Passing pioneers: A list of the Black quarterbacks in Super Bowl history

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Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Jalen Hurts speaks to the media during the NFL Super Bowl LVII Opening Night.

Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Jalen Hurts speaks to the media during the NFL Super Bowl LVII Opening Night.
Image: Getty Images

Sixteen years after Lovie Smith and the Chicago Bears faced off against Tony Dungy and his Indianapolis Colts in Super Bowl XLI, making history as the first two Black head coaches to reach that game, Jalen Hurts and his Philadelphia Eagles and Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs are making history of their own as the first Black quarterbacks to ever matchup in the NFL’s crown jewel.

What started with Marlin Briscoe — the first Black starting quarterback in NFL history — and Doug Williams — the first Black quarterback to start in a Super Bowl MVP — has evolved to a moment in which people are celebrating the moment without being confused about how we got here.

“It was 11 Black quarterbacks that started the season, and we’re fortunate enough to get two in the Super Bowl,” said Williams in a recent interview. “That’s a thing in itself. But in my estimation, I’m thinking in the next five to 10 years, half of the quarterbacks in the National Football League will be Black.

“They [younger Black quarterbacks] respect what has happened. They respect history. That’s the most important thing.”

As society, and the game, have changed with time, it’s offered more opportunities for Black quarterbacks to showcase their talents. Gone are the days of their ceilings as signal callers being limited to the high school and college games, where many were forced to change their natural position to “utilize their athleticism.” Now, the thing that was used against them is finally being viewed as an asset, as mobile quarterbacks of all races are phasing the old prototypical pocket passers out of the game.

Before the big game starts, or while it’s happening — depending on when you read this — here’s a look at the Black quarterbacks that have played in the Super Bowl.

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The official name of this Super Bowl should be changed to the “Doug Williams Game.” Besides being the first Black quarterback to start a Super Bowl, Williams decided to make even more history by also being the first Black quarterback to win Super Bowl MVP. The Washington Redacteds scored 35 points in the second quarter as they went on to defeat the Denver Broncos 42-10. Williams was 18-for-29 and finished with 340 yards and four touchdowns through the air. 

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Before he would go on to become the first Black quarterback to win MVP, and after he was the last player from an HBCU to be a Heisman finalist, Steve McNair made a Super Bowl appearance between those two historic events. And while the Titans came up a yard short from potentially tying the game as the clock expired, McNair was more than solid in his performance. He was 22-for-36 and passed for 214 yards and added eight carries for 64 rushing yards.

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Depending on who you ask, people will either tell you that they believe or put no stock in the rumor that McNabb was throwing up on the sidelines during this game due to nerves. But what we can agree on is that McNabb did not play well. The Eagles lost to Tom Brady and the Patriots in this game, as McNabb showed off his best and worst traits. He finished with 357 yards and completed 30 of his 51 passing attempts. He also threw three interceptions to go along with three touchdowns.

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So much happened in this game. Beyoncé performed at halftime. The power went out in Superdome, causing a long delay. And much of the pregame hype was about Jim and John Harbaugh facing each other as the first dueling brothers to coach against each other in the Super Bowl. However, this was also the game in which Kaepernick ignited a huge comeback that fell just short. The 49ers lost 34-31 after making it a close game from being down 21-6 at halftime. Kaepernick was 16-for-28 for 302 yards and one touchdown and added another score and 62 more yards on the ground.

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This was the game in which Wilson played the hero. Led by Seattle’s amazing defense, the Seahawks obliterated Peyton Manning and the Broncos 43-8, as it looked even worse than the final score showed. Wilson completed 18 of his 25 passes for 206 yards and two touchdowns.

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While Jackson didn’t start this game for Seattle, he did play in it. That season Black men played the role of QB1 and QB2 for the Seahawks. Jackson came in during the waning minutes of the game to replace Russell Wilson, and at the 2:08 mark, he checked into the box score on third down when he threw a ball away after being flushed out of the pocket. Jackson passed away at the age of 36 in 2020.

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This was the game in which Pete Carroll decided that he was going to make Wilson the hero — only to turn him into the villain. And while Russell isn’t the one who decided that the Seahawks should throw from the one-yard line instead of giving a guy named “Beast Mode” another chance inches away from the goal line, Wilson gets blamed for throwing the interception to Malcolm Butler — giving the Patriots a 28-24 victory. Wilson was 12-for-21 for 247 yards and two touchdowns to go along with his infamous turnover. 

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Beyond being completely overwhelmed by a stellar Broncos defense, Newton’s bad day got even worse during the postgame press conference when he acted like a sore loser with the media after his Panthers lost 24-10 to Peyton Manning’s Broncos. The league’s MVP only completed 18 of his 41 attempts for 265 yards, no touchdowns, and one interception. Ironically enough, that game ended a streak of four consecutive Super Bowls featuring a Black quarterback.

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In a game in which both quarterbacks threw a pair of interceptions, Mahomes and the Chiefs were able to secure a 31-20 win after scoring 21 points in the fourth quarter. Mahomes connected with Tyreek Hill and Sammy Watkins to create 203 yards of offense as he targeted the pair of wideouts 22 times.

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This time around, Mahomes and the Chiefs didn’t have a chance in hell. The combination of a depleted offensive line and Tom Brady and the Bucs were too much for even Mahomes to overcome. It got so bad that Mahomes reportedly ran 497 yards before throwing the ball or being sacked, as the Tampa Bay defense hounded him all game. The Chiefs lost 31-9, as Mahomes threw for 270 yards and two interceptions as Kansas City’s offense was unable to produce a touchdown. 

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