Notes: AFL’s first Black starting QB—and former Lion—Marlin Briscoe, passes away at 76

Pride of Detroit

History-making quarterback Marlin Briscoe, who spent a year with the Detroit Lions, has died at the age of 76.

According to the NFL, Briscoe died of pneumonia on Monday at a hospital in California. Known as “The Magician” for being able to pull great plays out of a hat, he made history as the first black starting quarterback in professional American football.

Briscoe, who was more than proficient at both quarterback and wide receiver, made a total of six stops in his impressive nine-year career, including the Motor City in 1975. An impressive college career at then-Omaha University now University of Nebraska at Omaha, where he racked up 22 school records and led the team to three conference titles, landed him in the College Football Hall of Fame, inducted in 2016.

In 1968, he was drafted by the Denver Broncos of the American Football League (AFL) in the 14th round. The team wanted to convert him to cornerback, but Briscoe convinced them to let him stay at quarterback. A good call after the starter suffered a broken collarbone and his backup proved to be a bit spotty. Briscoe was called from the sidelines and completed a 22-yard pas on his very first play, followed by an 80-yard touchdown in the next series. That was enough for head coach Lou Saban. On October 6, 1968, Briscoe became the first starting African-American quarterback in the AFL.

Briscoe would go on to throw 14 touchdowns in just five starts his rookie season. In one contest he threw for 335 yards—a record that would only be broken by John Elway nearly 20 years later.

Upon learning that he wouldn’t start at QB the following year, he asked to be released and went to the Buffalo Bills. The quarterback room was full, so he became a receiver. Though he would never play QB again, he would lead Buffalo in touchdown catches in all three seasons as a Bill, becoming an All-Pro.

Briscoe’s career then took him to Miami following the AFL-NFL merger. Winning two Super Bowls, he led the undefeated 1972 team with four touchdown catches. He joined the San Diego Chargers in 1975, then landed in Detroit midway through that season, before ending his career with the New England Patriots in 1976.

I couldn’t find a ton about his time as a Lion, but it appears he did tally up four receiving touchdowns in Detroit toward the end of his career. I also found this autographed collectors card, donning the Honolulu blue.

RIP to a pioneer of the football world.

Onto the rest of your notes.

  • Barry Sanders wishes a hearty congratulations to new Detroit Piston Jaden Ivey, the grandson of an old friend.
  • The Lions represent at Tight End University, a football camp exclusive to tight ends to improve their respective games ​​over three days at Vanderbilt University.
  • A former Lion vs. a former Spartan?
  • The latest Grizzly Man Outdoors features Frank Ragnow heading to the Upper Peninsula to snag some smallmouth.

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