AFC East: Marlin Briscoe

Video: Marlin Briscoe made history at QB

February, 11, 2010

In honor of Black History Month, ESPN looks back at the trailblazing career of Marlin Briscoe, who, with the Denver Broncos in 1968, became the first black quarterback to start in the modern era.

Briscoe went on to play for the Buffalo Bills, Miami Dolphins and New England Patriots. He was a receiver on Miami's undefeated 1972 team.

In October 2008, I wrote a feature on Briscoe's remarkable life -- he has battled a crack-cocaine addiction and lost his Super Bowl rings -- to mark the 40th anniversary of his groundbreaking start.

Kemp was the mouse that roared

May, 3, 2009
As a rookie linebacker at Los Angeles Chargers training camp in 1960, Paul Maguire assumed he would be in for all sorts of unusual experiences.

One of the first times Maguire crouched into his stance, he couldn't believe his ears.

"He was calling signals and his voice was so high I thought 'This has got to be a joke.' And then I saw him throw," said Maguire, whose voice turned into a low, rumbling chuckle. "I said 'His voice can be as high as he wants it to be.' "
Lou Witt/Getty Images
Buffalo quarterback Jack Kemp, who led the Bills to two AFL championships, died on Saturday.

Maguire was referring to Jack Kemp, a vagabond quarterback who'd been cut by four NFL teams and failed to stick with the Canadian Football League, but whose determination and screaming ambition would make him one of America's strongest voices.

"Whatever he decided he was going to do was done," Maguire said.

After years of taxi squads and pink slips, Kemp proved himself a winner and a leader. He guided the Buffalo Bills to AFL championships in 1964 and 1965 and became one our nation's most influential Republicans. He served nine terms in Congress, was a member of George H.W. Bush's cabinet and was a vice-presidential candidate.

Kemp died Saturday at his home in Bethesda, Md. He was 73.

"He was a terrific guy, a special friend, a special person," said Kemp's roommate at Occidental College, former NFL coach Jim Mora. "I'm pretty saddened by this."

Kemp's office released a statement in January that confirmed Kemp had cancer. Those close to him knew it was terminal.

A couple weeks ago, Mora and another Occidental roommate, NFL umpire Ron Botchan, dropped by for a weekend visit to see their old college buddy.

"It was tough because he was struggling," Mora said by phone Sunday from Palm Desert, Calif. "It wasn't the Jack that I was used to, outgoing, take charge, center of attention, dominate the conversation. That's how Jack was.

"When we saw him, he was very quiet. He couldn't talk well because he'd had radiation that affected his vocal cords. It was almost a whisper when he talked."

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Briscoe honored for breaking QB barrier

February, 12, 2009
Marlin Briscoe, the first black quarterback to start a game in the modern era, was feted last week on the House floor.
Darryl Norenberg/Getty Images
On Oct. 6, 1968, Marlin Briscoe became the first black quarterback in the modern era to start a game.

U.S. Rep. Lee Terry of Briscoe's hometown of Omaha, Neb., entered him into the Congressional Record to honor his accomplishment 40 years ago as part of Black History Month.

A copy of the Congressional Record was presented to Briscoe on Monday at Metropolitan Community College, which sits on the former Armour packing house site three blocks from the bleak neighborhood where he grew up.

"It's gratifying that my city would honor me," Briscoe said. "There were several kids I grew up with in the projects that were able to come to the event and I wasn't able to see them for 40 years. That was rewarding for me. They knew the journey.

"It was unbelievable my city would open its arms to me and honor me as an important part of black history."

Briscoe made his historic start for the Denver Broncos in October 1968. He was converted to receiver with the Buffalo Bills the next season and became a Pro Bowler. He won two Super Bowl rings with the Miami Dolphins, playing on their undefeated 1972 team.

The Magician, as he was known for his spellbinding play-making abilities, made those rings disappear. Despite a lucrative post-retirement career as a municipal bonds broker, he lost it all. He pawned his Super Bowl bling for drug money when his life spiraled out of control and he became a crack cocaine addict. He spent time in prison.

Briscoe, 63, claims he has been sober since 1990. He's the assistant director for the Boys & Girls Club in Long Beach, Calif. A film about his life is in the pre-production stages, and he hopes his recent honors will spur the movie forward.

"Hopefully, I can be a source of inspiration," Briscoe said. "I'm glad God chose me to be successful in pulling it off so every African-American could look to pursue that position. As a litmus test, I was glad I was able to inspire young black men.

"Before, it was a pipe dream. When I was growing up, black kids didn't even think about it. Now they can aspire to reach that level, and if not that level, any level they want to. It's important when you're the first of anything to be successful, so other people get the opportunity to realize their dreams."

40 years ago, Briscoe broke QB barrier

October, 6, 2008
Darryl Norenberg/Getty Images
In 1968, Marlin Briscoe became the first black quarterback in the modern era to start a game.

Forty years have passed -- a long time, but not a lifetime.

What a big moment it was then. Now it's a weekly occurrence in multiple NFL stadiums.

A black quarterback starting in the NFL is no big deal these days. A couple generations have grown up with Doug Williams and Warren Moon and Donovan McNabb and Daunte Culpepper and Michael Vick running offenses.

But when Marlin Briscoe broke the Denver Broncos huddle and surveyed the Cincinnati Bengals defense as he walked to the line of scrimmage Oct. 6, 1968, he became the first black quarterback in the modern era to start a game.

"It's come a long way," Briscoe said from his home in Long Beach, Calif. "They thought a black man could not think, throw and lead at that level."

Now the United States could be on the verge of electing its first black president.

Willie Thrower was the first black quarterback to get into an NFL game in 1953, but stereotypes and small-mindedness prevented coaches from providing a real opportunity until Lou Saban, partially out of desperation, handed the job to Briscoe.

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