’s good that we have guys like Jalen on the other side because he’s a great person and obviously a great quarterback.”
Hurts also understood the magnitude of the moment when asked about it on Thursday.
“I think it’s history. I think it’s something that’s worthy of being noted and it is history. I think it’s come a long way. I think there’s only been seven African-American quarterbacks to play in the Super Bowl. To be the first for something is pretty cool. It’ll be a good one.”
Doug Williams, the first Black quarterback to play on the winning side in a Super Bowl — he did so for the Washington Redskins against the Denver Broncos in Super Bowl XXII at the end of the 1987 season and took home the game’s Most Valuable Player award for good measure — had this to say recently on this subject when it became clear that Mahomes’ Chiefs and Hurts’ Eagles were advancing to the NFL’s biggest game:
“I was emotional about it. I had water in my eyes. Just to see it was happening… People ask me who I want to win. I’ve already won. For me, I’ve already won because both are in it.”
Williams won on that day, but it was a long time before another Black quarterback participated in a Super Bowl, much less as the winner. Seattle’s Russell Wilson did so in a winning sense in the Seahawks’ 43-8 thrashing of the Denver Broncos in Super Bowl XLIX at the end of the 2013 season.
Before that, Steve McNair of the Titans broke the post-Williams logjam in Super Bowl XXXIV at the end of the 1999 season. Donovan McNabb of the Eagles started in Super Bowl XXXIX at the end of the 2004 season in a close loss to the Patriots. Cam Newton of the Panthers in Super Bowl 50 at the end of the 2015 season. Then, there was Mahomes winning in Super Bowl LIV at the end of the 2019 season, and losing Super Bowl LV the next year to the Buccaneers.
And of course, Colin Kaepernick and the 49ers lost a close Super Bowl XLVII to the Ravens at the end of the 2012 season, but the league would prefer that you forgot about that one.
And now, no matter what, a Black quarterback will walk away with the Lombardi Trophy.
Opportunity has a lot to do with it. For a very long time in the NFL, Black players who plied their trade as quarterbacks at the college level had little to no chance of playing that position in the pros, much less succeeding.
There was Marlin Briscoe, who set a Broncos rookie franchise record for touchdown passes in 2968 with 14 that stands to this day. After Briscoe’s rookie season, head coach Lou Saban circumvented his future by calling quarterback meetings without Briscoe, who was in Nebraska finishing his degree. Briscoe became a receiver — and a good one — but the denial of opportunity haunted him throughout his life.
Williams himself remembers that it wasn’t until 1979 that two Black quarterbacks started in the same game. That happened in Week 5 between Williams’ Buccaneers and the Bears, who started quarterback Vince Evans. Williams, who helped the Bucs from historical irrelevance at their beginnings to a trip to the 1979 NFC Championship game, was soon caught in a contract battle with team owner Hugh Culverhouse, and it took him years to become a presence in the league once again.
The NFL banned Black players from 1934 through 1945, and once that ban finally came down, it was decades before Black players were accepted at the “positions of intelligence” — quarterback, center, middle linebacker, safety. For every Black quarterback who made it through the gatekeeper’s gates, there were two who didn’t. Even today, Black quarterbacks face scrutiny and dismissals that white quarterbacks simply do not — ask Bill Polian about that.
So, it is a big deal that this Super Bowl will be started by two Black quarterbacks. But as Andy Reid said this week, it’ll be an even bigger and better deal when it isn’t.
As the only coach to go to Super Bowls with two different teams and with two different Black quarterbacks, it’s appropriate for Reid to have the last word on Mahomes and Hurts..
“The biggest thing is they’re really good. I think that is a tribute to the kids. I mean, that is unique, it is unique. I don’t ever look at it that way [though] — I don’t really care what color you are. If you’re a good player, which at that position takes a tremendous amount of time and effort, I can really appreciate that. I’ve never been one that really looked at the color part of it. Where I grew up, we had everybody — everybody was a part of the equation. Someday I hope that’s the way it all works and as we go on, you’ll never have to be asked a question like this again.”