Wednesday, October 22, 2014
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It would mark the first for an African American coach and quarterback in the big game

It is fittingly appropriate that during the week we celebrate the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., an African American coach (Mike Tomlin) and quarterback (Donovan McNabb) will be favorites to lead their teams to conference championships on Sunday Jan. 21.

In the embodiment of Dr. King, who quoted the Constitution's famous words "all men are created equal" in his most famous speech, it has not quite played out that way in our nation or on the athletic playing fields.

Since Fritz Pollard became the first Black National Football League coach for Akron Pros in 1921, there have been few to be granted such an opportunity although many have been obvious qualified.

It wasn't until 1989 when Raiders owner Al Davis named Art Shell as head coach of the Raiders that another Black was hired.

Since Shell, who led the Raiders to the AFC conference championship game, there have been a sprinkling of Black coaches in the NFL, but usually under the most difficult circumstances.

Tony Dungy of the Indianapolis Colts, Lovie Smith of the Chicago Bears and Mike Tomlin of the Pittsburgh Steelers are the exceptions to that rule and they have not disappointed.

Dungy, who retired this week, was responsible for turning around the doormat franchise in Tampa Bay that ultimately won a Super Bowl with his players under Jon Gruden in 2002.

Tampa Bay unceremoniously fired Dungy in 2001 but he was hired by the Colts and became the winningest coach in the history of the glorious franchise and made history as the first Black to coach his team to a Super Bowl title.

Ironically he beat one of his own protŽgŽs in Smith, who was coaching the Bears in that historical Super Bowl.

Now Tomlin, who leads his Steelers into the AFC championship game against the defensive minded Baltimore Ravens on Jan 21, will have a chance to join his predecessors in securing history.

Tomlin represents the new age of professional football coaches. He's young at 36 and in two seasons at the helm, he has led the storied Steelers to an impressive 23-11 record.

He is also a disciple of the Dungy coaching tree, which has produced Smith in Chicago, Herman Edwards in Kansas City and Jim Caldwell who replaced Dungy in Indy.

McNabb has been the poster child for African American quarterbacks since he arrived to the NFL from Syracuse 10 years ago.

A versatile athlete who can win a game with his mind, legs and arm, but has been frequently criticized for various reasons. Even conservative talk show pundit Rush Limbaugh got into the act saying that McNabb  got more credit than he deserved because of the color of his skin.

Nonetheless, on and off the field, McNabb has been a foundation of positive character and resiliency.

Doug Williams of the Washington Redskins became the first Black to quarterback his team to a Super Bowl title when he captured MVP honors in 1986.

Since Williams, Steve McNair of the Tennessee Titans and McNabb has both played in the Super Bowl.  However McNabb's last experience, where he clashed with star receiver Terrell Owens, was one that he would much soon rather forget.

He has led the Eagles to five NFC championship games during his 10 seasons, but that coveted Super Bowl ring has been elusive.

This week, McNabb will lead the Eagles into Phoenix to face what was once one the NFL's most woeful franchises, the Arizona Cardinals.

While he will carry the Eagles on his back, he will also carry the legacy of the Black quarterback, somewhat tarnished by Michael Vick, but in good hands with McNabb.

If both Tomlin and McNabb make to Tampa the site of next moth Super Bowl, it will mark the first time that a Black coach and Black quarterback have participated in the game at the same time, but only one can win.

Category: Football


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