Rise of the Black quarterback
BY ISHMAEL H. SISTRUNK
OF THE ST. LOUIS AMERICAN
(NNPA)- Sunday night, San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick was a forgotten flag away from becoming the first black signal caller to win the Super Bowl since Doug Williams back in 1988.
Now before you go and start questioning Kaepernick’s ethnic creed, yes he’s technically biracial – just like Barack Obama, Tiger Woods and Halle Berry. If there’s still any lingering doubt, he’s a Kappa for goodness sake. Black card activated. Now let’s get back on topic.
Kaepernick’s meteoric rise from Alex Smith’s backup to Super Bowl runner-up in just his 10th game as a starter highlights the lightning fast rise of African-American QBs in the NFL. While guys like Warren Moon and Randall Cunningham excited fans and posted big numbers in the 80s and 90s, neither could lead their team to a title. The next generation included dynamic dual threats such as Donovan McNabb, the late Steve McNair, Kordell Stewart, Daunte Culpepper and Michael Vick. Each of them reached a high level of popularity in their careers and all experienced a high level of success, but they too fell short of Super Bowl glory.
Now the next great wave of black quarterbacks and arrived, as athletic and accurate as ever. Last season, Cam Newton made the leap from Heisman Trophy winner and collegiate National Champion at Auburn to NFL Rookie of the Year in his first season for the Carolina Panthers. Newton silenced critics who thought he wouldn’t succeed on Sundays by amassing over 4,000 yards as a rookie. In addition to Kaepernick, this season saw Washington’s Robert Griffin III and Russell Wilson lead their teams to the postseason as rookies.
Griffin helped the Redskins double their wins to earn a playoff berth and followed in Newton’s honors in being named the top rookie. His impact on the team was so great that Coach Mike Shanahan gambled on the kid’s future when he played his star player, despite a bum knee, in the playoff because he felt Griffin could lead his team to a Super Bowl. Of course the move backfired and Griffin suffered a severe knee injury, but his uncanny accuracy as a passer should allow him to return to success on the field once his injury is healed.
Wilson finished third in the ROY voting, but his impact was just as significant on the field. After beating out a high-priced free-agent acquisition (Matt Flynn) for the starting role, Wilson took command of the Seahawks and racked up clutch plays all season long to lead his team to an 11-5 record and just missed a shot at the 49ers in the NFC Championship game when the Falcons pulled off a last-minute comeback from the Seahawks comeback.
With the success and rising popularity of these new age quarterbacks of color, the old adage of “you can’t win with a running quarterback” (aka black quarterbacks can’t get it done) is being thrown out the window. More teams are now running versions of the option, wildcat and pistol offenses to keep defenses guessing. While Griffin ultimately paid for his heart and happy feet, Kaepernick was only hit six times during the season. Even though he averaged 6.6 yards per carry, he was smart enough to slide or get out of bounds before defenders could catch up to him. His size and scrambling smarts should help him stay as injury-free as you can expect in tackle football. Newton is another big boy who can dish a hit as well as take one.
What does this mean for the future of minority QBs in the NFL? A lot. Even after Vick and McNabb shot to superstardom owners, coaches and GMs were still wary of handing the reigns to “dual threat” QBs. Guys like Brad Smith, Joshua Cribbs and Antwaan Randle-El were forced to switch positions to continue cashing professional paychecks. But the NFL is a copycat league, so with each success will come another opportunity for the next black quarterback. In addition to Vick, Kaepernick, Newton, Griffin and Wilson, Josh Freeman has been the starter in Tampa Bay for several seasons. Also Thaddeus Lewis and Aaron Pryor will get long looks during the off-season after filling in for injured starters to finish out the season. Eventually those increased opportunities will trickle up and we’ll see more African-American coordinators, coaches and executives since successful quarterbacks are often seen intelligent leaders and are shown plenty of love by their organizations after they hang up the cleats.
The future is bright for black quarterbacks in the NFL. As teams begin to build around them, one thing is certain. Doug Williams won’t be the sole signal-calling brotha with championship bling for too much longer.