Marlin Briscoe, African American pioneer

History Published on : 1/1/2005

On September 29, 1968, the Denver Broncos sent rookie Marlin Briscoe into action at quarterback with just under 10 minutes to play in the home opener against the Boston Patriots. The 14th round draft pick nicknamed "The Magician" wasted little time completing his first pro pass when he immediately hooked up on a 22-yarder to Eric Crabtree. The following drive, Briscoe directed the Denver offense on an 80-yard drive capped by his brilliant 12-yard touchdown run.


Click on image to view photo gallery of Briscoe.

Briscoe made history that day by becoming the first African American to play quarterback in the American Football League. He furthered his legacy one week later when he started at quarterback against the Cincinnati Bengals. By taking over the reins for the Broncos, Briscoe became the first African American starting quarterback in modern pro football history. [SEE GAME PROGRAM AND ARTICLE FROM OCT. 6, 1968]

At season's end, he had passed for 1,589 yards and threw a team rookie record 14 touchdowns. His season-long pass completion was a 66-yarder to running back Floyd Little. According to accounts of the play, the pass traveled nearly 60 yards in the air to Little. Briscoe also rushed 41 times for 308 yards and scored three TDs during the '68 season.

Marlin_BriscoeBriscoe's stay in Denver and at the quarterback position ended when he was dealt to the Buffalo Bills in 1969. Buffalo moved him to wide receiver, a position he had never before played. Briscoe made the most of the opportunity as he hauled in 32 passes for 532 yards and 5 TDs in his first season with the Bills. The following year, he recorded the finest season of his nine-year pro career. He eclipsed the 1,000-yard mark as he led the Bills in receiving with 57 catches for 1,036 yards and scored 8 TDs. For his efforts, Briscoe was named All-AFC, earned second-team All-NFL honors, and was voted to the Pro Bowl. He registered another fine season in 1971 before the Bills shipped him to the Miami Dolphins in exchange for a first round draft pick which the Bills used to draft future Hall of Fame guard Joe DeLamielleure.

Briscoe continued to produce in Miami. Although the Dolphins ran a ball control offense, he managed to catch 16 passes and scored 4 TDs during the Dolphins' undefeated season in 1972. Briscoe added another 30 catches the following year as he and the Dolphins earned their second straight Super Bowl championship.

He wrapped up his career as a member of the San Diego Chargers and Detroit Lions in 1975 and one final year with the New England Patriots in 1976. In all, Briscoe had 224 career catches for 3,537 yards and scored 30 touchdowns. He also passed for 1,697 yards and 14 TDs and rushed 49 times for 336 yards and 3 TDs.