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Book Report: Third and a Mile

by Randy Snow

Original to www.theworldoffootball.com, Thursday, January 9, 2014

In the 2007 book, Third and a Mile, author William Rhoden profiles 10 pioneering African-American quarterbacks who played in the National Football League. Rhoden uses quotes and interviews by no less than 84 former players, coaches, agents and sports journalists to tell the stories of personal triumph and tragedy on and off the gridiron.

The book begins with a profile of Fritz Pollard, an Ivy League halfback and signal caller who played at Brown University from 1915-1918. He went on to play in the early days of the NFL for the Akron Pros, Milwaukee Badgers, Hammond Pros, Akron Indians and Providence Steam Rollers. He was one of just two African-Americans in the league at the time in the NFL. He helped lead Akron to the first league title in 1920 with an 8-0 record. He was also the co-head coach of the Akron Pros in 1921. Pollard was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2005.

Willie Thrower was a quarterback in college at Michigan State. He played in just one NFL game with the Chicago Bears on October 18, 1953, but is recognized as the first African-American to throw a pass in the NFL. He entered the game in relief of quarterback George Blanda completing 3 of 8 passes for 27 yards and an interception. Thrower went on to play for a few years in the Canadian Football League for the Winnipeg Blue Bombers until an injury ended his playing career.

In 1949, George Taliaferro became the first African-American quarterback selected in an NFL Draft. The Chicago Bears selected him in the 13th round out of Indiana University but he wound up signing with, and playing for, the Los Angeles Dons of the All American Football Conference that year. The AAFC was a rival league to the NFL from 1946-1949. He went on to play in the NFL from 1950-1955 for the New York Yanks, Dallas Texans, Baltimore Colts and Philadelphia Eagles.

Sandy Stephens led the University of Minnesota to a national championship in 1960. He went on to play for the Montreal Alouettes and the Toronto Argonauts in the Canadian Football League.

Marlin Briscoe played college football at the University of Omaha. He was the first African-American starting quarterback in the American Football League in 1968for the Denver Broncos. James Harris played college football at Grambling State for legendary head coach Eddie Robinson. He went on to play for the Buffalo Bills, Los Angeles Rams and San Diego Chargers.

Doug Williams also played college football at Grambling State and led the Washington Redskins to a Super Bowl title in 1988. He was named the MVP of the game. He also played for the Oklahoma/Arizona Outlaws in the United States Football League from 1884-1985. In 1998, Williams succeeded Robinson as head coach at Grambling.

Warren Moon led the University of Washington to a Rose Bowl victory over Michigan in 1978. He received no interest from NFL teams so he signed with the Edmonton Eskimos of the Canadian Football League. Moon led the Eskimos to five consecutive Grey Cup titles between 1978 and 1982. He went on to play in the NFL for the Houston Oilers, Minnesota Vikings, Seattle Seahawks and Kansas City Chiefs. He is the only player to be inducted into both the Canadian Football Hall of Fame and the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio.

Quarterbacks Donavan McNabb and Michael Vick (the first overall pick in the 2001 NFL Draft) are also profiled in the book.

The book also contains an appendix of every African-American quarterback who lettered at 136 major colleges and universities through 2006. There is also a list of 48 African-American quarterbacks who played in the NFL and AFL who threw at least eight passes. The book is a fast read and published by ESPN Books, which is a division of ESPN Publishing.


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