View Full Version : Marlin Briscoe Story

02-24-2010, 06:46 AM
I don't think this has been posted anywhere. I thought it was a very interesting read.

Part 1 (http://www.miamidolphins.com/news/part-1-how-marlin-briscoe-revolutionized-pro-football-african-americans?)

There was no ulterior motive in play, no desire by Marlin Briscoe to make a political statement when he pressed the Denver Broncos to allow him to try out with the rest of the quarterbacks in 1968 after being drafted in the 14th round.

But history is what came out of that little power play he pulled on his own, without an agent doing the talking, as Briscoe would become the first African-American to start at quarterback during that rookie season.

Being a quarterback was all that the confident and talented rookie had known up to that point and it was where he excelled in college at the University of Nebraska-Omaha. So even though the Broncos drafted Briscoe with the intention of converting him to a defensive back, and even though he occupied the starting cornerback position in training camp, Briscoe was intent on proving he could play the most important position on the field, and he knew there was a ready-made stage for him to prove it.

“I knew that Denver was one of the only teams in the NFL that had held their practices open to the public and the media, so I wanted to showcase my skills,” said Briscoe, who was a top receiver for the Miami Dolphins from 1972-74. “I had been an All-American in college, set a bunch of records and I always thought that I could play the position, but upon being drafted that was not going to be the case. So I negotiated my own contract, and in that contract I said that I would sign as a defensive back but they would have to give me a three-day trial at quarterback. And they thought I was crazy, wondering how a 14th-round draft pick could dictate those terms.”

Denver did not immediately agree, but eventually gave in because Briscoe was deemed a very important cog to the team’s future. He was penciled in eighth on a depth chart with eight quarterbacks but proceeded to shine on the field for everyone to see, making all of the mid-range, short and long-range throws. His athleticism stood out as at 5-foot-10 and 177 pounds he could move outside of the pocket and extend plays with his speed, and the press and the public took notice.

The Broncos, however, pushed forward with their plan to use Briscoe as a cornerback and moved him back into the secondary after the third day of the open tryout came to an end. Steve Tensi was entrenched as the starting quarterback and Joe DiVito was his backup, so Briscoe began his NFL career on the defensive side of the ball. A hamstring injury sidelined Briscoe early that season and at the same time he was getting himself healthy, Tensi broke his collarbone and was trying to gut his way through a game against the Boston Patriots on September 29th, 1968. Prior to that third game of the season, head coach Lou Saban already set things in motion for Briscoe to make history.

“I went to my locker and there was a number 15 in it, so I’m thinking that I got cut because I was just coming off of an injury,” said Briscoe, who had been wearing the number 45 as a cornerback. “My immediate reaction was, ‘What am I going to do now?’ I turned around and Lou Saban was staring me in the back and he said, ‘You see the number 15?’ And I said, ‘Well, yes sir,’ and he said, ‘You’re now a quarterback.’ My heart raced, my leg got better and it was an exciting moment at that point. I guess what happened was the press and the fans said, ‘Well, that little guy from Omaha, he was one of the best in camp so why don’t you give him a chance?’ And that’s what happened.”

Saban inserted Briscoe into the game early in the fourth quarter at home and the Patriots ahead by 10 points only to watch as Briscoe nearly pull out a come-from-behind victory. Boston held on to win, 20-17, but Briscoe’s first play was a 22-yard pass completion, and on his second series he engineered an 80-yard scoring drive, capping it off himself with a 12-yard touchdown run. He finished with 51 rushing yards on five attempts and completed 2-of-6 passes for 43 yards, having told himself when he took the field that all he wanted to do was complete his first pass.

One week later at home, Briscoe started at quarterback against the Cincinnati Bengals, making October 6th, 1968, a watershed moment not only in sports history but in American history. That date doesn’t quite resonate like April 15th, 1947, when Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in baseball, but it certainly paved the way for future black quarterbacks like Doug Williams, Warren Moon, Randall Cunningham and more recently Steve McNair, Donovan McNabb and Michael Vick. The fact that his big moment happened in 1968 is something that is not lost on Briscoe.

“We’re talking about one of the most pivotal years in the 1960s in terms of change,” Briscoe said. “You had all the events that happened in ’68 – Bob Gibson won the Cy Young Award, John Carlos and Tommie Smith holding up their gloved fists at the 1968 Summer Olympics and the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King. You had all of those things happening, so 1968 was probably the year it was most definitely going to happen. It was kind of ironic that a lot of the changes that happened in this country came in that year.

“Really, I never thought of myself as a black quarterback. I was the first black quarterback on all levels that I ever played because I grew up in a predominantly white environment even though I grew up in the projects. So I really just thought of myself as a quarterback, but obviously it was an important event in the history of the NFL and in the black community. And then when Ebony Magazine came to do a six-page story on me, I realized how important it was to Black America that I not fail.”

Briscoe did not fail. In fact, he still sits atop Denver’s record book for the most touchdown passes thrown by a rookie quarterback (14) and his 17.1 yards per completion led the AFL and ranks 18th all-time. He ended that season completing 93-of-224 passes for 1,589 yards, 14 touchdowns and 13 interceptions. Briscoe also rushed for 308 yards and three touchdowns on 41 carries, all the while having no idea it would be his one and only season playing the position that he loved

02-24-2010, 06:47 AM
Part 2 (http://www.miamidolphins.com/news/part-2-how-marlin-briscoe-revolutionized-pro-football-african-americans?)

After compiling a 2-3 record as a rookie starting quarterback for the Denver Broncos in 1968 and setting a franchise record for touchdown passes thrown by a rookie (14) that still stands to this day, Marlin Briscoe felt pretty secure with his job standing headed into the 1969 season.

Briscoe had shouldered the responsibility of becoming the first African-American starting quarterback in NFL history with grace and confidence, so in the offseason he took the opportunity to go back to the University of Nebraska-Omaha to finish his studies and get his degree in architecture. While he was hitting the books, Broncos head coach Lou Saban held some quarterback meetings without him. Saban already had determined Steve Tensi was going to regain his starting job and that he was going to move Briscoe back to cornerback, so upon finding this out, Briscoe asked for his release and began seeking out other teams that might give him a chance at quarterback.

“I started out with teams I had success against like Buffalo, Oakland and Kansas City, and there were no takers,” Briscoe recalled. “When I called Oakland, John Rauch, who was the head coach the year before when I almost beat them, was now the head coach at Buffalo and he said that he didn’t need any help at quarterback but he needed help at wide receiver. Well, I had never played wide receiver in my life, even on the playground, but I felt there wasn’t going to be any takers at quarterback and if I was going to remain in the league then I would have to switch positions.”

Briscoe actually was in Canada at a hotel because he had gone to try out for the B.C. Lions at quarterback. After one practice he knew Canadian football was not for him so he flew out to Buffalo the next day to begin his career with the Bills. When he arrived, Rauch’s top two quarterbacks – Jack Kemp and Tom Flores – were both injured so Briscoe was allowed to throw the ball in practice and then practice as a wide receiver at the end of practice.

Confident in his natural athletic ability and blessed with good hands from all of those years handling the football as a quarterback, Briscoe immersed himself in the wide receiver position and watched film of some of the game’s top receivers at the time like Hall-of-Famers Lance Alworth and Paul Warfield. He had no idea at the time that he and Warfield would wind up as teammates on the Miami Dolphins and both would play pivotal roles in Miami’s unprecedented success in the early 1970s. He was only concerned with becoming the best receiver he could be.

“Catching wasn’t a problem, and as a quarterback I knew what I wanted of my receivers, so that helped me,” said Briscoe, who caught 32 passes for 532 yards and a team-high five touchdowns that first season in Buffalo. “That helped me a lot as far as making the transition, and within two years I was at the top of my game.”

Briscoe’s one and only Pro Bowl appearance came in 1970 as he reeled in 57 passes for 1,036 yards and eight touchdowns, finishing second in the AFL in both categories, and he followed that up in what would be his final season in Buffalo with 44 catches for 603 yards and a team-high five touchdowns. It seemed as if Briscoe had found a home with Rauch and the Bills, but then another coaching change expedited his departure.

Saban was hired as the new Bills head coach following a 1-13 season and had no desire to work with Briscoe after their falling out in Denver, so he traded the team’s best wide receiver to the Miami Dolphins before the start of the 1972 season. Miami had reached the Super Bowl for the first time in 1971, losing 24-3 to the Dallas Cowboys in Super Bowl VI, and head coach Don Shula was more than happy to add another athletic receiver into the fold along side Warfield, especially one that could also throw the ball.

“I had been following the events of Marlin’s career via the sports pages and I did not know him personally, but I wondered about his leaving Denver, and then almost overnight in Buffalo he converted to not only a wide receiver but a wide receiver of excellence,” Warfield said. “I think it’s a tremendous tribute to him as an individual and in terms of his determination it’s a great story. I mean to learn to become a wide receiver after being groomed as a quarterback since scholastic football and to make that transition and to do it virtually on his own again is an indication of his ability to take on big challenges and have success.”

Helping to complete the only perfect season in NFL history is the epitome of success, and Briscoe’s four touchdown catches in 1972 led the Dolphins. He also was a perfect 3-of-3 passing for 72 yards as Shula used him on some trick plays. He followed that up in 1973 by leading all Miami receivers with 30 catches for 447 yards and two touchdowns and credited Warfield with teaching him how to become a better receiver.

During their three seasons together on the Dolphins, Briscoe and Warfield became good friends and Warfield really respected Briscoe’s intelligence and ability to learn quickly. Having come up through a disciplined passing system with the Cleveland Browns, Warfield was able to pass on some of the intricacies of precise route running and receiving to Briscoe. He watched Briscoe put in a lot of extra hours after practice working on his route running, and Briscoe fondly recalls how fairly he and all of the African-American players on the team were treated by Shula.

“He looked at our ability to play and he used whatever assets that he thought we had for the better of the team and implemented those assets into the game,” Briscoe said. “There were three games in which he let me throw a pass that we ended up needing to win the game. He let the coaches coach and a lot of coaches don’t let their coaches coach, but he was still in control, obviously. Hey, we lost five games in the three years I was there so obviously he knew what he was doing.”

But following the 1974 season, in which the Dolphins narrowly missed advancing to their fourth consecutive Super Bowl, Briscoe lasted just two more seasons in the league with three different teams. He started out in 1975 with the San Diego Chargers and after three games ended up with the Detroit Lions, where he caught 22 passes for 347 yards and four touchdowns. Briscoe’s final season in 1976 was spent with the New England Patriots.

Life after football brought on more difficult challenges, the most serious being his 10-year battle with drug addiction. It took sinking to the bottom, which included seeing his two Super Bowl rings auctioned off because he had put them up as collateral on a loan that he defaulted on, to force Briscoe to make yet another transition – a transition back to a positive life. He succeeded thanks to a lot of help from friends and family and has since used his experiences to help teach young kids out in California about the danger of drugs.

Now a movie about Briscoe’s life is in the works called “The Magician,” with screenwriter Gregory Allen Howard onboard. Howard is best known for writing the screenplays for “Ali” and “Remember The Titans,” and is partnering with sports attorney Leigh Steinberg and West Omaha Films on the project. Jamie Foxx is being targeted for the lead role of Briscoe, although Briscoe feels Cuba Gooding, Jr. bears a closer resemblance to him.

“It’s an independent film and has taken a while to get to this stage,” Briscoe explained. “We had gone through three other writers, but now that we have Greg we can really move forward with the rest of the casting and such. I’ve talked with Jamie’s father before and I know Jamie’s close to my height, but either one of them would be good. It’s taking off and I’m flabbergasted because after my career was over, and even during my career, I never got a lot of publicity. I’d just go out on the field and play. It’s awesome because I thought nobody really appreciated what I was able to accomplish, but now I’m getting some recognition.”

Briscoe’s recognition may be long overdue, but it is recognition nonetheless.

02-24-2010, 09:48 AM
Thx, Dirk...nice read.

:salute: Mr. Briscoe!


02-26-2010, 07:50 PM
My Adopted Bronco. The First Black QB!

02-26-2010, 10:19 PM
We had season tickets in 1968 and I remember watching Briscoe play quarterback. Back then, few quarterbacks ran except out of necessity. Briscoe ran the position more like a point guard than a dropback passer. He was similar to the late Norris Weese a decade later. Being a shorter player, he often rolled out and did run-pass options in the flat. I can see why most coaches wouldn't want to design an entire offense for that back in the 60s when they all lusted for the classic dropback passer.

It was a bit odd (and mature) to me that so little fanfare was made about Briscoe's race. Part of it was because he was playing in a backwater town in a what was still thought to be a second-rate league before game highlights were shown on the late news, much less the internet, YouTube or ESPN. As a sub-.500 team, the Broncos simply didn't touch the national conscience. And Briscoe, for his part, didn't make any noise about being a black quarterback - he just wanted to play quarterback like thousands of other kids.

I'm glad to see Briscoe's story get the attention it deserves although I worry that it will get the "Hollywood treatment" like recent race-breaking sports movies where almost every white person is depicted as a redneck racist shouting epithets at anyone with black skin while smearing their hotel rooms in blood. I hope they don't try to depict Denver fans like that.

The Broncos of the late 60s were not color-blind but they weren't segregated either. Blacks and whites on the team mingled amongst each other quite often both on and off the field and Denver fans cheered both with equal joy. Ask Floyd Little.

03-22-2010, 09:02 PM
I'm glad to see Briscoe's story get the attention it deserves although I worry that it will get the "Hollywood treatment" like recent race-breaking sports movies where almost every white person is depicted as a redneck racist shouting epithets at anyone with black skin while smearing their hotel rooms in blood. I hope they don't try to depict Denver fans like that.

The Broncos of the late 60s were not color-blind but they weren't segregated either. Blacks and whites on the team mingled amongst each other quite often both on and off the field and Denver fans cheered both with equal joy. Ask Floyd Little.

1968 was my first year of season tickets and briscoe was one of my favorite players. He was popular with my friends, too. He was so exciting to watch with his mobility - behind a shaky offensive line he was much more effective than the statue Steve Tensi.

As a 12 year old I couldn't understand why Sabin didn't want to play briscoe. As I remember in 1969 the broncos brought in Pete Liske from Canada to play qb in addition to Tensi.

There was definitely a problem between Sabin and Briscoe - whether it was race related or whatever who knows. The fans didn't care - you are right the denver fans cheered both white and black players with equal joy (and more joy for Briscoe than Tensi since Marlin was such an exciting player)

I really haven't seen a quarterback like Briscoe since then. He was kind of like Rick Upchurch playing quarterback - he had great quick movies - and he had a good arm, too He just didn't fit the mold of the classic drop back quarterback of the day.