AP Was There: The first start for a black quarterback in AFL
DENVER (AP) — Marlin Briscoe had to demand a tryout to be considered at quarterback when he was drafted by the Denver Broncos in 1968. He ended up becoming the first black quarterback to start in the American Football League.
Briscoe says he sees parallels with his experiences in how black athletes are treated 50 years later.
His groundbreaking accomplishments were somewhat lost in the shuffle in 1968, one of the most transformative years in U.S. history. Civil rights activist Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy were assassinated that year. There were civil rights riots and numerous protests of the Vietnam War. Less than two weeks after Briscoe's first start, U.S. track and field stars Tommie Smith and John Carlos raised black-gloved fists on the medal stand at the Olympics to protest America's social injustices.
But Briscoe's legacy resonates among his contemporaries 50 years later, hitting on race as well as the pressures athletes face in pro sports.
Here are two stories from The Associated Press as they appeared in newspapers when Briscoe played in his first game and when he made his first start.
FIRST GAME (As published Monday, Sept. 30, 1968, in The Morning Advocate of Baton Rouge, Louisiana)
DENVER, Colo. (AP) — Bob Scarpitto's American Football League record 87-yard punt helped Boston send his former Denver Bronco teammates to their third straight defeat Sunday 20-17.
Scarpitto, cut by the Broncos Sept. 2 after six seasons, sailed the punt — aided by a 10 mile an hour wind — over the head of Floyd Little. He lost his footing, scrambling for the ball and touched it on Denvers' one, where Willie Porter recovered. Larry Garron dived for the touchdown on the second play.
That broke a 10-10 tie with 7:17 played in the third quarter and with the help of Gino Capelletti's seven-yard field goal handed the Patriots their second victory in three starts.
Denver Coach Lou Saban jerked starting quarterback Jim Leclair after he threw his second interception in the fourth quarter and called on rookie Marlin Briscoe, first Negro quarterback ever to play in the AFL.
He aroused the Denver record crowd of 37,024 with a 12-yard run for a consolation touchdown after a 19-yard scamper.
Boston took a 7-3 lead on Mike Taliferro's 14-yard pass to tight end Jim Whalen in the end zone. This capped a march from Denver's 38 where Leroy Mitchell stole Leclair's pass.
Denver moved ahead 10-7 in the early moments of the second period with a 65-yard touchdown march highlighted by a 50-yard pass play from Leclair to Bill Van Heusen.
Boston tied the game 10-10 midway in the second quarter on Gino Cappelletti's 22-yard field goal. In the first half, he was short from 50 yards and wide from 42.
FIRST START (As published Monday, Oct. 7, 1968, in the Lexington Herald)
DENVER, Colo. (AP) — Quarterback Steve Tensi, playing for the first time since a pre-season injury, hooked up in the last four minutes with rookie Mike Haffner to pass the Denver Broncos to a 10-7 American Football League victory over Cincinnati Sunday.
Bob Howlfield's 34-yard field goal in the third quarter gave the Broncos the needed margin for their first league triumph in four starts.
Cincinnati cracked open the scoreless duel in the second quarter with defensive back Bobby Hunt running 15 yards for a touchdown on a fake field goal attempt.
Tensi, not quite recovered from a broken collar bone, started the second half after Marlin Briscoe failed to take Denver into scoring territory.
Trailing 7-3 with a little over four minutes left, Denver's chance came when Drake Garrett recovered Cincinnati's Estes Banks' fumble on the Bengal 35. Five plays later, Tensi hit Haffner in the end zone to cap a five-play march.
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