Marlin Briscoe sits in a dark hotel room somewhere in rough L.A. The only light comes from a match as he lights another rock of crack. A deep inhale and his pain and suffering momentarily escape his mind. Then he has flashes of how the NFL’s first black starting quarterback got here in the first place.

ABOVE: A photo of Marlin Briscoe from his groundbreaking move to quarterback of the Denver Broncos in 1968.

He briefly recalls his youth — his best friend Butch, the adorable Beverly Wright, running from bullies, and the “magic box.” Back in 1955, in a poor neighborhood of Omaha, Nebraska, young Marlin’s uncle ordered him to go to the backyard where the magic box awaited. Marlin opened it to see a baseball glove, basketball, and football.

Marlin became a star in all three sports — first leading his youth and high school teams to city championships, then becoming a star quarterback at Omaha University. In 1968, Marlin was drafted into the NFL.

Originally drafted to play defense for the Denver Broncos, after an injury to starter Steve Tensi, Marlin got a fateful opportunity to be a quarterback and made the most of it — breaking almost every rookie record in Broncos’ history and proving to the country that black quarterbacks can be successful. Marlin was released without explanation after his rookie season, replaced by a white quarterback.

The NFL seems far from Marlin now, as he slumps on the floor of the hotel room. With his crack pipe lying beside him, his memory flashes to a cop beating him after a civil rights rally. Marlin quickly snaps out of it when the hotel door bursts open. Before he knows it, he’s dragged out of the room with a gun to his head. Someone owes for the drugs he was smoking.

Through stories of his youth, struggles with racial inequality and a battle with addiction, this is the story of Marlin “The Magician” Briscoe; the NFL’s first starting black quarterback.

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