Patrick Mahomes’ debut as Alex Smith’s successor in Kansas City couldn’t have gone much better last Sunday. He threw four touchdown passes, didn’t turn the ball over, posted a 127.5 passer rating, outplayed Philip Rivers, beat the AFC West-rival Chargers on the road and …
Was fortunate, as a black quarterback, to be born in 1995 and not 1955 or 1956, as black NFL pioneers Tony Dungy and Warren Moon were, respectively.
“It was a different time for African-American quarterbacks,” said Dungy, who was in the Twin Cities this weekend as part of the Ford Motor Company’s “Hometown Hall of Famers” ceremony at the University of Minnesota.
Dungy, a Pro Football Hall of Famer, presented his alma mater with a plaque on Friday. Thursday, he took some time to talk about being a black quarterback from 1973, when he started against Nebraska on his 18th birthday, to 1976, when he mistakenly assumed he would be given a chance to play quarterback in the NFL.
“I told somebody this story at the Super Bowl,” said Dungy, referring to Super Bowl XLI, when he became the first black coach to win the Lombardi Trophy.
“My senior year, we played out in Washington. Warren Moon quarterbacked the Huskies. I quarterbacked the Gophers. Warren led the PAC-8 in passing. I led the Big Ten in passing. Warren was the Most Valuable Player in the Rose Bowl after upsetting Michigan. He didn’t get drafted [in 1978] and ended up going to Canada. I didn’t get drafted [in 1977] and had to change positions.”
Dungy switched to defensive back, played two years with the Steelers, won a Super Bowl, played another year with the 49ers, retired and got an early jump on a Hall of Fame coaching career.
Moon became a superstar in Canada, won Grey Cup titles and elbowed his way into the NFL, where he became the Hall of Fame’s first black quarterback.
“I certainly wasn’t Warren Moon,” Dungy said. “But that’s kind of how it was. In this day and age, I think I probably would have gone into the NFL as a quarterback. I had a little different skill set than a lot of quarterbacks, but I thought I could play because my game was similar to Fran Tarkenton’s.”
Mahomes was a first-round draft pick a year ago. Naturally, it didn’t matter that he’s black. Some thought it would matter that he comes from the Texas Tech “Air Raid” system. But Chiefs coach Andy Reid trusted him enough to trade Alex Smith to Washington and turn a playoff team over to a guy with one career start.
Seven NFL teams have a black starting quarterback this season. That, of course, is an antiquated statistic. No one even thinks to look it up, unless it’s out of curiosity after reflecting on a narrow-minded time in the league’s history with a Hall of Famer around Dungy’s age or older.
“Marv Levy was coaching in the CFL in Montreal,” Dungy said. “Bill Polian was the general manager. They owned my rights. Marv said, ‘You can come up to Canada and step right in at quarterback.’ ”
But Dungy said he wanted to play against the best.
“That was the choice; that was the dilemma,” he said. “… I felt, ‘OK, the NFL is a different game. I have a chance to play defensive back, so I’ll go learn how to do that.’
“But after I was in the league a while, I looked around at some of the quarterbacks, especially the backup quarterbacks who were playing, I thought, ‘Yeah, I could have played quarterback.’ ”
Dungy is thankful that today’s player views such stories with disbelief.
“Guys like Robert Griffin III and Lamar Jackson, they’ve changed kind of the way we look at things,” Dungy said. “Tyrod Taylor, guys like that. It’s a different M.O. now.”
Mark Craig is an NFL and Vikings Insider. Twitter: @markcraigNFL E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org