Bakari Clemmons |Staff Writer
When Super Bowl 50 kicks off on February 7, Cam Newton, arguably the most popular African American quarterback today, will become the sixth African-American quarterback in NFL history to start in the big game.
Newton has “dabbed” his way to success this year, accumulating a regular season QBR of 99.4 and is tied for most rushing TDs by a QB with legendary 49ers QB Steve Young. There are currently only two African-American quarterbacks that have won a Super Bowl for their team.
The one most people know is Russell Wilson. In 2014, the Richmond, Virginia native led the Seattle Seahawks to a 41-9 win over Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos, bringing the franchise its first ever NFL championship.
So who was the first, you might ask? The often overlooked Doug Williams. A product of Grambling State University, Williams was drafted 17th overall by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. He led a team that had previously struggled with a 5-11 record the year before to a 10-6 record and a 1979 NFC Championship berth.
Williams spent some time in the United States Football League (USFL) with the Oklahoma Outlaws before going the Redskins in 1986. In 1988, Williams led the Washington Redskins to 42-10 Super Bowl win, throwing for 340 yards and four touchdowns, making him the first black quarterback to play and win a Super Bowl. To top it all off, he won the Super Bowl MVP.
While Newton has definitely made a name for himself, it is important to remember that he is not the first black QB to have this much success. If you’re an Philadelphia Eagles, Minnesota Vikings, Dallas Cowboys or Baltimore Ravens fan, Randall Cunningham might be a name that sticks out. Many would debate that he was the Cam Newton of his time. He was nicknamed “The Ultimate Weapon” and “The Scrambling Superback.”
Cunningham was in the league from 1985-2001. The three-time NFL MVP announced his retirement at the end of the 1995 season, became an analyst for TNT in 1996, and returned to the league in 1997. Cunningham’s most impactful years were with the Eagles and the Vikings. In the 1988 season, he was selected by the NFC to be their starting QB in the Pro Bowl, becoming the first black quarterback to start in the Pro Bowl.
Cunningham made it to the playoffs eight times over his career but could not get past the NFC Championship game. Along with Hall of Fame receiver Cris Carter and future HOF’er Randy Moss, Cunningham led the Vikings to a 15-1 record before losing in the NFC Championship game to the Atlanta Falcons.
This next QB is known for his versatility, because he can do more than just throw. Kordell “Slash” Stewart was the 60th pick in the 1995 NFL Draft by the Pittsburgh Steelers. He saw success in his first season as starting QB in 1997, going 11-5, but eventually lost to the Broncos in the AFC Championship game.
2001 was Stewart’s best year, throwing for 14 touchdowns, rushing for five touchdowns, completing 60 percent of his passes and leading his team to a 13-3 record. Stewart and the Steelers were left out of the Super Bowl yet again, however, this time losing to the Patriots in the AFC Championship game.
Newport News, Virginia has bred a slew of talented black quarterbacks and these next two are some of the best.
Selected in the fourth round in 1999, Aaron Brooks achieved what was the impossible at that time when he threw four touchdowns enroute to defeating the defending Super Bowl champs, St. Louis Rams, in his first ever playoff start in 2000.
He did this without having the team’s leading rusher (Ricky Williams) and receiver (Joe Horn), to their first ever playoff win in franchise history. Take that, Drew Brees!
The second Newport News product is a man named Michael Vick. Does he ring a bell? The dynamic lefty made history in 2001, becoming the first African American quarterback to be drafted first overall.
Vick changed the face of the Falcons, breaking multiple franchise and league records. In his first playoff game in the 2002-2003 season, he helped the Falcons take down the highly favored Green Bay Packers. In the next round of the playoffs, he lost to another dominant black QB and his Eagles.
In the 2004-2005 season, Vick came back from an injury and was better than ever. They reached the playoffs again, beat the St. Louis Rams in the first round and fell to the Eagles yet again in the NFC Championship.
And now to the man Vick couldn’t seem to beat in the playoffs, Donovan McNabb. McNabb was another all-around threat. He has made seven trips to the playoffs, winning at least one game in the playoffs every time except his last.
His trip to Super Bowl 39 in 2004 was a memorable one. McNabb struggled early, throwing three interceptions but came back and threw three touchdowns and 357 yards. Unfortunately, his efforts came too little too late and the Eagles lost, 24-21.
Daunte Culpepper, who many thought was too big for his position was just right for the Vikings. Culpepper and McNabb were both drafted in 1999, giving the NFL two great black QBs in one year.
Culpepper was named the starting quarterback in the 2000-2001 season and found immediate success. He led the Vikings to a 11-5 regular season record and a dominant first round playoff win over the Saints. In the NFC Championship game, they were blown out 41-0 by the New York Giants.
It wasn’t for another three seasons until Daunte Culpepper would find significant success again. In the 2004 season, the Vikings just barely made the playoffs with an 8-8 record. The Vikings would win their Wild Card game against the Packers but then lose to McNabb and the Eagles in the Divisional Round.
The late Steve McNair is yet another great African-American quarterback that was widely respected by the league and fans.
McNair played his college career at Alcorn State University and was drafted 3rd overall in 1995.
He is best known for playing for the Houston Oilers/Tennessee Oilers/Tennessee Titans and leading that franchise to four playoff appearances and one Super Bowl appearance. In 2003, he was awarded Co-MVP alongside legendary quarterback Peyton Manning.
In 2006, “Air” McNair moved on to Baltimore to play for the Ravens and led them to a 13-3 record and their first playoff berth since 2003. McNair played against his former Co-MVP, Peyton Manning, but came up short in the AFC Divisional Round, losing 15-6.
These quarterbacks have paved the way for more generations of African Americans to come into the league. As the league expands and becomes more diversified, remember to thank the greats that started it all.