1953 : Willie Thrower Becomes 1st African American NFL Quarterback

October 18, 2021 all-day

Photo of Willie Thrower

On October 18, 1953, Willie Thrower, a pioneer for African Americans in the sport of football, became the first African American to quarterback in a professional game in the modern era.

As a college player, Thrower was a groundbreaker as well, becoming the first African American to play quarterback in the Big Ten Conference, and helping Michigan State University win the 1952 national championship. Although Thrower rarely started, he frequently had a key role in the game. One that he remembers well was as a senior in 1952 – his biggest thrill in college football. He came off the bench in a close and crucial game against Notre Dame with the Spartans holding a narrow 7-3 lead. Thrower threw for one touchdown and directed the team to another to spark a 21-3 win for his team. That victory was critical to the national championship won by Michigan State that fall and MSU ending up voted #1 in both the AP and Coaches’ polls at the end of the season.

With such an impressive college football career, it should have been easy for Thrower to go professional. Professional football, however, at this time was still fairly segregated with little opportunity for African American players. The few black players who were in the professional leagues largely held defensive positions. Although he was not drafted, he did receive a contract from the Chicago Bears as a backup quarterback to George Blanda.

Thrower made history on October 18, 1953 when he relieved George Blanda during a game against the San Francisco 49ers, becoming the first African American quarterback to play at this level. During that fateful game he completed three out of eight passes for a total of 27 yards. (It would be another 15 years before the next African-American took the field as a professional quarterback.)

Source : Biography Willie Thrower Bio

For another article, see Robert B. Van Atta, “Willie Thrower : The First Black QB in the NFL”, The Coffin Corner: Vol. 8, No. 3 (1986).

Katie Koerner and Ben Phlegar, Willie Thrower: Breaking Barriers, Michigan State University Official Athletic Site, February 24, 2010.

Mitts Becomes Thrower for da Bears, Homecoming Headlines.

Also check out a YouTube tribute.

Leave a Reply