The 95th Grey Cup Final Four is a Historic Moment for African American Quarterbacks

(Philadelphia, PA) — I know this milestone will not get the fanfare of the Super Bowl XLI match-up of African American coaches Tony Dungy and Lovie Smith, but four African American quarterbacks leading the final four teams of the Canadian Football League’s Grey Cup playoffs does deserve attention everywhere, especially South of the border.  The historic games will be played on November 18th as the Winnipeg Blue Bombers (Kevin Glenn) will play the Toronto Argonauts (Michael Bishop) and the Saskatchewan Roughriders (Kerry Joseph) will host the defending Grey Cup Champion British Columbia Lions (Jarious Jackson).  Given the controversial comments earlier this season by Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb that African American quarterbacks are treated differently in the NFL — sorry for opening up that wound again, but as Donovan said “the truth hurts”  — one cannot help but to notice how the Canadian version of football has fully embraced the idea of an African American player leading a team while there are still lingering questions by some around the NFL game.  This year more than any other in the CFL has shown that the “black quarterback” thing has been squashed in the Great Blue North as the previously mentioned quarterbacks were joined in the playoffs by Calgary Stampeders veteran quarterback Henry Burris and blossoming Montreal Alouettes mercurial quarterback Marcus Brady, creating another first of all six teams vying for the Grey Cup being led by an African American quarterback.The news of an African American quarterback succeeding in Canada given the CFL’s larger field, quick decision making process, and wide-open game, should not be breaking news as a steady stream of black signal callers going back to Willie Thrower have headed North looking for an opportunity.  Thrower had been the first black quarterback in the NFL playing in a couple games for the Chicago Bears in 1953, but he found his “true” opportunity playing in Canada as did former National Championship quarterback Sandy Stephens. The former Big Ten stars didn’t win a Grey Cup championship, but they received the more valuable prize of an opportunity to play the quarterback in the CFL that would have never come in the NFL.  The path that they blazed in Canadian football surely bared fruit for later players like Chuck Ealey.  The University of Toledo (OH) Quarterback from 1969 to 1970 led his college team to a perfect 35-0 record — NCAA Record for winning percentage and winning streaks that still stands today (2007) —  and finished 8th in Heisman Trophy balloting.  But when it came time for his chance to play in the NFL, he couldn’t find a team willing to give him a shot to play quarterback.  So like many other past and future African American quarterbacks looking for a chance he heeded the call of “Go North young man”.  Following in the footsteps of Thrower and Stephens, he quickly became a starter and in 1972, he led the Hamilton Tigercats to a Grey Cup Championship becoming the first black quarterback to accomplish the feat.  He also won Most Outstanding Player honors for the Championship Game. After Ealey’s win the floodgates opened for other African American starting quarterbacks to lead their teams to the CFL’s holy grail including NFL and CFL Hall of Famer Warren Moon (Edmonton Eskimos 1978, 1979, 1980, 1981 and 1982), Conderdge Holloway (Toronto Argonauts 1983), Tracy Ham (Edmonton Eskimos 1990, Baltimore Stallions 1994), Roy DeWalt (BC Lions 1985) and future CFL Hall of Famer Damon Allen (Edmonton Eskimos 1987, 1993; BC Lions 2000; Toronto Argonauts 2004).

The four quarterbacks that will play on Sunday have all taken a circuitous career journey to the Grey Cup playoffs, but they are now ready to ‘represent’.

  • Kevin Glenn (2007 Numbers: 388-621, 62.5%, 5117 yards with 25 TDs and 13 INTs) has toiled in the CFL since 1999 after coming to the league a little known small college quarterback from 1-AA school Illinois State.  He is a legitimate MOP candidate this season putting up big numbers in the Bombers air attack.
  • Jarious Jackson (2007 Numbers: 167-304, 54.9%, 2553 yards with 18 TDs and 10 INTs) lead “America’s College Team” Notre Dame before playing for the Broncos in the NFL.  The Broncos never really found a spot for Jackson as a quarterback, preferring to try him as a safety or receiver.  However the former Notre Dame star showed that was a passer in NFL Europe leading the Barcelona Dragons to the World Bowl game.  After heading North, Jackson drifted around before landing on the BC Lions and making a miraculous climb this season from third on the depth chart to starter.
  • Michael Bishop (2007 Numbers: 185-355, 52.1%, 2920 yards with 22 TDs, and 10 INTs) has played in every league around (CFL, NFL, Arena Football, and NFL Europe) after finishing second in the 1998 Heisman Trophy race playing for Kansas State.  He is an amazing playmaker with a very strong arm, who excels outside of the pocket.  Holds the all-time AFL single game rushing record of 100 yards (05/02/05).  Will be backed up by legendary veteran quarterback Damon Allen.
  • Kerry Joseph (2007 Numbers: 267-459, 58.2%, 4002 yards with 24 TDs and  8 INTs additional 737 yards rushing with 13 TDs) has come a long way along his journey in professional football.  He was a tough dual threat player at McNeese State and then was switched to defensive back by the Seahawks in the NFL before following his heart to play quarterback in the CFL.  Joseph is a legitimate MOP candidate after finishing with over 4000 yards passing and running for over 700 yards.

BC Lions head coach Wally Buono recently said of his quarterback Jarious Jackson, “He has a lot of confidence in himself and the organization has a lot of confidence in him”.   The beaming coach added  “The thing about him is he’s very intelligent. He got an opportunity and he took it.”  

Now there is something that you don’t hear everyday !!  But maybe we are moving toward a day when these type of sentiments are echoed everywhere.

Good Luck to the four field generals and their teams.

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