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Briscoe, Harris featured on Showtime special about black QB pioneers

By Alan Pergament

A couple of former Buffalo Bills will be featured on  the next “60 Minutes Sports” program on Showtime that will deal with "pro-football’s open secret:  the quarterback position was for whites only" in the late 1960s.

According to a Showtime release, Ex-Bills Marlin Briscoe and James Harris are two of "a handful of pioneers (who) began to change this in 1968."

Showtime adds they tell "their humiliating and often emotional stories to correspondent Armen Keteyian about an unpopular chapter in the history of America’s most-popular sport.  Keteyian also talks to the black QBs of the 1980s and ‘90s whose paths were paved by those pioneers in this rarely told story."

The program airs at 9 p.m. Wednesday on the pay-cable channel.

The Showtime release notes that Briscoe, who still holds the Denver Broncos rookie passing record of 14 touchdowns in five games, was the first African-American QB to start an NFL game on Oct. 6, 1968 and despite his success wasn’t invited to a post-season meeting about the quarterback position.

He played the rest of his career as a wide receiver with the Bills and the Miami Dolphins.  Asked if it was institutional racism, Briscoe tells Keteyian "“about 95 percent." 

Drafted by the Bills, Harris was the first African-American to start the season at quarterback.

According to Showtime, “he was told to play wide receiver while learning quarterback, had to stay at the YMCA instead of the players’ hotel and suffered the indignity of working in the equipment room cleaning spikes.”

 "I knew that was out of line," says Harris, who played 13 seasons in the NFl and led the Los Angeles Rams to the NFC Championship in 1974.

Showtime reports Harris "received death threats, withstood racial epithets and was never considered the face of any of the franchises he played for.  He tells Keteyian he was a black quarterback and every article that was written referred to him in that way."

 "It affected my play. …I tried to play perfect," Harris says.

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