Up Next

Year of the Black QB

Patrick Mahomes ushers in Era of the Black Quarterback

With dramatic Super Bowl win, the Chiefs star punctuates spectacular year

MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. – The Year of the Black Quarterback has evolved into the Era of the Black Quarterback, because Patrick Mahomes and his contemporaries are just that good.

On sports’ biggest stage here Sunday night, Mahomes emphatically punctuated the NFL’s 100th season – the one in which African American passers shined brighter than at any time previously in NFL history – leading the Kansas City Chiefs to a 31-20 victory over the San Francisco 49ers in Super Bowl LIV at Hard Rock Stadium. In only his third season and second as a starter, Mahomes added the Super Bowl most valuable player award to the long list of accomplishments in his nascent career. And for a fitting capper to it all, here’s his biggest feat to date: At only 24, Mahomes is the youngest player ever to have both a Super Bowl title and a league MVP award, having been selected the 2018 winner by the Associated Press.

Any scout, coach or player-personnel official worth their salt will tell you there’s no doubt as to who is currently the game’s top player. Mahomes is the face of the NFL and is expected to shatter the mark for the game’s biggest contract soon. Not only does Mahomes, the seventh black signal-caller to direct a team to the Super Bowl and third to win the championship, throw the game’s best deep ball and possess second-to-none improvisational skills, he’s also smart as a whip, tough and a leader beyond his years.

“The best thing about it is you’re showing kids that no matter where you grow up, what race you are, that you can achieve your dream,” Mahomes said during the lead-up to the Super Bowl. “For me, being a black quarterback — having a black dad and a white mom — it just shows that it doesn’t matter where you come from.”

Chiefs head coach Andy Reid has been the ideal guide for Mahomes. Watching their partnership continue to unfold will be must-see stuff for the foreseeable future. A former quarterback whom Reid used to mentor is confident the duo will continue to scale mountains together for some time. Donovan McNabb has closely monitored Mahomes’ fast rise to the top of the league under Reid, who picked McNabb second overall in the groundbreaking 1999 draft and traded up in the 2017 draft to get Mahomes, in part because Mahomes reminded Reid of McNabb.

Patrick Mahomes (center) of the Kansas City Chiefs reacts against the San Francisco 49ers during the second quarter in Super Bowl LIV at Hard Rock Stadium Feb. 2 in Miami Gardens, Florida.

Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

“Listen, and I know this may sound strange based on what Mahomes has done already, all of his success already, but he’s just getting started,” said McNabb, who teamed with Reid to lead the Philadelphia Eagles to five NFC championship games and Super Bowl XXXIX. “The thing about Andy is, he’s going to always protect him. He’s always going to have those big guys up front that will give him the time he needs to work. That’s what Andy always starts with, because he understands what it takes.

“A lot of guys [coaches] say they get that, but they don’t show it. They don’t really put guys in the position to succeed. But believe me, Andy really gets it. He’s always thinking about it. And Andy is always going to have weapons for him. He’s just going to keep building, building and building around him. Mahomes is comfortable with what they’re doing now, and he really is, but it’s going to go to even a better place, because that’s what Andy does.”

While Mahomes has broken free from the pack, the pack is nonetheless outstanding. Four of the eight teams in the NFC and AFC division series were led by black quarterbacks. Throughout the league, there are many African American franchise quarterbacks.

The Baltimore Ravens dismantled their offense, rebuilt it to fit Lamar Jackson’s skillset and were rewarded spectacularly. Jackson finished his breakthrough sophomore season with a haul of major hardware, winning both the AP and Pro Bowl MVP awards. Jackson and New England Patriots passer Tom Brady, widely considered the greatest quarterback in the game’s history, are the only unanimous winners of the AP MVP award. Not bad for someone who many so-called experts, based on their outdated, wrongheaded thinking, said lacked the necessities to succeed at the position in the NFL. Jackson, they insisted, needed to switch to running back or wide receiver. Those observations haven’t aged well.

Houston Texans superstar Deshaun Watson, selected two picks after Mahomes in the ’17 draft, is a wizard whether working from the pocket or on the move. Kyler Murray, the No. 1 overall selection in the previous draft, is the AP Offensive Rookie of the Year. The Seattle Seahawks’ Russell Wilson, already a Super Bowl winner, a future Hall of Famer and the dean of the group, has never been better. Don’t forget what Dak Prescott has done during his four impressive seasons for the Dallas Cowboys.

“At this point there’s not a certain prototype to be a quarterback, and that’s what’s great,” Prescott said. “You hope the youth see that. If they wanna play quarterback, they have the opportunity — whether they’re black, whether they’re white, whether they’re Hispanic, or whatever the color.”

Ponder these numbers: 24, 23, 24, 22, 26 and 31. Those are the ages, respectively, of Mahomes, Jackson, Watson, Murray, Prescott and Wilson. That’s a group poised to lead the NFL into its next 100 years.

For the NFL, that’s something new. And wonderful in the eyes of Warren Moon, who is the only black passer in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Moon said he has never had more fun watching the NFL.

“Well, yeah, because when you realize how far we’ve come from when we weren’t even allowed to play the position,” Moon said, “to what these young guys have done this year, it’s really special.”

Remember: It wasn’t until 1946 that the NFL’s unofficial ban on black players was lifted. Even after the league was integrated, blacks were still denied the opportunity to play quarterback because, according to the false narrative, they lacked the smarts, courage and leadership skills to thrive. It wasn’t even until 1968, when Marlin Briscoe became the starter for the Denver Broncos in the old AFL, that there was a black first-string quarterback in the modern era of professional football in the United States. What’s more, it was another 20 years until Doug Williams took a sledgehammer to the racist myths about black quarterbacks by becoming the first black passer to both start in a Super Bowl and win the game’s MVP award.

Opportunity was all that was needed, Williams said.

“It’s great what Mahomes and all the guys have done this year, but this could have happened a lot sooner,” Williams said. “It’s really about the opportunity. For a long time, we didn’t get these opportunities. And once we started to get them, you see what happened. You see what developed. You see this year.”

Moon agreed with his longtime friend.

“I’ve talked to Doug about this for years, about how we knew this would happen if the doors just opened,” Moon said. “Mahomes is a great quarterback. There’s no doubt about that. But so is Deshaun. And so is Russell. And so is Dak.

“Look at what Lamar did after being doubted by so many people. They said he wouldn’t even be able to play quarterback in the NFL. Look at what Kyler Murray did as a rookie. All you have to do is open your eyes to see what’s there.”

As well as what’s likely coming.

When the curtain was raised this season, black quarterbacks had never occupied more prominent positions in the game. As it drops, their standing is even higher. Just ask others who play the game.

“With everything that happened this year, with how great these guys played and how young they are, you better believe that everyone in the NFL noticed,” said Washington running back Adrian Peterson, a future Hall of Famer. “NFL teams watch and see what other teams do.

“These teams see what happened in Baltimore. They see what happened for Houston. When teams have success, other teams [copy] that. It wouldn’t surprise me if in another five years, half of the starting quarterbacks in the NFL are black.”

Philadelphia Eagles safety Malcolm Jenkins seconded that.

“As a guy who plays on defense, I can tell you that all of those guys definitely get your attention because of everything they can do,” said Jenkins, a three-time Pro Bowler and two-time Super Bowl winner. “They’re not all exactly the same in what they do, but they all come at you with a lot. And they win. This is the way the league is going, and with Mahomes, he’s the guy who everyone in the league looks at now.”

Mahomes is now the gold standard at sports’ most glamourous position. Or as Williams puts it, “Mahomes is the one everybody, no matter what [color] you are, is chasing now.”

His name is Patrick Lavon Mahomes II. They call him “Showtime.” He’s the best in the game now. And by the time he’s done, a qualifier may no longer be needed.

Jason Reid is the senior NFL writer at The Undefeated. He enjoys watching sports, especially any games involving his son and daughter.