Quarterback and race. The media never lets it die. Geno Smith recently was perturbed by a TV analyst discussion of the stereotypes of black quarterbacks. He took to his twitter all angry about it. The analysts were actually complimenting him, by saying he was not the stereotype of what scouts automatically think. As a follow up to my post on an HBD reason the lack of successful black quarterbacks in the NFL, let's look at the five best black quarterbacks in NFL history. The list cannot be made a top ten because once you get beyond five, the pickings are slim. Do you add a David Garrard or Byron Leftwich, who put together a couple good seasons? Does Mike Vick belong on a list since he rarely played a full season and never really put it together as a passer except for a ten game stretch with the Eagles? Daunte Culpepper was exposed as a bit of a fraud and a beneficiary of the "Randy Moss effect" in Minnesota that turned old guys like Randall Cunningham and Jeff George into productive passers well beyond their prime. It is difficult to scrape together 5, let alone a top 10 list. To the countdown....
5. Tony Romo - Tony Romo isn't black. Far from it, as he's a white guy from Wisconsin (white hispanic). He is a scrambler in the Rodgers-Favre mode where he buys time with his feet but is always looking to throw first (this is the key to the modern NFL: can your efficient QB buy time if needed?). Romo is very talented and athletic oftentimes pulling off great plays that few QBs in the league can. If this were not a comedic insertion to the list, I'd rank him ahead of everyone but the man at no. 1. He's so athletic that Michael Irvin once made racially offensive and slavery themed comments that would have caused any white commentator to be fired. I quote from the article:
"He doesn't look like he's that type of an athlete," Irvin said of Romo. "But he is. He is, man. I don't know if some brother down in that line somewhere, I don't know who saw what or where, his great-great-great-great-
grandma ran over in the 'hood or something went down..... If great-great-great-great-great- great-great-great grandma pulled one of them studs up out of the barn, 'Come on in here for a second,' you know, and they go out and work in the yard. You know, back in the day."
Let's count the bad stuff in the ramblings of Irvin: 1. Romo is 6'2", 220 lbs and an NFL QB but doesn't look like that type of athlete due to, what? Being white, 2. Romo's distant maternal ancestor was a slave owner, 3. Romo's distant maternal ancestor had sex with a slave and passed the kid off as one of hers, and most puzzling, 4. The hood existed 4 'great' grandmas ago. Michael Irvin said these comments, apologized and kept his job. Let's see any white guy comment on a smart, black man by saying, "He doesn't look the bookish type, but that man is a smart fella. I don't know where or when, but somewhere along the line some sassy black gal must've dropped it like it's hot or shaken her booty for a white boy one night who just couldn't resist. Maybe even in the ecstasy of emancipation, they got down or at a Prohibition era Jazz Joint. A little bit o' cream in the coffee, you know, back in the day". Worse, that man could bring up Thomas Jefferson. It'll never happen. Geno Smith, imagine if they had said something like this about you? How bad would your hissy fit have been?
4. Randall Cunningham - Cunningham had terrible wide receivers, no tight ends, and his best running back was Keith Byars. Cunningham was a mercurial talent with a big arm and speed. He had a nice string of success despite no skill position talent around him, and while his completion percentage numbers look low, this was still the era of the NFL when the 49ers were the team running the West Coast offense with the built in running back checkdown if every route was covered. Cunningham left football, worked as a tile layer, and then came back to put up a great year with the Vikings in the Vikes's "Any Stiff Can be our QB" stretch (Randy Moss effect).
3. Steve McNair - McNair was a good passer who was a pass first QB in college that had the 'he's a runner' label slapped on him immediately due to his race. He was actually a deep bomber in college, and he could run, but he was not a Cunningham or Vick type scrambler. At age 30, his scrambling dropped down to minimal attempts due to the racking up of injuries. In the early 2000s, I felt bad that McNair was overlooked in the discussion for best QBs as he was a great talent, and the Titans never really had a great WR. His WR fell one yard short of a Super Bowl OT, and his kicker failed him in Foxoboro's coldest playoff game ever in his other best opportunity to win a title. His body broke down early from all the pounding he took due to his mobility (might've been more brittle than other QBs), and he was a statue by the end of his career. He also started to look at the pass rush and not coverage schemes, which made him a much worse passer (Captain Checkdown). He was murdered by a crazy mistress. A QB who may mirror McNair's rise and fall could be Ben Roethlisberger.
2. Donovan McNabb - McNabb carried an Iggles offense that had no good wide receivers until they brought in Terrell Owens (who selfishly destroyed the team's 2005 title chances), had an okay TE, and a rushing attack that was so-so until Brian Westbrook roided up to carry the ball 200+ times a season. McNabb was frustrating to watch because he was a great deep thrower, but his intermediate stuff was rough, which pulled his completion % down. The guy seemed to have no real touch on his passes, and everything from a 50 yard deep post to a 5 yard slant was thrown at 99 mph. John Madden said that when McNabb missed WRs, you knew no one, receiver or defender, could catch it. Once the Iggles surrounded him with some actual receivers, his numbers got better, but he couldn't stay healthy. It wasn't like McNair, who took a beating, but more just odd things. McNabb tore tendons, ligaments, odd muscles, etc. It was a sports news item the year he showed up late in his career (contract extension season) 25 lbs lighter. He was 31-32, not 37-38. He should've been in great shape. McNabb was also his own worst enemy, as he didn't rehab thoroughly, gained weight, and wasn't a game film junkie. He accused Shanahan and the Redkins of being a bit racial by treating him poorly, yet when he went to Minnesota, he pulled the same crap. I liked McNabb and felt Philly fans were ungrateful shits to him. Still, it seemed weird how he got the yips in big spots, or how he seemed to hyperventilate and threw up in playoff games when the Iggles needed him the most.
1. Warren Moon - Was there any doubt? I could not even find five other black NFL QBs I would classify as great. Moon was a Hall of Fame QB who did deal with actual discrimination when he tried to break into the NFL. He went to Canada after NFL teams wanted him to change positions, rocked it there, and then started in the NFL at 28. Kevin Gilbride designed a great system for Moon in Houston, Moon executed it well, and Moon was great for several years. He stayed productive well into his 30s, and had some good years in Minnesota (pre-Randy Moss effect) and even a good year in his 40s. He did slap around his wife, after winning the NFL Man of the Year award, and his Hall of Fame selection felt like a PC sports writer accomplishment. An NFL fan could name twenty five white quarterbacks they would take ahead of Moon, which reveals just how odd the lack of great black quarterbacks is. Considering the competition, he's the best black quarterback of all time.
Will there be a challenger to the throne with young guys like Kaepernick (he counts, right?), RG3 and Cam Newton out there? Maybe. The NFL is a dangerous place and many things can trip up a player. Ten years ago, I would've told you that Michael Vick would retire as the greatest black quarterback of all time. It hasn't happened and won't happen. RG3's biggest worry is his health. He's got such a slight looking build with skinny legs. Kaepernick might slump as team's watch more game film of him. Cam Newton is, well, a bit of a primadonna reading reports of his behavior on and off the field. Playing quarterback is one of the oddest progressions in sports from level to level, and even ESPN has noticed that scouts get overawed by raw traits and single bowl game performances. How did the NFL media push Jamarcus Russell as a franchise savoir? One delay on a Monday Night Football telecast allowed Steve Young to enter the booth with Jaworski and Jon Gruden and for 15 minutes they discussed the fact that scouting a quarterback is multivariable and incredibly difficult. As Young put it, there is no perfect training ground, but what they have now for a system isn't perfect and isn't quite working.
Something common to the above mentioned QBs as well as with Vick, Jason Campbell and Newton is that they are known for down field throwing and not really good at the timing, precision passing. Vick and McNabb were constantly jabbed for having low completion percentages, and Newton benefits from Steve Smith winning a lot of deep jump ball type passes. RG3 had a high completion percentage in his rookie year, so he may not fit the bomber/scrambler mold. Moon is the best precision passer of the black QB fraternity and ran multiple different offenses. One thing that will change how we view newer quarterbacks will be the absurd inflation that has happened to QB stats due to rule changes post-2005. Looking at the list above, Moon might not have had the better pure numbers of McNabb, but I'd pick him over McNabb. Moon had a longer, better career and no one questioned his commitment. McNabb always seemed to have questions about his engagement for far longer than a franchise QB should. Newton, Kaepernick, RG3 or Geno Smith might turn into long term studs, or they might flame out by age 28 like Vince Young. Time will tell.