DENVER — Marlin Briscoe, who became the first Black starting quarterback in the American Football League more than 50 years ago, died Monday.
His daughter, Angela Marriott, told The Associated Press that Briscoe, 76, died of pneumonia at a hospital in Norwalk, California. He had been hospitalized with circulation issues in his legs.
Briscoe, an Omaha, Nebraska, native, was a star quarterback at Omaha University before the Denver Broncos drafted him as a cornerback in the 14th round in 1968. Briscoe told the team he’d return home to become a teacher if he couldn’t get a tryout at quarterback. Denver agreed to an audition, and the 5-foot-10 dynamo nicknamed “The Magician” made the starting lineup on October 6.
Briscoe started five games that season. He was runner-up for AFL rookie of the year after passing for 1,589 yards and 14 touchdowns and rushing for 308 yards and three scores.
His most memorable performance occurred Nov. 24, 1968, a 34-32, last-second comeback win against the Buffalo Bills. Briscoe completed just 12 of 29 passes in that game, but for -- get this -- 335 yards and 4 touchdowns. An oustanding 27.9 yards per completion.
One of his long completions saved The Franchise.
Floyd Little was the Broncos' second-year running back and Lou Saban was the Broncos' second-year head coach. As chronicled in the book "Mile High Magic, The 25 Greatest Moments in Denver Broncos History," the Broncos were up, 31-22 as the game ticked to inside the 2-minute warning.
Little was having a terrific game, accumulating 229 total yards in rushing, receiving and returning. But a blocked punt helped bring the Bills to within 31-29. With 42 seconds remaining, Little ran left on a third-and-15 play and was knocked toward the sideline. Trying to stay in bounds to keep the clock running, Little flailed his arms for balance and the ball popped loose. Bills defensive back Butch Byrd picked it up and returned it to the Broncos’ 10, where a scrambling Little brought him down.
Instead of running down the clock, the Bills immediately kicked a field goal for a 32-31 lead, but leaving 26 seconds.
At that point, Saban came up to Little and fired him. Right there during the game. Fired. As it turns out, Saban often screamed at players who made critical mistakes, “You’re fired!”
"I got halfway up the tunnel beneath the South Stands and turned around and came back and went to huddle,” Little said.
Little’s longtime roommate, Fran Lynch, had already replaced him. The referee, John McDonough, stepped in and said there’s 12 guys in the huddle, somebody had to leave.
“I said I ain’t going,” Little said. “Lou was yelling and screaming and jumping up and down on the sidelines and I gave him the bird a couple times. I told the guys, ‘I’ll leave after this play.’ I told Marlin, “Hit me, man. Do what you’ve got to do to save me.”
Briscoe heaved the ball to Little, who caught it for a 59-yard gain. A face mask penalty put the ball at the 5, and from there Bobby Howfield kicked the chip shot field goal and Little had been rescued, Abra Cadabra, by The Magician, for a 34-32 win.
When Briscoe learned Saban had acquired Pete Liske to become the Broncos’ QB in 1969, Briscoe asked for, and was granted his release. He was picked up by the Buffalo Bills where he became a Pro Bowl, 1,000-yard receiver in 1970 and helped the Miami Dolphins win back-to-back Super Bowls in 1972-73.
The Broncos now have a diversity intern coaching position named after Briscoe.
Briscoe was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 2016.
9NEWS Broncos reporter Mike Klis contributed to this report.
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