2011 was simply the year when the Black quarterback took over the football world. From Cam Newtown’s record-breaking rookie season to Robert Griffin III’s Heisman campaign, never have two African-American signal callers shared the limelight as America’s darlings. With Griffin set to enter the professional ranks as the league still recovers from Newton’s breakthrough, both men appear to be trendsetters at the position. However, more importantly, both players appear to have scrubbed away the stigma normally associated with the Black quarterback. But who has the clearest path to becoming the next best Black signal caller, Newton or Griffin III? Perry Green and Stephen D. Riley of the AFRO Sports Desk this week debate the issue.
Riley: Standing at just a hair under 6-foot-6, Newton’s build, enthusiasm and smile bring a Magic Johnson-type of athlete to the position. After storming through defenses in 2010 on the way to a 50-touchdown Heisman campaign, Newton didn’t take a step back like most rookie signal callers do upon entering the National Football League, he jumped forward. His first two games were 400-yard passing efforts in a season of 14 rushing touchdowns. Simply put, Newton redefined the profile of Black quarterbacks in just one season. There was a reason Carolina Panthers owner Jerry Richardson warned Newton to stay away from any tattoos or piercings and it wasn’t racial. But why do anything to harm your appearance when you’re scheduled to be the best Black quarterback who has ever played the position?
Green: When was the last time you’ve seen an NFL franchise nearly sell the farm to acquire a Black passer? The answer, in short, starts with never. Griffin’s Heisman campaign at Baylor bolted him into the headlines but his moxie, humbleness and gridiron skills kept him there. After dazzling the NFL combine with a sub-4.4 40-yard dash, no Black quarterback has made more waves prior to the draft than Griffin. He’s already being tagged as Washington, D.C.’s savior and he’s not even an official Redskin yet. People don’t buy hype like that unless it’s legit and Griffin is definitely that. He doesn’t have the basketball height of Newton or the tight end-like build of his predecessor. But you can argue he’s already a better passer and he’s definitely more mobile, two things that should equate to a Warren Moon-style career as America’s next best thing as a Black signal caller.
Riley: Newton’s one-man-army rookie routine won’t be touched, ever. And he’s already in position for an even better sophomore campaign. The Panthers passer totaled 35 touchdowns last year while still throwing for over 4,000 yards. He finished with an 84.5 quarterback rating and gave defenses fits all year. It isn’t so much his skills as a passer that makes him a nightmare matchup but just the overall package. You’re not going to tackle him one-on-one in the open field and even when you get two, three or four hands on him, he’s still not going down. His size gives him the direct advantage over Griffin in terms of durability but the clean-cut image and billion-dollar smile also gives him the advantage in terms of endorsing. This is what a cash cow looks like.
Green: Griffin’s been transcending opinions about him for years and his low key attitude should help appeal him to the media. As much as I like Newton, will America ever get over a semi- scandal his father helped create at Auburn? And will he ever be able to shake stories about stolen laptops at Florida? Griffin has kept things squarely about football. And while both men are talented beyond their years, if we’re talking about overall total package then Griffin’s squeaky clean image makes him the frontrunner. His touch on the deep ball will keep the highlights churning and as long as he continues to exhibit that same rarified persona while making plays at the same time, he’s set to easily become the face of the Black quarterback.