There’s been an overtime game. There’s been a power outage. There’s even been a player on the losing team named MVP. There’s never been a Super Bowl, though, with a Black quarterback starting for each team.
The Feb. 12 matchup in Super Bowl 57 between the Kansas City Chiefs and Philadelphia Eagles marks the first time two Black quarterbacks will face off in the NFL’s marquee game, when Patrick Mahomes of the Chiefs will lead his team against Jalen Hurts and the Eagles.
Doug Williams made history as the first Black quarterback to play in the game, when he led the Washington franchise (now the Washington Commanders) to victory over the Denver Broncos in the 1988 Super Bowl, earning MVP honors for his four-touchdown performance in his team’s 42-10 victory.
Williams, who played nine years in the NFL, says the Mahomes-Hurts matchup represents something important.
“I would have to say this is a big moment for the NFL, the National Football League, first,” he tells TODAY.com in a phone interview. “And I think that’s the most important thing, is the National Football League. But, of course, for Black America, this is a huge moment for the sports fans, and even some that are not sports fans who know what has transpired over the years and the fact that something didn’t happen over the years.”
Two Black quarterbacks starting in the game has never happened, while one has been a rarity. Steve McNair played for the Tennessee Titans in the 2000 Super Bowl and Donovan McNabb for the Eagles in the 2005 Super Bowl. Colin Kaepernick started for the San Francisco 49ers in the 2013 Super Bowl, kicking off a run in which Russell Wilson played for the Seattle Seahawks in the 2014 and 2015 Super Bowl games, and Cam Newton played for the Carolina Panthers in the 2016 Super Bowl.
Mahomes will be starting in the game for the third time, having won the 2020 Super Bowl in his first appearance. No starting Black quarterback would win a Super Bowl after Williams until Wilson did it in 2014 — more than a quarter of a century later.
Williams, who estimates he's done 20 or 25 interviews in the leadup to the Super Bowl, knows many other players never got the chance to be in this position, but feels it’s important they’re not seen solely as Black players.
“I think for Black quarterbacks, it is sad for us to just be getting here because a lot of guys didn’t get an opportunity,” he says.
“But at the same time we’re here so we got to celebrate the fact that they are here and look at them from a standpoint — I don’t want Jalen, I don’t want Patrick to run out on that field Sunday as a Black quarterback. They've got to go out there as the quarterback of whatever team they’re playing for. And at the end of the day, everybody in the stadium already knows they’re Black.”
Mahomes and Hurts know they have achieved rarified air while standing on the shoulders of giants.
“To have two Black quarterbacks start in the Super Bowl, I think it’s special,” Mahomes told reporters after the matchup was set, according to NFL.com. “I’ve learned more and more about the history of the Black quarterback since I’ve been in this league. The guys that came before me and Jalen set the stage for this and now I’m just glad we can set the stage for kids that are coming up now.”
“I think it’s history,” Hurts said, according to NFL.com. “I think it’s something that’s worthy of being noted and it is history. It’s come a long way.”
The season opened with 11 out of the 32 teams in the NFL starting Black quarterbacks, yet Black players make up more than half of the players in the NFL. There were 954 Black or African American players in the NFL during the 2022 season, according to The 2022 Racial and Gender Report Card: National Football League, published by The Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport in November, with 56.4% of the players being Black or African American.
“It ain’t about the color of the quarterback’s skin. It’s about the opportunity, the ability, could they get the job done,” Williams says.
Will this be a wakeup call that young Black men who dream of making it onto the league’s biggest stage know they can get there?
“Let me be as brutally honest as I possibly can. Some people you ain’t ever going to open their eyes. Let’s forget about it,” Williams says. “So you can’t worry about the ones you’re not going to open. But I think as a whole, I think not only Black America, I think there’s a whole lot of Americans out there (who are) going to look at this as progress. And I think that’s the only way we can look at it.”
There’s been a noticeable uptick in Black signal callers playing in the Super Bowl over the last decade. Williams says having two play in the Super Bowl represents a positive shift, especially given the low number of Black head coaches in the NFL, where the 2022 season opened with three Black men in charge.
“When you look back and see what’s going on with hiring of minority coaches, Black coaches, this is something that gives a little some reprieve in a way, but it don’t tackle a big problem,” says Williams.
Is there a correlation between having two Black quarterbacks in the Super Bowl and getting more Black head coaches in the NFL? Williams says no.
“It boils down to the individual owners. They make the decisions. So there is no correlation,” he says. “I think if the NFL was making a decision, it’d be a whole different ballpark, but it’s not. It’s the individual owners. You’ve got to get those guys to open up their mind and their heart to get a chance to know these guys. That’s the problem.”
Mahomes and Hurts have charted a new course for Black quarterbacks, and Williams is confident that the NFL will reach a point where having a pair of Black men playing the position in the Super Bowl won’t even seem like a big deal.
“I think these two guys playing in it kind of solidified the fact that if a Black quarterback is playing in (it) the next five, 10 years, nobody’s going to say anything about it,” he says.