Black History Month Podcast – Third and a Mile

In a special Taking It to the House Black History Month piece , we take a look back at the release of the historic ESPN Book Third and a Mile, which documented the journey of the African American Quarterback.  In this former BIGPLAY Radio Podcast, host David Kindervater interviews book contributors Super Bowl MVP Doug Williams and Historian Lloyd Vance

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Black History Month Podcast – Willie Thrower Part 2

In a special Taking It to the House Black History Month piece , we take a look back at the career Willie Thrower.  In Part 2 of a rare interview before his death, Thrower who was the first African American QB in the modern NFL, talks about his journey from New Kensington, PA to Michigan State to the NFL.

Black History Month Podcast – Willie Thrower Interview Part 1

In a special Taking It to the House Black History Month piece , we take a look back at the career Willie Thrower.  In a rare interview before his death, Thrower who was the first African American QB in the modern NFL, talks about his journey from New Kensington, PA to Michigan State to the NFL.

African American Quarterback Research Study by Lloyd Vance

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Redskins WR Antwaan Randle El is one of 33 African American QB’s that were drafted then converted to another position as found in a research study of African American quarterbacks.  The study found that 1 out of 3 African American quarterbacks drafted were converted to another position

(Philadelphia, Pa) — Recently a graduate student asked me to assist him in compiling the statistical aspects of the African American quarterback’s journey in the NFL compared to their white counterparts.  We decided to analyze the data in terms of the NFL Draft, conversion to other positions, and Combine Testing (specifically the Wonderlic Test).  The information compiled is quite compelling and hopefully it will assist the requesting graduate student plus spur some additional conversation in the public arena on the journey of the African American quarterback. 

The raw statistical data should definitely help in piecing together the over 80-year journey of the African American quarterback since Fritz Pollard played in the early days of the NFL.  However the data and several other artifacts clearly show that the journey of the African American quarterback in the NFL has been quite arduous at times with some people that I have talked to categorizing their treatment as “unfair”. 

But I do believe that progress has been made and we maybe on the cusp where coaches, fans, and the media will only be judging a quarterback based solely on his abilities on the field.  To those that wish to explore beyond the numbers, I will point to the ESPN Book and DVD “Third and a Mile” as a great reference tool to further understand the history and struggles of the African American quarterback.

Special Thanks goes out to Mac Marible for helping to compile the Wonderlic score information for all of the quarterbacks.

 Draft Information

— The first African American quarterback drafted was George Taliaferro from the University of Indiana by the Chicago Bears in the 13th Round of 1949 NFL Draft.  The Bears intention was to convert Taliaferro, so he first played for the LA Dons of the rival All American Football Conference (AAFC).  He later returned to the NFL playing for the NY Yanks, Baltimore Colts, and Philadelphia Eagles.  Though Taliaferro was converted to halfback, he threw 284 passes in his NFL career that lasted until 1955.  The first African American quarterback to be drafted solely to play quarterback was Charlie “Choo Choo” Brackins from Prairie View in 1955 by the Green Bay Packers in the 16th Round.  Also for historical reference, from 1933 to 1946 the National Football League just like professional baseball had a “Gentleman’s Agreement” to keep the league all-white.

— As of the 2008 NFL Draft, 96 African-American quarterbacks (13%) have been drafted out of a total number of 719 quarterbacks drafted going back to the first NFL Draft in 1936. Of the 96 African American quarterbacks drafted only 13 of the quarterbacks were selected in the first round (2%), with two being converted to other positions.

— Conversely as of the 2008 NFL Draft, 617 White quarterbacks have been drafted from the total number of 719 quarterbacks drafted for a percentage of (86%). Of the 617 White quarterbacks drafted, 128 were selected in the first round (18%) with two being converted to other positions.

— Of the 96 African American quarterbacks drafted, 33 were converted to another position (34%).  So the statistical data shows that 1 out of 3 African American quarterbacks drafted since 1949 were converted to another position.  Of the 617 white quarterbacks drafted, only 10 were converted to another position (1.6%)

— African American quarterbacks selected in the NFL Draft by decade (first NFL Draft was in 1936):  1930 to 1939 – Zero; 1940 to 1949 – One; 1950 to 1959 – Two; 1960 to 1969 – Twelve; 1970 to 1979 – Nine; 1980 to 1989 – Twelve; 1990 to 1999 – Twenty-Six; 2000 to Present – Thirty-Four.  The highest number of African American quarterbacks drafted in one season was in 2006 with nine and 1999 with seven.

— African American quarterbacks selected in the NFL Draft by round — Round One: 13; Round Two: 11; Round Three: 2; Round Four: 8; Round Five: 12; Round Six: 17; Round Seven: 11; Round Eight or higher: 22

— African American quarterbacks selected in the NFL Draft for conversion to another position by decade: 1930 to 1939 – Zero; 1940 to 1949 – One; 1950 to 1959 – One; 1960 to 1969 – Eight; 1970 to 1979 – Three; 1980 to 1989 – Four; 1990 to 1999 – Five; 2000 to Present – Eleven.

***NFL Draft data was compiled from NFL.com by Lloyd M. Vance

Wonderlic Test

If there is one part of the NFL Combine experience I do not like or understand, it is the Wonderlic test.  The test is designed to measure a player’s I.Q. through a 50-question test administered in 23 minutes.  Most players are tired/uninterested when taking the test, which leads to a majority of guys not completing the test.  Some agents have started to have their clients cram for the Wonderlic test like the SAT coming out of high school, but at least you can take the SAT test multiple times.  However the Wonderlic is a one shot deal that many people put way too much credence in it.  I can still hear all of the preposterous Vince Young test score reporting from 2006 — By the way did Vince’s score of 16 preclude him from winning the 2006 Rookie of the Year award.  And did you know that Hall of Fame quarterbacks Dan Marino and Terry Bradshaw both scored a 15 while colossal bust Quincy Carter scored a 30. 

Here is a sample question: “Paper clips sell for 23 cents per box. What will 4 boxes cost” — take all the time you need.  To me this test should not be part of the NFL evaluation process, because all teams should only care about a player’s “Football Intelligence” along with their character, on-the-field play, practice habits, and many other “true” evaluation measurables.

— Sample Size of 271 quarterbacks (196 Whites, 71 African Americans, and 4 players identified as other) that took the Wonderlic test with an average score of 25 for the group. (Data supplied by Mac Marible’s website (http://www.macmirabile.com/Wonderlic.htm).

— The average score for the 71 African American quarterbacks from the 271 quarterback sample size was 19 (high scores belonging to Bruce Eugene (41) and Darrell Hackney (40) with low scores by Oscar Davenport (6) and Vince Evans (8)                                                                                                 

— The average score for the 196 White quarterbacks from the 271 quarterback sample size was 26.5 (high scores belonging to Jason Mass (43), Drew Henson (42), and Alex Smith (40) with low scores for Jeff George (10) and Hall of Famers: Dan Marino, Jim Kelly, and Terry Bradshaw (all scored a 15)                                                                                                  

— 112 of the 271 Wonderlic Tested Quarterbacks were not drafted (30 blacks, 79 whites, and 3 players from other races)                                                                                                  

 — The forty-six NFL First Round draft choices in the 271 quarterback sample size scored an average score of 24.6 (high scores belonging to Alex Smith (40) and Eli Manning (39) with a low score by Jeff George (10).  Other notable scores included Peyton Manning (28), Michael Vick (20), and Donovan McNabb (14) with Steve McNair, Terry Bradshaw, Dan Marino, and Jim Kelly all having the same score of “15”.                                

 

 

Lloyd Vance is an NFL Writer for Taking It to the House and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America (PFWA)

Signing Day 2008 Gets a Surprise as Terrelle Pryor needs more time

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  #1 Recruit Jeanette (PA) senior do-it-all quarterback Terrelle Pryor had a huge surprise for everyone on signing day as he decided he wouldn’t sign as expected.

(Philadelphia, Pa) —  Surprise, Surprise…After fielding 150-200 text messages a day from recruiters, #1 Recruit Jeanette (PA) senior do-it-all quarterback Terrelle Pryor — who is being advised by Pittsburgh Steelers backup quarterback Charlie Batch — still was not ready to choose a school.  Pryor surprised everyone by not announcing his intent and saying that he needed more time.  I am sure he doesn’t need not worry about his spot with his three finalists: Ohio State, Michigan, and Penn State because they will definitely hold a spot for the super prep when he makes his decision.  I still believe that the nation’s best spread-option quarterback will be calling Ann Arbor, Michigan home to join Rich Rodriguez at the University of Michigan. 

If Pryor picks Big Blue, he would be following in the footsteps of former Pennsylvania high school player of the year in 2003 and option wizard Steve Breaston –converted to WR/KR in college.  Pryor who was the 2008 US Army All Star Football Game MVP  finished his decorated high school career with a state championship in December plus he had 4,250 career yards rushing and 4,249 yards passing, becoming the only player in Pennsylvania history to eclipse the 4,000-yard barrier in both areas.

Even though Pryor did not choose a school several other notable African American High School Quarterbacks finalized their college decisions by signing letters of intent on Wednesday including:

NAME                     HOMETOWN             COLLEGE
Darius Banks          Culver City, CA          East Washington
Tyler Bass              Stockbridge, GA         Maryland
Dominique Blackman  Carson, CA             Washington
A.J. Blue                Dallas, NC                  North Carolina
Ebahn Feathers       Fresno, CA                Fresno St
Deron Furr              Columbus, GA           Auburn
MarQueis Gray        Indianapolis, IN         Minnesota
Robert Griffin         Copperas Cove, TX    Baylor
Will Hill                  West Orange, NJ       Florida
Aramis Hillary         Johnston, SC         South Carolina
Jacory Harris          Miami, FL                 Miami (FL)
Boo Jackson           Torrance, CA             Ohio (JC Transfer)
Star Jackson           Lakeworth, FL           Alabama
D.C. Jefferson       Winter Haven, FL       Rutgers
Chris Johnson         Philadelphia, PA         Villanova
Orhian Johnson      Gulfport, FL               Ohio State
Luther Leonard       Burien, WA               Washington
Randall Mackey       Bastrop, LA              Ole Miss
E.J. Manuel            Virginia Beach, VA     Florida State
Sancho McDonald    Miami, FL                 Middle Tenn.
Tom Reamon Jr.     Newport News, VA     Old Dominion
Jeremy Sanders      Corsicana, TX           Baylor (JC Transfer)
Burton Scott              Prichard, AL          Alabama
Matt Scott                 Corona, CA           Arizona
Darron Thomas         Aldine, TX             Oregon

Twenty Years Later, Doug Williams’ Super Bowl XXII MVP Performance Still Resonates

 January 31st will mark the 20th Anniversary of Doug Williams historical Super Bowl XXII MVP performance and the epic performance still resonates today.

(Philadelphia, Pa) — The date of January 31st maybe just another day of anticipation for many NFL fans as they count down the days toward Super Bowl XLII and the Giants quest to stop the Patriots climb to perfection.  But the date should be marked with a moment of reflection throughout the NFL and in society.  Ironically the day before the start of black history month will mark the 20th Anniversary of Doug Williams’ MVP performance in Super Bowl XXII.  The final score in San Diego, California that day may have been Washington Redskins 42, Denver Broncos 10, but the victory was one of those magical moments where sports and society collide in such a way that the explosion goes far beyond the reaches of the sports venue, making everyone take notice.  Williams stunning Super Bowl MVP performance not only uplifted the Redskins and their fans, but it meant so much more.  The former Grambling State quarterback’s effort was truly historical as he negated long held drastic misconceptions and stereotypes regarding a “black” quarterback’s ability to lead his team to the NFL’s ultimate prize — Williams even said before the 1988 Super Bowl, ”I know, some people thought we (black quarterbacks) weren’t smart enough.”

The Redskins victory that day set off a celebration around the United States especially in the African American community that still reverberates today. The Super Bowl XXII victory was a culminating event that many blacks had been praying for — I can still remember the Pastor of my church asking our congregation the morning of the game to watch and pray for Doug and his team.  Legendary Grambling State football coach the late Eddie Robinson referred to the experience of watching his prized pupil from the stands that day as the greatest moment in his career.  Coach Rob after the game through teary eyes told Williams that the win was a “Joe Louis – Max Schemling moment” and that the young quarterback would not be able to comprehend until he was much older. The venerable coach was teaching his former player another lesson this time regarding the societal significance of his feat and cementing the fact that this was not just another championship.  It meant so much more the same way the Brown Bomber’s demolition of the “perceived” German superman some forty-two years before had made everyone walk with their heads a little bit higher.

 “Joe Louis – Max Schemling” moments are so rare that sometimes everyone including the viewers and participants don’t fully understand them until they are over.  The event is usually accompanied by goose pimpled arms and lasting memories that will never fade.   Much like the “Do you believe in miracles”, 1980 United States Hockey team’s win over Russia on their way to an improbable gold medal in the Winter Olympics, memories of Super Bowl XXII and Williams efforts do the same for many people — Heck even my Mom and Grandmother who are not sports fans talk about the Doug Williams Super Bowl with glee.   January 31, 1988 will always be remembered as the day Doug Williams from the small town of Zachary, Louisiana — a place where Williams can still vividly remember the Klan parading through the town — proved that a “black” quarterback could get it done. 

What made the moment so special was that the veteran quarterback had survived a circuitous career first playing in the NFL for the volatile Tampa Bay Buccaneers and then in the USFL before reaching the mountain top.  Williams recently told my BIGPLAY Football podcast audience in an interview for the book Third a Mile: The Trials and Triumphs of the Black Quarterback  (Listen to BPR #60 here), that just one year before the game he was at home figuring his career was over when Redskins head coach Joe Gibbs — a huge supporter of Williams going back to their days together in Tampa Bay — called looking for a veteran backup.  Williams almost leapt through the phone as he accepted his only chance to return to the NFL even if it meant he would have to be Jay Schroeder’s backup.  The cagey veteran sat through most of the ’87 season and then throughout the 1988 season, he watched as Schroeder struggled with injuries and ineffectiveness.  Sensing a change was needed going into the playoffs, the future hall of fame coach decided to bench Schroeder for the playoffs and started Williams in his place.  It was a risky move to some, but Gibbs and many others — It was widely known around the league that most of the Redskins locker room was firmly behind Williams — believed in the veteran leader and there was no “black quarterback” talk.

The Redskins responded by beating the Chicago Bears and Minnesota Vikings on their way to Super Bowl XXII against the Denver Broncos.  But with the country’s biggest game coming up many wondered if the pressure cooker of the Super Bowl would get to the first African American Quarterback to start in the game.  Leading up to the game all the talk was of the Redskins being underdogs (3 ½ points) with the expectation that the Broncos and their star quarterback John Elway would easily win the game.  Elway was cast as the “Golden Boy” and Williams of course as the “black” quarterback by a good majority of the media.  The media hounded Williams with questions about him being the first black to start in a Super Bowl game and one befuddled media member even asked him the galling question “So how long have you been a black quarterback?”, which he did not answer.  Williams decided to take the high road with the veteran mindset that the Super Bowl was a “football game first” and that he needed to prepare to win.  He told my listener audience that he approached all of the hype and pioneer talk around the game as “Winning was the only thing on his mind and that he was the quarterback of the Washington Redskins first”.

His cool veteran demeanor served him well in a game that didn’t start out as well as expected — to say the least.  Williams twisted his knee in the first quarter — I recently joked with him how everyone in my house hollered, “Get Up !!” and he said he was thinking the same thing while laying on the turf — with the Broncos jumping out to a 10-0 lead.  After instructing/pleading with the trainer to “Give him a minute” and saying “If I can stand I will be okay”, Williams took one play off and responded with a second quarter that some say was the greatest performance by a quarterback while setting Super Bowl records of 228 yards passing with four touchdowns in one quarter.  With each pass to receivers Ricky Sanders, Gary Clark, and Art Monk, I could hear Sly and the Family Stone’s song “Can You Take Me Higher” in my head as the whooping and hollering was at a fever pitch in our Philadelphia home of all places, which was deep in Eagles country and was nowhere near a Redskins haven — But on January 31, 1988 everyone was a Doug Williams fan.  The game was basically over at the half and Williams finished the game with a then Super Bowl record 340 yards and 4 TD’s in the triumph and was named the MVP. 

Williams’ victory was hailed as a defining moment in American sports, it may not have been Jackie Robinson joining the Brooklyn Dodgers, but it was a significant event that brought people of all races to their feet. Twenty years later, I firmly do believe that it was a watershed moment that opened the floodgates of opportunity to the quarterback position for African American players at all levels in football.  From peewee to high school to college to the NFL there are now hundreds and possibly thousands of African Americans playing the position including 19 on NFL rosters in 2007 — who knows what would have happened if Williams hadn’t won Super Bowl XXII.  All of the young African American quarterbacks that we are seeing excel today from mega high school recruit Terrelle Pryor to Vince Young ‘need to recognize’ as they all owe a huge debt of gratitude to Williams and the other pioneering black quarterbacks (Joe Gilliam, Willie Thrower, Marlin Briscoe, James Harris, Warren Moon, and many others) for the path that they blazed.

Williams, now a key member of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers personnel department, said about his historic Super Bowl performance “At the time it was hard to imagine the impact when it is yourself”,  “When you look back on it, you realize that you are walking history”.

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.