rg3 & russell wilson

RG3 and Russell Wilson

*As NFL preseason games start to wind down, it’s wonderful to see so many high-profile teams across the league that have African-American quarterbacks at their helm.

Robert Griffin III, of course, set the world on fire with an electifying rookie season in Washington; Russell Wilson had a freshman campaign that was almost as impressive in Seattle. Colin Kaepernick came within a few points of winning a Superbowl in his first full year as a starter. Cam Newton is one of the league’s most dynamic players in Carolina. Michael Vick will start in Philadelphia. Josh Freeman in Tampa Bay is an up-and-comer. Geno Smith in New York and E.J. Manuel in Buffalo should be starting by the end of the season.

The black quarterback is no longer a rarity – but, as football starts for 2013, it’s worth to remember a time when it was. For years, the position was as white as the background on the screen you’re reading this on is. The prevailing (and overwhelmingly racist) idea that the position was reserved for smarter, quicker-thinking white athletes. Thank God that has changed. Incidentally, this year will mark the 25-year anniversary of a landmark event in the league – the 1988 Super Bowl victory of the Redskins over the Broncos, the first team to ever win a championship with a black quarterback at the helm.

That quarterback was a man named Doug Williams, a great athlete and a better man, who overcame the bright spotlight turned on him in that game to deliver an MVP performance that serves as a league-milestone to this day – idiots like Rush Limbaugh be damned (ESPN.com: GEN – Limbaugh resigns from ESPN). Twenty-five years later, Wiliams’ performance still echoes through NFL history (take a look at this fine ESPN piece, narrated by RGIII, for some more background.

Legend has it that before that Superbowl, Williams was asked the awkward question, “How long have you been a black quarterback?” (He replied “All my life.”) It’s heartening to think that in today’s NFL – for all of its problems – that question seems all the more sillier. Don’t forget about the impact of Williams when you’re watching RGIII, Russell Wilson or Colin Kaepernick dominate this season.