Marlin Briscoe, American Pro Football's First Black Starting Quarterback, Dead at 76

Marlin Briscoe, the first Black starting quarterback in American professional football, died on Monday, according to the Associated Press. He was 76 years old. Briscoe's daughter, Angela Marriott, said that the cause of death was pneumonia. Briscoe was hospitalized in Norwalk, California and was dealing with circulation issues with his legs. 

"We are heartbroken to learn of the passing of former Broncos QB Marlin Briscoe," the Denver 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."  

Briscoe was selected by the Broncos, who were playing in the American Football League (AFL) at the time, in the 14th round of the draft in 1968. Nicknamed "The Magician," Briscoe began his AFL/NFL career as a cornerback but convinced the Broncos to try him out at quarterback since he played the position for Omaha University. He played in 11 games in five starts as quarterback for the Broncos and threw 14 touchdown passes. He also threw for 335 yards in a game against the Buffalo Bills, and it would stand as a rookie record until John Elway broke it in 1983. 

Before the 1969 season began, Briscoe learned that he wasn't going to be the starting quarterback, which led to him asking to be released. He joined the Buffalo Bills that season and would play wide receiver. Briscoe would play for four more teams in his career and would never play quarterback again. But he did have success as a wide receiver as he helped the Miami Dolphins win back-to-back Super Bowls. 

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"There were a few things that society didn't think a Black man could do, and [three were] think, throw and lead," Briscoe said in 2021. "They didn't know how the fan reaction, manager reaction, player and teammate reaction — they didn't know how that was going to be."  Along with winning two Super Bowls, Briscoe was named to the Pro Bowl as a member of the Bills in 1970. As a receiver, Briscoe would finish his career with 224 receptions, 3,537 yards and 30 touchdowns. As a quarterback, Briscoe threw for 1,697 yards, 14 touchdowns and 14 interceptions.