The quarterback position in football used to be dominated by white players, but the NFL is finally starting to see a shift in that regard as more black quarterbacks are given the chance they deserve. It’s not that black quarterbacks haven’t been available, but that they simply weren’t getting the same opportunities.
Taking a look at the 2022 NFL regular season, there were a total of 68 quarterbacks to start at least one game – 20 of them were black quarterbacks. While that still makes them a minority in the league, it’s a stark difference from what the NFL has looked like throughout its history – even dating back 10 years ago.
With that said, we still have a long way to go. Of the 20 black quarterbacks with at least one start in 2022, only 9 of them started at least 10 games – the rest were either starters that got injured (i.e., Trey Lance) or backups that replaced the starter (i.e., Tyler Huntley). Still, it’s an improvement, which is admirable.
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Black Quarterbacks to Start a Super Bowl Game
The rise of black quarterbacks in the NFL got us thinking – how many of them have had the opportunity to start in a Super Bowl game? It’s a question that’s highly relevant now that we finally saw two black quarterbacks play against each other in Super Bowl LVII – that being Patrick Mahomes and Jalen Hurts.
Mahomes and Hurts might be the latest black quarterbacks to start in the Super Bowl, but they’re not the first. In fact, there were six others to get that opportunity throughout the history of the NFL – a number that will most definitely increase in the coming years as more black quarterbacks are given their fair shot.
The six others (besides Mahomes and Hurts) are Cam Newton of the Panthers, Russell Wilson of the Seahawks, Colin Kaepernick of the 49ers, Donovan McNabb of the Eagles, Steve McNair of the Titans, and Doug Williams of the Commanders. Only three of them have won and two were named MVP.
With that said, let’s take a look at how each of them fared in the Super Bowl (or Super Bowls) that they appeared in – starting with the most recent.
8. Jalen Hurts – Super Bowl LVII
After leading his team to an 8-7-0 record in his first year as the Philadelphia Eagles’ starting quarterback in 2021, Jalen Hurts broke out in a major way in 2022. He finished the year with 3,701 yards passing, 760 yards rushing, 22 passing touchdowns, 6 interceptions, and 13 rushing touchdowns in just 15 games.
He led the Eagles to a 14-1-0 record in those 15 games and, while his team went 0-2-0 in his absence, they still walked away with the No. 1 seed in the NFC. Not only that, but he came second in MVP voting, third in Offensive Player of the Year voting, and was named to the Pro Bowl and second-team All-Pro.
In the playoffs, the Eagles steamrolled through the New York Giants with a 38-7 win in the Divisional Round – Hurts threw for two touchdowns and ran for another. They then steamrolled through the San Francisco 49ers with a 31-7 win in the NFC Championship – he ran for another touchdown in that game.
In just his third season, Hurts earned a start in Super Bowl LVII against Patrick Mahomes – more on him below. While the Eagles lost 35-38, Hurts was incredible. He threw for 304 yards and one touchdown, while running for another 70 yards and three touchdowns. It wasn’t enough, but boy was he fun to watch.
7. Patrick Mahomes – Super Bowl LVII, LV, LIV
Patrick Mahomes has been the starting quarterback for the Kansas City Chiefs for the past five years. During that time, he has made a living in the playoffs – leading his team to three Super Bowl appearances and two Super Bowl wins. What he’s doing in the NFL is unheard of and there’s no signs of him stopping.
His first appearance came in Super Bowl LIV at the end of the 2019 season. He found himself down 20-10 to the San Francisco 49ers at the start of the fourth quarter, but he threw both of his touchdowns in the final six minutes of the game – they won 31-20. He also ran for a touchdown in the first quarter.
His second appearance came in Super Bowl LV at the end of the 2021 season. He was matched up against a legend in Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Unfortunately, Mahomes wasn’t himself and finished with zero touchdowns and 2 interceptions. The Chiefs got crushed 31-9, but they’d be back.
That brings us to this past season, when he led the Chiefs to their third Super Bowl in four years. Despite an ankle that had him limping most of the game, he threw for 182 yards and 3 touchdowns, adding another 44 yards on the ground. They, again, were down at the start of the fourth quarter, but came back.
6. Cam Newton – Super Bowl 50
The 2015 regular season was a special one for Carolina Panthers’ quarterback Cam Newton. He was coming off a disappointing 5-8-1 record the year prior, but was absolutely unstoppable in 2015 – throwing for 3,837 yards, 35 touchdowns, and 10 interceptions. He added 636 yards and 10 TDs on the ground.
His consistent play resulted in a 15-1-0 record for the Panthers, which was the best record in the NFL – the next best team was the Cardinals at 13-3-0. He earned his first MVP award, first Offensive Player of the Year award, first first-team All-Pro honor, and third Pro Bowl honor. Like I said, it was a special year.
That level of play continued into the playoffs. His Panthers defeated the Seattle Seahawks 31-24, despite a second half letdown – Carolina was up 31-0 at halftime. They then steamrolled through the Cardinals 49-15 behind Newton’s 335 yards passing, 47 yards rushing, and three total TDs (1 passing, 2 rushing).
Unfortunately, the Panthers’ luck would run out in Super Bowl 50 – the only Super Bowl not to use roman numerals in its logo. He finished with 265 yards passing and 45 yards rushing, but failed to score a TD and threw one interception. The Panthers lost to Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos 10-24.
5. Russell Wilson – Super Bowl XLIX, XLVIII
Before there was Patrick Mahomes, only one black quarterback had started in two Super Bowls – it was Russell Wilson. They’re also the only two black quarterbacks to make it to the big game in consecutive years, with Wilson doing it in 2014 (2013 season) and 2015 (2014 season) with the Seattle Seahawks.
Also like Mahomes, Wilson did it early on in his career – his second and third seasons in the NFL. In those two years, he totaled 6,832 yards, 46 touchdowns, and 16 interceptions through the air – adding another 1,388 yards and 7 touchdowns on the ground. He led his team to a 25-7-0 record in that span.
His first appearance in the big game came in Super Bowl XLVIII against Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos. His Seahawks absolutely crushed the Broncos 43-8, which included a 36-0 lead through most of the third quarter. Wilson threw for 206 yards and 2 touchdowns – both of which came in the second half.
His second appearance came in Super Bowl XLIX against Tom Brady and the New England Patriots. It was a much closer game than the previous, but the Seahawks fell short 24-28 thanks to a terrible call by head coach Pete Carroll. Wilson threw for 247 yards, 2 touchdowns, and 1 interception in the SB loss.
4. Colin Kaepernick – Super Bowl XLVII
Colin Kaepernick was a second round draft pick by the San Francisco 49ers in 2011 and spent his rookie year as the backup to Alex Smith. He remained the backup throughout most of the 2012 season, but replaced Smith in Week 10 – a game that ended in a tie – and started the final 7 games for the 49ers.
In those 7 games, Kaepernick helped lead the team to a 5-2-0 record and ended the regular season with 1,814 yards, 10 touchdowns, and 3 interceptions through the air – adding another 415 yards and 5 TDs on the ground. The 49ers finished the season with an 11-4-1 record and were first place in the NFC West.
His consistent play continued in the 2012 playoffs with his 49ers picking up a 45-31 win over the Green Bay Packers and a tight 28-24 win over the Atlanta Falcons to earn a spot in the Super Bowl. In those two games, Kaepernick totaled 496 passing yards, 202 rushing yards, and 5 total TDs (3 passing, 2 rushing).
Super Bowl XLVII was an instant classic between the 49ers and Baltimore Ravens – who were led by Joe Flacco. Kaepernick played well, throwing for 302 yards and 1 TD, and rushing 62 yards and another TD. He missed a two-point conversion to tie the game with 10 minutes left and couldn’t fight his way back.
3. Donovan McNabb – Super Bowl XXXIX
Donovan McNabb was known for putting the Philadelphia Eagles in a position to win – he led his team to a 41-17 in 58 starts between 2000 and 2003 – and the 2004 regular season was no different. He had a career year with 3,875 passing yards, 31 passing touchdowns, 220 rushing yards, and 3 rushing TDs.
The Eagles finished 13-3-0 that season (a franchise record for wins in a season, at the time) and were 13-2-0 with McNabb as starter. McNabb earned his fifth consecutive Pro Bowl appearance and the Eagles were the No. 1 seed in the NFC – the third-best record in the NFL behind the Steelers and Patriots.
McNabb’s stellar play continued into the 2004 playoffs with his Eagles snagging a 27-14 win over the Minnesota Vikings and a 27-10 win over the Atlanta Falcons to earn a trip to the Super Bowl. In those two games, McNabb combined for 466 yards, 4 touchdowns, and zero interceptions – he was spectacular.
McNabb found himself matched up against Tom Brady and the Patriots in Super Bowl XXXIX. They were down 14-14 heading into the fourth quarter, but the Patriots scored 10 quick points early in the quarter. McNabb threw a touchdown with less than 2 minutes left, but it wasn’t enough to overcome the deficit.
2. Steve McNair – Super Bowl XXXIV
The 1999 season was the fifth season for Steve McNair – third as the starting quarterback for the Houston Oilers/Tennessee Titans. He had his team at 8-8-0 the previous two seasons and, while he only started 11 games after having surgery early in the year, McNair returned later in the year and was great.
He led the Titans to a 9-2-0 record in his 11 starts – Neil O’Donnell went 4-1-0 in the other five games – totaling 2,179 yards, 12 touchdowns, and 8 interceptions, and adding 337 yards and 8 touchdowns on the ground. At 13-3, the Titans had one of the best records in the NFL and entered the playoffs ready to play.
McNair didn’t play his best in the 1999 playoffs, but he was good enough to lead the Titans to a 22-16 win over the Buffalo Bills, 19-16 win over the Indianapolis Colts, and 33-14 win over the Jacksonville Jaguars. He totaled 300 yards passing, 145 yards rushing, and four TDs (1 passing, 3 rushing) in those 3 games.
His play led the Titans to a Super Bowl XXXIV appearance against Kurt Warner and the St. Louis Rams. McNair wasn’t his usual self, throwing for just 214 yards and 1 interception, adding 84 rushing yards. He failed to score a touchdown as his Titans lost 23-16, despite a late comeback led by RB Eddie George.
1. Doug Williams – Super Bowl XXII
When it comes to black quarterbacks in the Super Bowl, Doug Williams was the original GOAT. He not only became the first to do it, but walked away a winner and as Super Bowl MVP – joining Mahomes as the only two black quarterbacks to win a Super Bowl and Super Bowl MVP in their career. He was good!
Williams wasn’t the Washington Commanders’ (then-Redskins) starter for the 1987 season, rather serving as the backup to Jay Schroeder most of the year. He replaced Schroeder three times during the regular season and led the team to victory each time – he also had two starts in 1987, but both ended in defeat.
Despite only playing in five games that year, Williams entered the 1987 playoffs as the team’s starting quarterback and was everything they needed at the time. He led Washington to a 21-17 win over the Bears and 17-10 win over the Vikings, earning a berth in Super Bowl XXII behind his 3 touchdowns.
Super Bowl XXII wasn’t supposed to be an easy one for Williams, as he was matched up against John Elway and the Denver Broncos. With that said, Williams went off for 340 yards, 4 TDs, and 1 interception in a 42-10 rout of the Broncos. He was named Super Bowl MVP and wrote his name in the history books.
Which Black Quarterbacks Might Be Next?
The 2022 NFL playoffs featured six black quarterbacks – Patrick Mahomes, Jalen Hurts, Dak Prescott, Geno Smith, Tyler Huntley, and Josh Johnson (didn’t start) – compared to 10 white quarterbacks. It’s a trend we can continue to see in the future because there are a lot of good black quarterbacks out there.
And, while Hurts and Mahomes will likely get another opportunity in the coming years, who might be the next black quarterback to join them? Dak Prescott is certainly a name to keep an eye on, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Lamar Jackson, Deshaun Watson, Kyler Murray, Justin Fields, or Trey Lance get a shot.
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Either way, it’s refreshing to see the quarterback position being rightfully represented by black players – it’s been a long time coming and there’s still a long way to go, but it’s the start the league needed. And with several other black quarterbacks entering the NFL through the 2023 NFL Draft, it’s only up from here!
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