Marlene Briscoe, who became the first black starting quarterback in the American Football League more than 50 years ago, died on Monday.
His daughter, Angela Marriott, told The Associated Press that Briscoe, 76, died of pneumonia at a hospital in Norwalk, California. He was hospitalized for circulation problems in his legs.
Briscoe, a native of Omaha, Nebraska, was a star quarterback for the University of Omaha before the Denver Broncos drafted him as a cornerback in the 14th round of the 1968 draft. Brisco informs the team that he will return to his hometown and become the master if he does not get a chance to prove himself as a passerby. Denver agreed, and Brisco, known as “The Magician”, returned from the bench on September 29 against the Boston Patriots before his historic October 6 debut.
“He was a tremendous contributor to the sport,” Marriott said. “I hope he continues to be recognized for all his contributions. I was very proud of that achievement.”
Brisco started five games that season. He was second in AFL Rookie of the Year voting that year after rushing for 1,589 yards and 14 touchdowns, as well as 308 yards and three touchdowns.
Denver did not give him a chance to compete for the quarterback job in 1969, so he asked to be released from the team. He became a Pro Bowl wide receiver with the Buffalo Bills.
James Harris was Brisco’s roommate with the Bills in 1969, and Brisco helped him become the first black quarterback to start the AFL season as a starter.
“It was a time when the black quarterback was left out, so you tried to make sure you were as prepared as possible when the opportunity presented itself,” Harris said. “I was much better off because Brisco was my partner.”
In 1974, Harris played for the Los Angeles Rams and became the first black quarterback to win an NFL playoff game. He was also the Pro Bowl MVP that season.