Black quarterbacks in the NFL in the 1960s and 1970s were denied opportunities to lead teams and make a living. In 1969 James Harris was an eighth round draft pick of the Buffalo Bills. The Bill’s made James Harris the first African American to start a “season” at quarterback in the history of professional football. Marlin Briscoe of the Denver Broncos was the first black quarterback to start a “game.”
In 1973, James Harris, was traded to the LA Rams. During the 1974 season Harris became the Ram’s starter. He led the Ram’s to a division title and Harris became the first African American quarterback to win an NFL play-off game. In 1974 Harris played in the NFL Pro Bowl and was named MVP of the game. With Briscoe and Harris breaking the color barrier at the quarterback position in the NFL, and playing so well, it seemed that elusive door would forever remain open; but it did not. In 1978 Tampa Bay drafted Doug Williams, an African American quarterback, in the first round of the draft. The Bucks, before Williams arrived to play quarterback for them, had won just two games in two years. But under Williams as quarterback Tampa Bay went to the playoffs three times in four years and played in the 1979 championship game.
During this time Doug Williams was the only starting African American quarterback in the NFL. Williams was paid the lowest salary of any quarterback in the NFL, and earned a salary less than twelve back-up quarterbacks in the league.
Williams finally left the NFL, underpaid and under appreciated, for the USFL. But in 1986, Williams returned to the NFL and the Washington Redskins. He led the Redskin’s to a victory in Super Bowl XXII over the Denver Broncos, becoming the first black quarterback to play and win a Super Bowl. In that Super Bowl Doug Williams was fantastic. He was 18 of 29 passing for 340 yards and four TD’s. Doug was also named Super Bowl MVP.
Marlon Briscoe and James Harris were tremendous quarterbacks. They knocked on the NFL door. But Doug Williams kicked the door down. He changed the NFL game from the quarterback position forever.