Marlin Briscoe, a 2016 College Football Hall of Fame inductee who played quarterback at the University of Nebraska Omaha from 1964-67, died on June 27 in Norwalk, CA at the age of 76. His daughter, Angela Marriott, told The Associated Press that her father died of pneumonia after being hospitalized with circulation issues in his legs.
Nicknamed “The Magician” for his ability to pull great plays out of a hat, Briscoe ranks as the most famous and well-remembered player in the University of Nebraska Omaha’s history, and he remains the school’s only College Football Hall of Fame inductee.
“Marlin Briscoe was a true trailblazer with the talent to back it up,” said NFF Chairman Archie Manning. “His contributions to our sport will not be forgotten and all who play the game today continue to benefit from his legacy. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family and friends, and we’re proud that his accomplishments are forever immortalized at the College Football Hall of Fame in Atlanta.”
An NAIA First Team All-American his senior year, the Omaha native set 22 school records as the starting quarterback for the Mavericks between 1964-67, when the school was still named Omaha University. A member of the 1967 Black All-America Team, Briscoe was a three-time All-Central Intercollegiate Conference selection and led the Mavericks to the CIC title in 1967. The best season of his career was in 1967, when he threw for 2,283 yards and a single-season school-record 25 touchdowns. Briscoe ranks second all-time with 53 touchdown passes, third all-time with 5,114 passing yards and fourth in total offense with 6,505 yards.
Briscoe was drafted in the 14th round of the 1968 NFL Draft by the Denver Broncos and played one season with them, setting a rookie record with 14 touchdown passes. He’s considered the first starting black quarterback in the NFL’s modern era. Briscoe told the Broncos he would become a teacher if they did not give him a shot at playing quarterback and after an impressive tryout against the Boston Patriots on September 29, he landed the historic start on October 6.
Denver didn’t give Briscoe a chance to compete for the quarterback job in 1969 and did not offer an explanation, so Briscoe asked to be released.
Booker Edgerson, a Buffalo Bills cornerback in 1968, recalls Briscoe passing for 335 yards and four touchdowns in a 34-32 Denver win. Edgerson, a former AFL All-Star and member of the Bills’ Wall of Fame, believes Briscoe could have been a Hall of Fame quarterback if not for racism. He recalls Briscoe telling him he didn’t feel the Broncos were ready to fully commit to a Black quarterback.
“He would have been one of the top quarterbacks that they’d be talking about right now,” Edgerson said. “He would’ve been another … he would have been in there before Warren Moon.”
Briscoe switched to receiver and became Edgerson’s teammate in Buffalo the next year. James Harris was Briscoe’s roommate with the Bills in 1969, and Briscoe helped Harris become the first Black quarterback in the AFL to open a season as a starter.
“It was at the time when Black quarterbacks were being denied, so you tried to make sure you were best prepared for the opportunity when it came,” Harris said. “I was a lot better off because Briscoe was my roommate.”
Briscoe earned a trip to the Pro Bowl as a receiver for Buffalo in 1970 and won Super Bowls VII and VIII as a receiver with the Miami Dolphins. He was on the undefeated 1972 Dolphins team.
After playing football, Briscoe ran various youth football camps and established the Marlin Briscoe Scholarship Fund at the University of Nebraska Omaha. He received the keys to the cities of Los Angeles and Bellevue, NE., and was a former director of a Boys and Girls Club. He was among the inaugural inductees into the UNO Athletics Hall of Fame in 1975. In 2021, the Denver Broncos named a diversity coaching fellowship in his honor.