Who Was Marlin Briscoe?

A College Football Hall of Fame inductee. A pro football player. A wide receiver in the Miami Dolphins undefeated season. A two-time Super Bowl champion.

Marlin the Magician

He was also the first starting African-American quarterback in the NFL Super Bowl era. His nickname was Marlin the Magician.

Marlin Briscoe died last week. Some nice tributes were published, of course about his many accomplishments, and thankfully, about the humble man. Briscoe had his share of problems and missteps in life, to go along with the sports accomplishments.

Never heard of him, or at least did not know about his distinction as a pro quarterback? Don’t worry, most people do not know this.

Marlin Briscoe’s tenure as a starting quarterback was brief, but he got a chance. As usual, an African-American college quarterback was drafted to play a different position. Briscoe was drafted to play defensive back. Later, he became an elite wide receiver, but never got the opportunity again to be a quarterback.

Briscoe attended Omaha University and as a quarterback, led his team to three division championships. He set records and was lost on several All-American teams. The Denver Broncos drafted him in the fourteenth round of the 1968 draft – as a defensive back. Instead of an agent, Briscoe negotiated his own contract and got the Broncos to allow him a three-day tryout as a quarterback. He made the roster as a defensive back, but fate intervened.

As a rookie, he was called on to play quarterback when the top two QBs were injured. In eleven games, he threw 14 touchdowns and passed for 1589 yards. He also rushed for 308 yards and three touchdowns. Not exactly Hall of Fame numbers, but remember, Briscoe only got to practice at quarterback for a few days in training camp and was thrust into the lineup with no preparation.

At season’s end, it was a mutual decision for Briscoe to leave Denver. For the 1969 season, Briscoe ended up in Buffalo as a wide receiver. Briscoe found his niche and played the next eight seasons catching passes on primarily running teams. The 1970s still featured some run-focused offenses with passing nowhere as prevalent as today. Briscoe played on the same team as O.J. Simpson, who was the first 2,000 yard running back in a season. The 5’10” Briscoe was often an outside blocker. His best season professionally was 1970 with 57 receptions for 1,036 yards and eight touchdowns. In today’s NFL, that is a good season, but hardly a record-setting one. The fleet Briscoe was a sure handed and precise route runner in the days when defensive backs were allowed much more freedom to engage receivers off the line of scrimmage and harass then on their routes. Defenders could punish receivers with hits that are penalties today including blows to the head. It was a different game.

From Buffalo, Briscoe landed in Miami just in time to be part of the Dolphins’ 1972 Undefeated Season. Again, Briscoe was a wide receiver on a running team. In three seasons he caught a total of 57 passes, but collected two Super Bowl rings. Even Paul Warfield, the Hall of Fame wide receiver who played along with Briscoe, only averaged 31 pass receptions in his Miami years. It was a different game then.

After football, Briscoe had a good life. Until he didn’t. Drugs, the wrong crowd, a divorce and jail. It all came crashing down. He had pulled himself up from a humble and difficult youth. Football offered the way to a new life, especially two daughters he revered. Now he had to get himself clean and rebuild his life, which he did. Life was truly good.

“I’ve always been challenged, all my life, and I feel I’ve met them successfully,” Briscoe says. “When I’m gone, I’d like to be remembered as a person who stood up to the challenge. I’d like to be remembered as somebody who always tried.” – Marlin Briscoe

It is well known that Black quarterbacks were discriminated against in pro football. Fine athletes were forced to play other positions, and many went on to tremendous careers, but the truth remains that discrimination existed. Briscoe suffered it as a youth and later in pro football, but he was determined not to be defined by it.

“This isn’t about Marlin Briscoe,” he said. “This is about Omaha. I learned from my upbringing here in Omaha that you give out, but you don’t give up. That is something I’ve subscribed to all my life.” – Marlin Briscoe at the unveiling of the statue recognizing his College Hall of Fame induction.

Who was Marlin Briscoe? A humble man to the very end. Rest In Peace, sir.

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