There are always plenty of storylines around the Super Bowl, when just two teams are left standing from a punishing NFL season to take part in the biggest game in American sport. This year, though, there’s one landmark that just seems a lot more important.
That’s because when Patrick Mahomes leads out the Kansas City Chiefs to take on Jalen Hurts and the Philadelphia Eagles, it will be the first Super Bowl to have two black quarterbacks battling it out for the Lombardi Trophy.
It’s a defining moment for the NFL, which has struggled with equality and representation in the upper echelons of the sport, as now finally at the very pinnacle of the game we have two black players operating in the most important position in the most important game there is.
Even when all the focus for players is usually just on their tactics, their gameplans and their fitness, both Mahomes and Hurts realise the enormity of the situation, and the new ground they are breaking in hopefully inspiring a widespread change for the next generation.
“It’s special,” Mahomes said in the build-up to his third Super Bowl appearance on Sunday in Arizona. “There’s so many great ones that haven’t been recognised because of the stereotype of the black quarterback not being able to have sustained success.
“I’m glad that I’m able to be on this world stage with another quarterback in Jalen that’s able to play at a high level and prove that we’ve been able to do this the whole time.”
Hurts, at 24, will play in his first Super Bowl.
He said: “It’s a historic moment. To be on this platform and to give so many others so much inspiration moving forward, telling them that they can do it, too… it’s a proud moment.”
35 years after Doug Williams – more NFL history being made
Doug Williams was the first black quarterback to play in, and win, the Super Bowl back in 1988 with Washington. Since then, just six more black QBs have made the big game, with only Mahomes and Russell Wilson lifting the Lombardi Trophy.
Hurts will be the eighth, but it is the fact he will face Mahomes in the Super Bowl that gives hope of inspiring the next generation.
“I’ve learned more and more about the history of the black quarterback since I’ve been in this league and the guys that came before me and Jalen set the stage for this,” added Mahomes. “I’m glad that we can set the stage for kids that are coming up now.
“If we can continue to show that we can consistently be great, I think it’ll just continue to open doors for other kids growing up to follow their dreams and to be a quarterback of an NFL team.”
Progress should be a lot quicker than previously. Marlin Briscoe is considered the first black QB of the modern era, having suited up for the Denver Broncos in 1968, with a decade passing until Williams became the first to be selected in the first round of a full modern-day NFL Draft.
Eldridge Dickey was picked by the Oakland Raiders in the 1968 AFL/NFL Draft, but as happened on more than one occasion he was moved out to wide receiver and never actually played at quarterback in the league.
Even when Williams won his Super Bowl, he only got his chance because of an injury to Washington’s starter, and was benched the next season despite an MVP display in the big game.
Only 25 black quarterbacks have been first-round draft picks, but 13 of those have come since 2011 and seven in the past six years. This season started with 11 black quarterbacks in the NFL, and ends with two MVP candidates in the Super Bowl.
Two leaders busting the biggest QB myth
As to the reasons why black quarterbacks struggled, a lack of diversity among NFL owners and head coaches could be put forward as a reason, with that leading to a lack of trust and the myth building that a black QB could struggle with the leadership role needed to play the position.
As history maker Williams noted himself in a National Public Radio interview: “You know, as a black quarterback, it was never about my ability to play the position. That wasn’t the question. The question has always been leadership. Could you lead a team?”
That thought process seems to have finally been eradicated – with four of the five richest contracts in the sport given to black QBs as teams hand the keys to their success over to their talented quarterbacks.
Mahomes and Hurts are two of the best examples, with the Chiefs QB a leader from the very start and guiding his side to victory after victory – including running with a badly sprained ankle to set up the field goal that brought them back to the Super Bowl for the third time in four years.
In Hurts’ case, much focus was placed on his athletic ability, but doubts cast on his throwing accuracy and leadership skills. He has responded with 22 passing touchdowns this season, and the fourth-best quarterback rating in the league.
Nobody knows the quarterback position more than the recently retired Tom Brady, and he says leadership qualities even outweigh throwing ability for the modern-day triggerman to be successful.
“A lot of people can throw the football, it’s a little bit overrated in my view,” Brady said recently on his Let’s Go podcast. “What’s more important is if the guys play with you and for you, and do they love you and respect you? And if they do that then I know you’re going to be a great player.
“Because the players are watching you do everything, how you sit in the cafeteria, how you interact with anyone who walks in through the doorway, everything.”
Mahomes & Hurts now the prototype for NFL QBs
Mahomes and Hurts are creating history, but they are also leading the charge of the modern quarterbacks in the NFL – who have to run, throw, and think their way to success.
Robert Griffin III could also have been a trailblazer, with Williams’ former team Washington, after a stellar debut campaign that brought records, awards and a Pro Bowl selection – only for a knee injury to curtail his career.
Now a TV analyst, he summed up the two Super Bowl QBs: “These guys are the new prototypical quarterback in the NFL- a triple threat, as they beat you with their arms, they beat you with their legs and they beat you with their minds.
“And the fact they’re the first two black quarterbacks to be going up against each other in the Super Bowl makes this even more sweeter for all the generations that are coming up after them.”
They have differing styles – Hurts is a superb runner who scores touchdowns for fun, coupled with a deadly deep throw, but his vast improvement over his first couple of seasons and his renowned work ethic really stand out.
Mahomes is a magician, perhaps the most entertaining QB in the league to watch with a plethora of unorthodox throws in his locker – side arms, under arms and no-look passes that we have not seen before but have become the norm.
He’s also a prolific winner, getting to the AFC Championship game in every full season as a starter, and now his third Super Bowl at just 27 – he is the future of the NFL and it’s a future that should look a lot brighter for black quarterbacks.