Marlin Briscoe busted a racial barrier on Oct. 6, 1968, when he became the first black quarterback to start an NFL/AFL game.
What makes that achievement so interesting isn’t just what he did — most football coaches and fans didn’t believe that blacks were smart enough or skilled enough to play quarterback — but also when he did it. America in October 1968 was violent and divided.
Martin Luther King Jr.’s death had come six months earlier; Bobby Kennedy’s two months after that. Body counts were rolling in from Vietnam, and protests on American streets were turning bloody. Ten days after Briscoe’s feat, Olympic medalists Tommie Smith and John Carlos raised their glove-covered fists in salute of Black Power.
History tends to repeat itself, so Briscoe, 71, isn’t surprised by the controversies of today. He has followed closely 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s version of protest — kneeling during the national anthem. Citizens, not just athletes, were protesting in similar ways in the ’60s, Briscoe said.
“Kaepernick, he has the right to express his feelings,” Briscoe said Thursday night during an event honoring him at UNO. “It might not be popular ... but he has the right. Whether that’s the right way to do it, I don’t know. We don’t know what the results are going to be from his actions. But he does have that right.”
Floyd Little, former Denver Broncos teammate and Pro Football Hall of Famer, was sitting next to Briscoe on stage. When asked about Kaepernick, Little took a different view. His brother served two terms in Vietnam and died recently due to the effects of Agent Orange. He “gave his life for the right to have the opportunity to protest.” Too many young men have sacrificed defending the flag, Little said, for Kaepernick to kneel.
“You have to pick a different venue.”
Briscoe added on Friday after the unveiling of his statue at Baxter Arena on the UNO campus that he sympathizes with both sides of the current debate.
“It’s a very tender subject with me,” he said. “I understand the pain of the black community, but I also understand what law enforcement has to do to protect. ... Those things have been going on for a long time.”
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>> Nebraska football has shown an extraordinary capacity for stubbing its toe the past decade or so. But let’s say Nebraska football is still undefeated on Oct. 29 when the Huskers go to Wisconsin.
Where might they be ranked in the national polls? I looked at the last five seasons after eight Saturdays. These were the unbeaten teams (and their AP rankings):
1. Ohio State
6. Michigan State
12. Okie State
1. Mississippi State
2. Florida State
3. Florida State
4. Ohio State
4. Kansas State
5. Notre Dame
7. Oregon State
9. Ohio State
13. Mississippi State
3. Oklahoma State
5. Boise State
10. Kansas State
Aside from the bizarre year of 2014, there were 6 to 8 perfect Power 5 teams at that point in the season. Which means NU, by my estimation, would be between seventh and 10th entering the meat of the schedule. For the record, the Huskers haven’t played a game in the Top 5 since Texas 2010. You might remember what happened that day.
One more thing: Notice who was No. 7 the last week of October 2012. Mike Riley’s Oregon State teams frequently started slow and finished strong. Not that edition. The Beavers lost to Washington, Stanford, Oregon and Texas, finishing 9-4.
>> I’ve mentioned that I’m teaching a sports reporting class at UNL this fall. This week, one of ESPN’s best NBA guys, Brian Windhorst, accepted an invitation to speak to the class.
You might know Windhorst for his LeBron coverage over the years — they go all the way back to their days in Akron. But Windhorst, who now lives in Omaha, shared insight on the business (and today’s NBA) for two hours.
There are all sorts of good people in the sports journalism industry. But Windhorst’s time commitment was extraordinary. I’d never met him, so it’s not like he was doing a friend a favor. And it wasn’t exactly a day off. Before class, he was sitting in the parking lot talking on the phone to an NBA executive about the day’s news.
So what did Windhorst volunteer about The King? Most interesting was LeBron’s remarkable mind. How he can watch an NBA game on the locker-room TV and predict what’s coming next. How he can remember moments from a game 10 years ago. Not just the obvious ones, but how he might have posted on the right block more than the left, for instance.
In February 2014, James buried a game-winner at Golden State. Afterward, Windhorst told him it reminded him of a previous game-winner James made a few years earlier. LeBron corrected him.
No, he said. I was three steps closer to the baseline.
>> Finally, happy birthday, Bruce! The Boss turns 67 today and his life isn’t exactly slowing down. He just finished a tour during which he frequently played four-hour shows. His autobiography — which has received rave reviews — comes out in a couple weeks. (Springsteen will be on Colbert tonight, by the way.)
I can’t speak to “best.” But here’s my 13 favorites, which you should immediately find on YouTube and listen to (live versions only, of course). Disclaimer: These rankings tend to shift depending on the day.
13. Born in the USA
12. Atlantic City
11. Stolen Car
9. My Hometown
8. Darkness on the Edge of Town
6. No Surrender
5. NYC Serenade
4. Land of Hope and Dreams
3. Incident on 57th Street
2. Racing In The Street
1. Thunder Road (this one never changes)
>> Thanks for reading. Have a great weekend.