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Marlin Briscoe, the 1st Black starting quarterback in the AFL, dies


Marlin Briscoe, who became the first Black starting quarterback in the American Football League more than 50 years ago,  passed away last week at the age of 76.

His daughter, Angela Marriott, said her father had been hospitalized with circulation issues in his legs and died of pneumonia at a hospital in Norwalk, California. Brisco’s funeral is on July 12th. His family has set up a GoFundMe account for those who wish to assist with the burial cost.

A native of Omaha, Nebraska, Brisco, known affectionately by his nickname “The Magician”, arrived in Denver after a stellar collegiate career at what was then known as Omaha University. The Denver Broncos drafted him as a cornerback in the 14th round in 1968.

“We are heartbroken to learn of the passing of former Broncos QB Marlin Briscoe,” the Broncos said in a statement. “Marlin was a pioneer who shattered barriers, making history as the first Black starting quarterback in the Super Bowl era. He paved the way for countless others and created an indelible legacy, including through our Marlin Briscoe Diversity Coaching Fellowship. Our deepest sympathies go out to Marlin’s family, friends, and former teammates.” 

Brisco played during a time when benefits were not available, so Bronco team members are reaching out to help and are spreading the word on the GoFundMe account. Extra funds raised will be donated in a scholarship in Brisco’s name at Omaha to help kids go to college.

When he arrived in Denver, Brisco wanted to play quarterback and told the team he’d return home to become a teacher if he couldn’t get a tryout at quarterback. Brisco got his chance and nearly rallied the Broncos to victory as a reserve against the Boston Patriots on Sept. 29. 

It was 1968 and the fourth game of the American Football League Season when Denver’s head coach, Lou Saban, made Marlin Briscoe the first Black quarterback to play for a professional football team. Playing 11 games, Brisco set professional records for a rookie quarterback including 14 touchdowns in 11 games as well as 1.589 passing yards.

He earned the historic first start a week later. During that ’68’ season, Briscoe started five games and was runner-up for AFL rookie of the year after passing for 1,589 yards and 14 touchdowns and rushing for 308 yards and three scores. 

Briscoe was an electrifying player and a vision of how the position would be played decades later by the likes of other elite black quarterbacks such as Doug Williams, Mike Vick, Russell Wilson, Patrick Mahomes, and many others.

Despite the impressive record and without explanation, Denver didn’t give Briscoe a chance to compete for the quarterback job in 1969. Briscoe asked to be released. Briscoe was picked up by the Buffalo Bills. He switched to receiver, became roommates with  James Harris, and helped Harris become the first Black quarterback in the AFL to open a season as a starter.

Buffalo Bills cornerback Booker Edgerson recalls Briscoe passing in 1968 for 335 yards and four touchdowns in a 34-32 Denver win. A former AFL All-Star and member of the Bills’ Wall of Fame, Edgerson believed Briscoe could have been a Hall of Fame quarterback if not for racism. 

Edgerson recalls Briscoe telling him he didn’t feel the Broncos were ready to fully commit to a Black quarterback. “He would have been one of the top quarterbacks that they’d be talking about right now,” Edgerson said. “He would’ve been another … he would have been in there before Warren Moon.”

Briscoe’s history in the league sheds light on the discrimination he and others faced and the stereotypes of racial inferiority that they endured on a daily basis. In spite of his successes with the Broncos, they moved on from him. Brisco never found a chance to play quarterback again in the AFL.

During his professional football career, Briscoe earned a trip to the Pro Bowl as a receiver for Buffalo in 1970 and won two Super Bowls as a receiver with the Miami Dolphins. He was on the undefeated 1972 Dolphins team.

Briscoe was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 2016, and the Broncos named a diversity coaching fellowship in his honor before the 2021 season.

After his playing days, Briscoe remained outspoken about racial injustice.


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