The NFL season began with a record 11 Black starting quarterbacks.
It ends for the first time with two Black starting quarterbacks in the Super Bowl.
This Sunday’s meeting, though, between the Chiefs’ Patrick Mahomes and Eagles’ Jalen Hurts wasn’t just a twist of fate. It was nearly inevitable because of the growing opportunities for Black quarterbacks.
Of the 23 Black quarterbacks who played at least a down this season, a record 20 started at least one game, according to USA TODAY analysis of Pro Football Reference data.
And many of those quarterbacks are playing at the NFL’s highest levels. Players of color claimed four of the top five spots in passer ratings this year. Two of those quarterbacks: Hurts and Mahomes.
How Mahomes’ and Hurts’ 2022 statistics compare
To be sure, more quarterbacks who took snaps in the 2022 season are white, while players of color made up 69% of the league, according to the Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport at the University of Central Florida.
Of the 83 quarterbacks who took a snap this season, 58 were white, or 70%, according to USA TODAY analysis of Pro Football Reference data. In the 2021-22 season, 53, or 71%, were white.
The differences and successes since 2000 are still striking when compared with the first Super Bowl and the two decades that followed.
Note: Each chart below represents quarterbacks who took at least one snap in each season during the past 57 years, according to Pro Football Reference’s database.
Few Black quarterbacks in the first two decades
Washington’s Doug Williams opened the door – at least a crack – for other aspiring Black quarterbacks, leading Washington to a 32-point win over the Broncos in Super Bowl 22.
To be sure, other NFL greats – Warren Moon (15th in passing yards) and Randall Cunningham (53rd) – were also opening doors, but only five Black quarterbacks on average were given starting chances during the next decade.
Williams Super Bowl win ushers in new era
The new century opened with Steve McNair leading the Tennessee Titans to their first and only Super Bowl. It also opened an era where many more quarterbacks of color were given a chance.
Each year since 1999, about a dozen Black quarterbacks started at least one regular season game. The number of Super Bowl appearances have grown with them.
Still, for any AFC quarterback – regardless of skin color – if your name wasn’t Tom Brady or Peyton Manning, making the Super Bowl was a whole different challenge against two of the game’s most prolific passers.
Black QBs get chances, Super Bowl berths
Another way to look at this groundbreaking season is through the playoff bracket.
Six of the 14 playoff teams’ offenses were led by a Black quarterback. Admittedly the 49ers’ Josh Johnson saw only limited action, but he was in a long line of San Francisco starters that began with Trey Lance.
Whether five or six quarterbacks of color in the playoffs, the percentage still betters the 2022 regular-season average.
Black quarterbacks in the 2022 playoffs
Will head coaching parity follow soon?
Who knows whether this year will bring us another step toward racial parity on the field, but it might also be instructive when considering leadership along the sidelines.
Throughout this season, USA TODAY Sports spotlighted the even larger racial disparities in the NFL’s top coaching positions.
Only Super Bowl 41 featured two Black head coaches: Lovie Smith and Tony Dungy in 2007. Of course, when just 19% of NFL coaches are people of color (six in 2022 as well as 2007), the odds aren’t in their favor.
Perhaps there’s a lesson to be learned from letting more players of color lead their teams on the field.