Saturday, July 4, 2009

McNair Set the Groundwork for Black QBs

James Harris doesn't get the credit he deserves as the trailblazing black quarterback. In my childhood in Los Angeles, Harris was the starting QB for my Los Angeles Rams, and I remember a day he threw for 436 yards and two touchdowns in a 31-28 win at Miami in 1976. Harris, from Grambling State University, was eventually replaced by Pat Haden, a 5-foot-11 spark plug from USC who hardly had the physical tools of Harris.

Doug Williams continued that Grambling tradition by taking the Redskins to the Super Bowl, pushing aside Jay Schroeder and leading the Redskins over the Denver Broncos. Williams was a fine quarterback, but Steve McNair possessed awesome physical skills and a cannon arm. McNair, who passed away Saturday, rejuvenated professional football's interest in the black quarterback.

His success in the NFL paved the way for Donovan McNabb three years later, Vince Young and LaMarcus Russell currently. McNair proved black quarterbacks could be athletic (I think everybody assumed that), have the mental capacity to run an NFL team and be a leader (that was in major doubt for some reason) and had the toughness to play through pain and adversity (which will be McNair's legacy).

McNair might be the first major black athlete to be more regarded for his guile and endurance than his pure physical skills, which were also impressive. McNair is a trailblazer because he made black quarterbacking cool again and open the road for athletic black quarterbacks to be considered franchise players and allowed to utilize their skills in passing and running. No more wide receiver, defensive back or all-purpose player.

Black quarterbacks from high school, college and the NFL should praise McNair today because his skills -- and toughness -- put his brethren in a whole new category -- team leader.