Marlin Briscoe, American pro football’s first Black starting QB and member of undefeated Dolphins, dies at 76

Marlin Briscoe, a quarterback pioneer and member of the Miami Dolphins’ undefeated 1972 team, died of pneumonia on Monday at the age of 76. Briscoe’s daughter, Angela Marriott, informed the Associated Press of his death. 

Nicknamed “The Magician,” Briscoe was the first American professional football starting Black quarterback after being selected by the American Football League’s Denver Broncos in 1968. He started five games that season while finishing as the runner-up for AFL Rookie of the Year. Briscoe’s best performance came against the Bills, as he threw for 335 yards and four touchdowns in his second start. 

“We are heartbroken to learn the passing of former Broncos QB Marlin Briscoe,” the Broncos said in a statement. “Marlin was a pioneer who shattered barriers, making history as the first Black starting quarterback in the Super Bowl era. He paved the way for countless others and created an indelible legacy, including through our Marlin Briscoe Diversity Coaching Fellowship. Our deepest sympathies go out to Marlin’s family, friends and former teammates.”

Briscoe asked for his release the following season after he wasn’t given a chance to compete to be the Broncos’ starting quarterback. He quickly caught on with the Bills, where in 1970 he earned Pro Bowl honors as a receiver after catching 57 passes for 1,036 yards and eight touchdowns in 14 games. Briscoe’s best game that season came against the Dolphins, as he caught seven passes for 145 yards and two touchdowns in Buffalo’s Week 5 loss to the eventual AFC champions. 

His performance against Miami clearly caught the attention of Dolphins coach Don Shula, who traded for Briscoe before the start of the 1972 season. Playing alongside Hall of Fame wideout Paul Warfield, Briscoe led the Dolphins in touchdown catches during the regular season while helping Miami complete a perfect season. In 1973, Briscoe led the Dolphins in receptions as Miami won back-to-back titles. He caught two passes in Miami’s 24-7 win over Washington in Super Bowl VIII. 

Briscoe, who later spent time with the Lions, Chargers and Patriots, caught 30 touchdown passes over his career while averaging 15.8 yards per catch. He averaged 6.9 yards per carry for his career in addition to his 14 touchdown passes during his rookie season in Denver, his only season as a quarterback in pro football. 

“I wasn’t bitter,” Briscoe said in a 2015 interview with Sports Illustrated when asked about changing positions. “Bitter people quit. I was disappointed; if I was bitter, I wouldn’t have rolled up my sleeves and learned another position. I grew up in the ’50s and ’60s, when Black people had a tough road no matter what career they pursued. We expected to have to go through closed doors. We knew we wouldn’t get a fair shake.”

A 2016 College Football Hall of Fame inductee, Briscoe led Nebraska-Omaha to three conference titles while setting over 20 school records. The school unveiled a statue in his honor shortly following his Hall of Fame induction. 

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