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James Harris, Marlin Briscoe recall plight of black NFL QBs

By Tim Graham

EJ Manuel could be the Buffalo Bills opening-day quarterback. Most of us won't pause for a second to consider the color of his skin.

Not too long ago, however, trying to make it in the NFL as a back quarterback was almost impossible.

Wednesday's edition of "60 Minutes Sports" on Showtime will revisit the hardships of those who broke the color line. Armen Keteyian interviews four pioneers: former Buffalo Bills James Harris and Marlin Briscoe, Hall of Famer Warren Moon and Super Bowl champion Doug Williams.

"I was referred to as a black quarterback in every article," Harris tells Keteyian.

A newspaper headline appears on the screen: "A 6-4 Negro QB, Harris, Drafted 8th by the Bills."

Keteyian mentions the Bills housed Harris at a YMCA while the other players stayed in a hotel. Harris adds that when he arrived, the Bills gave him a job washing cleats in the equipment room.

"I knew that was out of line," Harris says.

Briscoe was the first black starting quarterback in modern pro football. He started for the Denver Broncos in 1968 but was cut after that season.

The Bills signed him and immediately converted him to receiver. He caught 57 passes for 1,036 yards and eight touchdowns in 1970, but he took only one more snap at quarterback for the rest of his career.

Two of the more poignant moments from the "60 Minutes Sports" promo of Keteyian's segment are from Williams and Moon.

Williams cries when asked to contemplate a question he likely has been asked a gazillion times: What did it mean to him to be the first black quarterback to start a Super Bowl?

Moon, who wasn't drafted by any NFL team, reminds us we're not far removed from an embarrassing era.

"In the pros, you can hear the N-word and all those other things," Moon says. "You heard all of that ... far, far more than once.

"I mean, I got death threats in different places we went."

And what year was that?

"This was, like, 1990," Moon replies.

That was the year Manuel was born.


James Harris | Marlin Briscoe
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About Press Coverage

Tim Graham

Tim Graham

Tim Graham returned to The Buffalo News in 2011 after covering the NFL for three years at ESPN and for one year at the Palm Beach Post. Before that, the Cleveland native spent seven seasons on the Buffalo Sabres beat for The News and was president of the Boxing Writers Association of America.

@ByTimGraham |

Mark Gaughan

Mark Gaughan

Buffalo native Mark Gaughan started working at The News in 1980 and has been covering the Bills exclusively since 1992. He is a former president of the Pro Football Writers of America, and he is a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame selection committee.

@gggaughan |

Jay Skurski

Jay Skurski

Jay Skurski joined The News in January 2009. The Lewiston native attended St. Francis High School before graduating from the University of South Florida. He writes a weekly Fantasy column in addition to his beat writing duties.

@JaySkurski |