By Barnett Wright
On Sunday, Carolina Panthers’ quarterback Cam Newton will become only the sixth Black quarterback to start in the Super Bowl’s 50-year history.
Newton’s ties to the state of Alabama come from his stellar career at Auburn University, where he won a Heisman Trophy and a national championship.
But there’s another Black quarterback on the Carolina roster with Alabama ties that few are talking about — backup quarterback Joe Webb, a Wenonah High School graduate and former starter at the University of Alabama at Birmingham.
Some say Webb is arguably the best athlete on the team. Before signing with Carolina, he started at quarterback for a Minnesota Vikings playoff game in 2012. As the Panthers prepare for the Denver Broncos Sunday, they can depend on Webb as an emergency backup running back; fifth receiver on game days, and someone who plays on all special teams units.
But all eyes and ears have been on Newton in the wake of comments he made last week about being a Black quarterback.
Newton ignited a national race conversation when asked his explanation for the heat he’s taken from some parents who have written to newspapers and websites criticizing some of his actions.
“I’ve said this since day one,” Newton said. “I’m an African American quarterback that scares people because they haven’t seen anything they can compare me to.
“I think it’s a trick question,” he added. “If I answer it truthfully, it’s going to be ‘Aw, he’s this or that.’ But I will say it anyway: I don’t think people have seen what I am or what I’m trying to do.”
Newton is trying to become only the third Black to ever win football’s ultimate game. Doug Williams, who won Super Bowl XXII with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 1988, was the first and Russell Wilson won with the Seattle Seahawks and Super Bowl XLVIII in 2014 .
Other starting Black quarterbacks in Super Bowls have included Steve McNair for the Tennessee Titans (XXXIV), Donovan McNabb for the Philadelphia Eagles (XXXIX), Colin Kaepernick (XLVII) for the San Francisco 49ers, and Russell Wilson (XLVIII, XLIV) for the Seattle Seahawks.
Bama QB Passed Over
Newton, a number-one pick in the 2011 NFL draft, is only the second Black quarterback from Auburn to play in the NFL, following Jason Campbell, who was drafted in the first round by the Washington Redskins in 2005.
Interestingly, the University of Alabama has never had a Black quarterback in the NFL while UAB (Webb drafted in 2010 by the Minnesota Vikings in the sixth round) and even Alabama State (Tavarius Jackson drafted in the second round by the Minnesota Vikings in 2006) have sent Black quarterbacks to the league.
Blake Sims, arguably the best Black quarterback to play at Alabama, set an Alabama single-season record by passing for 3,487 yards in 2014, when he tossed 28 TD passes and earned the MVP honor in the Crimson Tide’s 42–13 victory over Missouri in the SEC championship game.
Sims was passed over in the 2015 NFL Draft, though, and played briefly in the Canadian Football League (CFL) before being cut.
As for Black quarterbacks at Alabama and Auburn, Walter Lewis in 1980–1983 was the first Black quarterback to start for the Crimson Tide and led Alabama during the final three seasons of the Bryant era. Lewis played in the United States Football League with Memphis, spent time with the New England Patriots, and played in the CFL.
At Auburn, Charles Thomas (1978–1981) was the first Black QB for the Tigers.
Who are some of the other notable Black signal-callers at Alabama and Auburn?
In 2014, the Iron Bowl saw two Black quarterbacks face each other when Sims started for Alabama and Nick Marshall for Auburn. The Tide won 55–44, while Sims and Marshall combined for 768 yards passing and six touchdowns.
Auburn’s Black QBs have included Jeremy Johnson, Kodi Burns, Reggie Slack, and Pat Washington. Campbell was QB for the undefeated 2004 team and was a first round draft choice. Slack, 1986–1989, was signed by the Houston Oilers in 1990 and played several seasons in the CFL
Before Sims in 2014, Andrew Zow was the last African American quarterback to start at Alabama, playing from 1998 to 2002.
Zow had an up-and-down career, playing through the turmoil of coach Mike DuBose’s final year and the uncertainty of Dennis Franchione’s two seasons as coach.
He was still able to guide Alabama to a Southeastern Conference (SEC) championship in 1999 and finished his career with 5,983 passing yards and 35 touchdowns. He was benched in his senior season, however, with some Alabama passing records within reach in favor of Tyler Watts, who is white.
How did Zow see the matter?
In an interview with Bleacher Report he said, “A lot of people want to make it racial a lot of time. I’m not going to say it’s not. Sometimes you may get the feeling that, ‘Hey, look this could be racially motivated.’ But with some of the things you put up with as quarterback, Bama fans could care less about your race. There’s the side of the fans who want their guy in there, regardless of what [racial] side you’re on. I put up with it.”
Zow is head coach at Montevallo High School, about 30 miles outside of Birmingham.
Asked whether the African American community celebrated his accomplishments Zow said, “I was considered one of the most influential African American athletes at the University of Alabama at the time. Back home in my community [Lake Butler, Fla.], I was more being celebrated as a kid playing quarterback in college than being a Black quarterback at Alabama.”
Zow said former Bama player Sylvester Croom, the first African American head football coach in the SEC at Mississippi State, and his family were supportive.
“Sylvester Croom and his brother, Calvin Croom, both played at Alabama,” Zow said. “Calvin had a church in Tuscaloosa, the College Hill Baptist Church. The people at the church made a big deal of me playing quarterback. Calvin was one of those guys who celebrated and supported me. And Coach [Terry] Jones, the strength-and-conditioning coach at Alabama when I was there, also went to the same church. He and his wife were very supportive of me. They had me come into the church and speak to the kids all the time.”
Asked to describe his relationship with the Alabama football program today Zow said, “My relationship with Alabama is good … Coach [Nick] Saban has been good to me. He’s very good with former players. He wants guys to be there for the other guys. If I was living in Tuscaloosa, I’d be going back there all the time. You talk about what he’s built there, it’s great. He’s very open.”