Marlin Briscoe, former NFL wide receiver and the first black starting quarterback in the American Football League (AFL), died on Monday at the age of 76.
According to Briscoe’s daughter, Angela Marriott, he passed away at a hospital in Norwalk, California, due to complications resulting from pneumonia. He had been hospitalized with circulation issues in his legs.
A standout at quarterback at his hometown University of Nebraska Omaha, Briscoe was drafted by the Denver Broncos 14th round of the 1968 AFL Draft. Though the Broncos intended to use him as a cornerback, Briscoe’s energetic style of play earned him the starting quarterback position, as well as the nickname “The Magician.”
Though he only spent one season of his nine-year career with the New England Patriots, Briscoe’s legacy will forever be linked to the organization. In fact, it began in his rookie campaign. Early in the 1968 season, the Nebraska native informed the Broncos of his intention of returning home to become a teacher, if he did not receive a chance to try out at quarterback.
On September 29, 1968, fate stepped in on Briscoe’s behalf when Broncos’ starter Steve Tensi suffered a broken collarbone. Uncomfortable with the thought of Tensi’s backup Joe DiVito, being his new top option at the position, coach Lou Saban summoned Briscoe from the sidelines in the fourth quarter against the then-Boston Patriots to give him the audition he had been requesting. Briscoe completed a 22-yard pass on his first play. On his second series, he led an 80-yard touchdown drive, completing a 21-yard pass and running for 38 yards, including the last 12 yards for the touchdown.
With his performance against the Patriots serving as the catalyst, Briscoe won the Broncos’ starting job, becoming the first African-American quarterback in the AFL. He started five games that season, passing for 1,589 yards and 14 touchdowns, while also rushing for 308 yards and three scores.season.runner-up for AFL rookie of the year after
Despite his stellar rookie season, Denver chose not to start Briscoe in 1969, quarterback job in 1969, causing him to ask for his release. After signing with the Buffalo Bills, Briscoe agreed to a positional change to wide receiver, as Buffalo was significantly stocked at quarterback. Briscoe would go on to become a Pro Bowl receiver with the Bills, while later winning two Super Bowls with the Miami Dolphins. He was a receiver on the 1972 Dolphins team that finished with a perfect season. Ironically, the ‘72 Miami club were the only team with a more pristine record than the 2007 Patriots, who finished their season [including the playoffs] with a record of 18-1.
Briscoe made stops with the San Diego Chargers, and Detroit Lions before ending his career in 1976 with the Patriots as a receiver. He logged 10 receptions for 136 yards and one touchdown in 14 regular season games. He caught a 16-yard touchdown pass from Steve Grogan in the Pats’ 48–17 rout of the Oakland Raiders at Schaefer Stadium in October.
While his on-field accomplishments provide him a memorable pro football legacy, Briscoe will forever hold a unique distinction in Patriots lore. During a November 1968 contest at Boston’s Fenway Park, Briscoe’s Broncos routed the Patriots 35-14. However, as Denver’s quarterback for that game, he threw an interception to Pats’ AFL All-Star defensive back Leroy Mitchell. As such, Briscoe is the only player to have been intercepted by a Patriots’ player and later to have caught a touchdown as a Patriots’ receiver
Briscoe was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 2016, with his alma mater also unveiling a statue in his honor that same year.