UPDATE: Robert Griffin III and the 5 Best Black Quarterbacks

(Washington, DC)There is an expression in the black community: “good hair.”

This means hair that is wavy, or straight, indicative of partially white or Indian  descent. Today, RGIII was outshone by the black quarterback with good hair. (One wonders about the conversation that’ll elicit in Rob Parker‘s barbershop). More important, he was outshone by the black quarterback with the good knee.

A hobbled Robert Griffin III started well but slowly succumbed as less-heralded

Russell Wilson with Seahawks coach Pete Carroll
Russell Wilson with Seahawks coach Pete Carroll

rookie Russell Wilson made his big-stage debut in grand fashion, leading the Seattle Seahawks to 24 unanswered points with his passing, his running, and his blocking as Seattle defeated the home-team Redskins, 24-14 in the NFC Wild Card game.

As Griffin lay on the field halfway through the fourth quarter, Redskin fans were hushed as though his injury had been a concussion rather than a hyperextended knee. Perhaps they were having Joe Theismann flashbacks. One couldn’t blame them. There’ll be plenty of blame given to Redskin Coach Mike Shanahan for leaving the rookie phenomenon in the game long after it was clear to anyone watching that he was a shell of his usual self, especially with highly talented Kirk Cousins waiting on the bench; that sound you hear is Stuart Scott and Skip Bayless sharpening their knives. As it was, by the time Cousins entered the game, it was too late for the Skins. The Seahawks defense smelled blood and came charging. Despite a valiant effort on Cousins’ part, it was too little too late.

The game was a reminder that longevity and victories, especially victories in the big games, are the real stuff of NFL greatness. Griffin will be back for sure, but he showed the dangers inherent in his style of play, a style that may, or may not, be conducive to the sort of career that makes for NFL legends.

The 2012 third-round pick Wilson didn’t get anything like the spotlight given to Griffin or last-round pick Andrew Luck, whose Indianapolis Colts were eliminated by the Baltimore Ravens. But with 26 TDs to 10 interceptions, 3,118 yards passing, a 100.0 rating, and 489 yards rushing, he arguably has had a better year than either. And if Redskin fans have a familiar feeling today, when interviewed Wilson reminds one, to an almost eerie degree, of an old nemesis: Roger Staubach.

What Wilson thinks about being a black quarterback is unknown, but you can be sure someone will be asking.

As for Washington sports fans, they can look forward not just to next September but to April, when the city’s other 2012 rookie phenom, Bryce Harper, takes the field for the Nationals.

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Robert Griffin III doesn’t want to be known as the best black quarterback. That’s good, because, so far, he isn’t. He seems well on his way, having made 2012 HIS YEAR in such dramatic fashion. Few players have had years quite like this perfect concoction of talent, buzz, and buzz justified. RGIII has done something that is hard to do in this Robert Griffin III and the 5 Best Black Quarterbackshype-filled world: he has exceeded the hype. If he continues, he’ll not only wind up the best black quarterback, he’ll end up meeting his stated goal – being the best quarterback. But in case he changes his mind, here are the 5 best black quarterbacks, according to this sports fan.

5) Doug Williams

The numbers aren’t especially impressive. Highest TD total: 20. Best completion percentage: 56.6%. Williams spent his formative years with the Tampa Bay Bucs when the Bucs were one of the worst teams anybody has every scene, and looked like Robert Griffin III and the 5 Best Black QuarterbacksCreamsicles on top of that. Look at the numbers, and it’s hard to give Williams the nod over Michael Vick, or Kordell Stewart, or James Harris. Yes, he threw a hell of a deep ball.

But the reason he’s on this list is one game. Maybe even one quarter. But it happened to be the Super Bowl.

Williams brought the Redskins back from a 10-0 first quarter deficit in Super Bowl XXII, leading them to 35 points in the second quarter, ending up with 340 yards and four TD passes. All of these were Super Bowl records. And while it was an anomaly, it wasn’t exactly an accident. It was a QB who’d always had the talent – that arm! that pretty, tight spiral! – focusing on the biggest stage and rising to the occasion. That’s why, so far, he’s the one black QB to have a Super Bowl ring. And that’s why he’s on this list.

4) Randall Cunningham

They say Michael Vick is the greatest athlete to play the QB position. I concede he’s faster than Cunningham was, but Cunningham was the better athlete. He had the size to be more durable. And the man was the best running QB in NFL history – 4,928 yds, 962 of them in a single season. Robert Griffin III and the 5 Best Black Quarterbacks

Cunningham is also underappreciated for the quality of his play in his last years, particularly 1998, when, with the Vikings, he threw 34 TDs against just 10 picks for a 106 QB rating. But Cunningham had always been a dangerous passer, with a freakishly powerful arm to go with his other skills. Almost quietly, he had become something other than the human highlight reel of our memories.

3) Donovan McNabb

McNabb led the Eagles through the best 11 years that franchise has had. When you get to 5 NFC Championships, something is clearly working. That he couldn’t lead the Eagles over the hump leaves his resume incomplete and Philly fans frustrated. But the numbers are the numbers of an elite NFL quarterback, and he’s one of two QBs on this list who was regarded as an elite NFL QB during his career. His numbers are better than many QBs I’ve ranked ahead of him on this list. Robert Griffin III and the 5 Best Black Quarterbacks

He had an arm like a cannon, and he was a good runner when he was young. Much of the Eagles’ success during those years was built on McNabb’s ability to put those two talents together to pick up third downs and keep the other teams’ offense on the bench. Tell me the Eagles’ best weapon during his years was their crushing defense, and I’ll tell you he was part of why that defense was so crushing. It’s easier to be a top-tier defense when you’re well-rested.

2) Steve McNair

Not quite the best QB. Not quite the best athlete. But among black QBs, the best football player.

McNair had that inner steel, that heart of a lion, that puts him ahead of McNabb and Cunningham on my list. He was a yard short of winning a Super Bowl. One of the best Robert Griffin III and the 5 Best Black Quarterbacksrunners among all QBs, he didn’t have the gaudy numbers of a McNabb, but only because he led a more balanced offense. And one number leaps out: 8 straight years over 60% completion rate.

McNair is the QB on this list who meets my personal highest criterion: If you have one game to win, who do you want as your QB? I’m taking Steve McNair.

1) Warren Moon

And it isn’t even close.

I’m a Steelers fan. I have, in my mind, an All-Time Steeler-Killers Team. (RB: Ray Rice. DE: Charles Haley. OLT: Tony Boselli. Etc.) The QB of that team is Warren Moon.

A 9 time Pro Bowl selection, 3rd best QB in the AFC during his career (there was a guy named Marino in Miami, and a guy named Elway in Denver; Moon was better than Jim Kelly), he’s the only black QB in the NFL Hall of Fame. All that came after a career in Canada where he won 5 Grey Cups. Robert Griffin III and the 5 Best Black Quarterbacks

Warren Moon wasn’t the first black QB. But he was the one who broke the ice, and put the days when blacks were thought unsuited to the position behind us. He was the first black QB people stopped thinking about as a black QB. People simply thought of him as an elite QB.

Now RGIII wants to break some ice of his own. He says he wants to be thought of as the best QB (period). Allow me to read between the lines: he wants to end the category.

Nobody asks “Who’s the best black running back?” Nobody asks “Who’s the best black wide receiver?” Nobody asks “Who’s the best black point guard?” Those questions simply do not exist. Maybe RGIII can be better than everybody. Better than Peyton Manning. Better than Tom Brady. Better than Joe Montana, or John Elway, or Terry Bradshaw, or John Unitas, or even the best QB ever: Steve Young. (Yes! I said it! Wanna fight?).

If he’s going be the best QB ever, first he’s got to be the best black QB ever. One step at a time – and the QBs on this list are nobody’s chumps. There’s no dishonor in being a black quarterback.

by Todd Jackson

2 Responses to "UPDATE: Robert Griffin III and the 5 Best Black Quarterbacks"

  1. blatham   January 14, 2013 at 6:09 pm

    QB for the steeler killer team should be getting some serious competition from one Tom Brady

    Reply
  2. kadius1964   January 7, 2013 at 3:46 am

    Why the color deal here, why not keep a list a human QB’s and leave the color out, this is nuts that an article in today’s times still has to have color. We are Humans, not colors and this is one real reason, racism exist as it does today.

    These are men, not colors, they have achieved much in their respective positions and should be admired for that reason and not belittled to a color, shame on you for not seeing that and be so shallow that you can not get past skin tone and see the man.

    Reply

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