Marlin Briscoe, Black quarterback pioneer, dead at 76

Ryan Gaydos

Jun 28, 2022

Marlin Briscoe, the first Black quarterback to play in the American Football League, died Monday after a battle with pneumonia, his daughter said Monday. He was 76.

Angela Marriott told the Associated Press that Briscoe was hospitalized in Norwalk, California with circulation issues in his legs.

The Denver Broncos initially selected Briscoe as a cornerback in the 14th round of the 1968 AFL Draft. Briscoe, who was a standout quarterback at Omaha University, told the Broncos he would return home to Nebraska if the team did not give him a tryout at quarterback.

In late September of that year, Briscoe nearly rallied the Broncos to a victory as a backup against the Boston Patriots. He was given his first start a week later.

"He’s made an immense contribution to the sport," Marriott said. "I hope that he continues to get recognized for the contributions that he made. He was so proud of that achievement."

Briscoe did not get a chance to compete for the quarterback job in 1969. He asked to be released.

Booker Edgerson, a cornerback for the Buffalo Bills in the AFL, believes Briscoe could have been a star if it were not for racism. Edgerson recalled Briscoe telling him he did not feel the Broncos were ready to commit to a Black quarterback.

FILE - Buffalo Bills wide receiver Marlin Briscoe takes a forward pass from quarterback Dennis Shaw during an NFL football game in Baltimore, on Nov. 15, 1970.
FILE - Buffalo Bills wide receiver Marlin Briscoe takes a forward pass from quarterback Dennis Shaw during an NFL football game in Baltimore, on Nov. 15, 1970. (AP Photo/William A. Smith, File)

"He would have been one of the top quarterbacks that they’d be talking about right now," Edgerson said. "He would’ve been another ... he would have been in there before Warren Moon."

Briscoe, nicknamed "The Magician," moved to wide receiver and joined Edgerson in Buffalo in 1969. Briscoe was credited with helping James Harris become the first Black quarterback to open a season as a starter in the AFL.

"It was at the time when Black quarterbacks were being denied, so you tried to make sure you were best prepared for the opportunity when it came. I was a lot better off because Briscoe was my roommate," Harris said.

Harris played for the Los Angeles Rams in 1974 and became the first Black quarterback to win an NFL playoff game. He was also a Pro Bowl MVP that season.

Briscoe became a Pro Bowl receiver for Buffalo in 1970, won two Super Bowls as a receiver with the Miami Dolphins and was a member of the 1972 undefeated Dolphins team.

"We are heartbroken to learn of the passing of former Broncos QB Marlin Briscoe," the Broncos said in a statement. "Marlin was a pioneer who shattered barriers, making history as the first Black starting quarterback in the Super Bowl era. He paved the way for countless others and created an indelible legacy, including through our Marlin Briscoe Diversity Coaching Fellowship. Our deepest sympathies go out to Marlin's family, friends and former teammates."