Marlin Briscoe the First Black NFL Starting Quarterback

Marlin “The Magician” Briscoe was born on September 10, 1945 in Oakland, California. “I attended a predominantly white school, the University of Omaha,” Briscoe said. “I never considered myself as a Black quarterback. I always considered myself as a quarterback. After making All-American, I just felt I had the ability to do the job. When I got drafted out of college, I was taken as a defensive back. I negotiated my own contract. In the contract, I requested a three-day trial at quarterback. They thought I was crazy a 14th-round draft choice demanding something like that. But they granted me the request. I knew that Denver was one of only few teams that held open practices. I figured I would get a chance to show what I could do. I knew it wasn't going to be a fair shake. Nevertheless, that would give me a forum to display my skills.” (1)


Marlin Briscoe #15, 27, & 86

Player Info

Height 5' 11"
Weight 178 lbs
DOB: 9/10/1945

Marlin Briscoe Stats

AFL Draft

1968/Round 14/Pick 357

Marlin Briscoe Career Highlights

Pro Bowls



2 Time Super Bowl Champion (VII & VIII)

Team(s) As A Player

Denver Broncos 1968
Buffalo Bills 1969-1971
Miami Dolphins 1972-1974
San Diego Chargers 1975
Detroit Lions 1975
New England Patriots 1976


Known as “The Magician,” Briscoe showed quick feet and a strong throwing arm. “I was able to move, innovate,” he said. “That's the style of quarterbacks today. I guess I was ahead of my time.” (2)

First Black Quarterback to Start in the NFL

After the Denver Broncos had staggered to a 0-2 start and were trailing 20-3 to the Boston Patriots in game three, head coach Lou Saban turned to Marlin Briscoe for a spark, even though Briscoe knew only about 6 plays. On the first play Briscoe found Eric Crabtree on a slant pattern. The crowd cheered. After some more completed passes, Briscoe scrambled into the end zone for a touchdown. When they got the ball back, he drove the Broncos for another touchdown. He was living up to his college nickname. “I'm out there playing sandlot ball,” the Magician says. “My mind-set was: play just like I did at OU.” (3)

The Patriots held on to win 20-17, but Saban had no choice. The next week, he named Marlin Briscoe his starter. “He didn't want to do it,” Briscoe says. “But they didn't have anybody else.”

On Oct. 6, 1968 Marlin Briscoe walked onto the field against the Cincinnati Bengals and became the first black quarterback in NFL history to start a game. He played poorly in the first half, and Steve Tensi replaced him. Nevertheless, he was the first black quarterback to ever start an NFL game. The two split time the rest of the season. Briscoe started seven games and finished with 1,589 yards, 14 touchdowns (still a Denver rookie record) and 13 interceptions.

Marlin Briscoe’s Magician Act

It was November 24, 1968 and the Denver Broncos were playing the Buffalo Bills. Thanks in large part to Briscoe; the Broncos led 14-0 in the second quarter, 21-7 at the half, and 28-14 at the end of the third quarter. It appeared that the Denver Broncos had victory in hand until a Floyd Little fumble set up a field goal to give Buffalo a 32-31 lead with just 26 seconds left to play. According to Little, Saban fired him when he went to the sidelines after the fumble, but he did not listen to his coach, instead returning to the huddle when the Broncos go the ball back. Floyd Little told quarterback Marlin Briscoe,

"You just have to do this for me. I wanted him to throw me the ball and I told him, 'I'm going for the flag, just throw it.” Briscoe did and the 59-yard completion put the ball on the Buffalo 10 and a penalty moved it to the five, setting up the winning 12-yard field goal by Bob Howfield with seven seconds left. (4) “I've seen a lot of them — close ones and all kinds,” Saban said, “but never anything like this.”

“Marlin did a good job against a good defensive team,” Saban said. “And that last throw and catch was just fantastic.” Johnson, the Bengals coach added his plaudits. “Briscoe has a strong arm for a little guy. The little guy really moves around and with guys like Denson and Crabtree who are fast and can move it's tough to cover.” (4) For the game, Briscoe completed 12 of 29 passes for 335 yards and a franchise record four touchdown passes as the Broncos beat the Bills 34-32.

Briscoe Signs with Buffalo

After Marlin Briscoe had a fantastic rookie season, statistically the best quarterback on the roster, he would not get a chance to play as a quarterback in 1969. As a result, Briscoe asked for his release. “Maybe it's too late to smooth it over, but I'd like to get things straight,” said Briscoe. “It had nothing to do with being a malcontent. It was business, nothing to do with me being dissident. Why would I not be able to compete for the quarterback job based on what I did my rookie year? I performed, and we won games. In '69 they held secret quarterback meetings. They didn't invite me back to play quarterback. And I wound up being the villain.” (2)

“I stood outside the building and waited for them to come out,” Briscoe said. “They couldn't look me in the eye. Steve Tensi, who was a good man, apologized to me later. There was nothing he could do. Saban didn't want me to play quarterback.” (5) As a result, Briscoe signed with the Buffalo Bills to play wide receiver.

“I've seen stories - (Saban) still defends his reason for not letting me play, in terms of my size (5-feet-9),” Briscoe said. “They said I was a runner. I was a runner that threw 14 touchdown passes in seven games.” (2)

Marlin Briscoe All Pro Wide Receiver

While in Buffalo, Marlin Briscoe had an All-Pro season in 1970. In 14 games, Briscoe hauled in 57 passes for 1036 yards and 8 touchdowns, posting a staggering 18.2 yards per catch. This was his only Pro Bowl season in the NFL.

Marlin Briscoe and the Perfect Season

Marlin Briscoe played for the Miami Dolphins from 1972 to 1974. He played opposite Hall of Fame wide receiver Paul Warfield. He won the Super Bowl with the Perfect Miami Dolphins in 1972 and again in 1973. During the 1973 season he had more production than the Hall of Famer, Warfield.

During his rookie season, Marlin Briscoe had defeated Bob Griese in 1968 when he played quarterback for the Broncos. Briscoe was asked if he too could have led the Miami Dolphins to a perfect season in 1972 had he been given the chance at QB.

“Could I have pulled it off?” Briscoe says. “I don't know. For years, the unfairness bothered me. But when you look back and have a clear picture on your career and life, things happen for a reason. Maybe I was just chosen to show the world that a black man could think, throw and lead.” Briscoe set the tone, he says, for black quarterbacks like Doug Williams and Randall Cunningham and Moon, who mentioned him in his hall of fame induction speech in August. (3)

Marlin Briscoe’s Place in History

When Marlin Briscoe stepped on the field on October 6, 1968, it wasn’t really recognized at the time as a big event. “It was 1968, a volatile time in our nation,” Briscoe said. “There was Vietnam, the assassinations of (Martin Luther) King and (Robert) Kennedy. There was a belief that blacks were not bright enough, that we didn't have the ability to lead. Most of the players in the league were white, and most were from Southern schools where they never had a black teammate, let alone a quarterback. I knew that if I didn't have success, it would be a long time before someone else got the chance. People would say, ‘I told you so.’” (5)

After many years of the black man struggling to get a chance to play quarterback, today that has all changed. Today’s quarterbacks remember Briscoe. “I'm glad to hear a name like that come out,” said New Orleans quarterback Aaron Brooks, when asked if Briscoe's name meant anything to him. “It brings a big smile to my face. He's a pioneer. He helped me get to the point we are today. Without him, I don't think (black quarterbacks) would be looked at the way we are right now.” (6)

“We come to 2004 and a black quarterback is judged as a quarterback,” Briscoe said. “Not as a black quarterback, but as a quarterback. If he makes a good play, he gets cheered. If he makes a bad play, he gets booed. That's all you can ask.” (5) Thanks Marlin Briscoe for what you achieved to help America get over its stupidity.

Marlin Briscoe Movie

Marlin Briscoe’s story is finally coming to the big screen. The Marlin Briscoe Movie will be produced and made soon. Stay tuned. Here is some footage of the upcoming film..

By A. Goodin,
December 13, 2008

Marlin Briscoe Biography Sources

(1)  Hunt, Donald. "Limited chances, big breakthroughs." Philadelphia Tribune, The.  2004. HighBeam Research. 12 Dec. 2008
(3)  "
'Better late than never' for Briscoe." Omaha World-Herald (Omaha, NE). McClatchy-Tribune Information Services. 2006. HighBeam Research. 12 Dec. 2008Byline: Dirk Chatelain
Bronco Win Was ‘Unbelievable’ (1968, November 25) Billings Gazette, pg. 49
(5)  "
Black quarterbacks have long, controversial history in NFL." Philadelphia Inquirer (Philadelphia, PA). McClatchy-Tribune Information Services. 2004. HighBeam Research. 12 Dec. 2008
(6) PIONEERING YEAR ALMOST FORGOTTEN (2005, January 30) Daily News

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