News

Mass. State Rep. Calls on University VP to Increase Transparency for Allston Multimodal Project

News

Harvard President Lawrence Bacow Made $1.1 Million in 2020, Financial Disclosures Show

News

Harvard Executive Vice President Katie Lapp To Step Down

News

81 Republican Lawmakers File Amicus Brief Supporting SFFA in Harvard Affirmative Action Lawsuit

News

Duke Senior’s Commencement Speech Appears to Plagiarize 2014 Address by Harvard Student

A Successful Few

Black Ivy League Quarterbacks

By Casey J. Lartigue jr.

When John McCluskey '66 was named the starting quarterback for the 1964 Harvard football team, the Boston media had a good time poking fun at the University.

The Boston papers often referred to McCluskey as "the first Black quarterback in 300 years of Harvard history."

"It wasn't that long," jokes McCluskey, now a professor in the Afro-American Department at Indiana University. "You've got to remember that Harvard has only been playing football since the turn of the century, so it had actually been only 70 or 80 years."

In addition to being the first Black to play quarterback at Harvard, McCluskey also may have been the first to play the position in the Ivy League, although no such statistics are recorded.

Although it is unclear exactly when the first Black played quarterback in the Ivy League, it is apparent that few have played the position in one of the nation's most prestigious athletic conferences.

Of the eight Ivy League schools, six have had at least one Black quarterback. The sports information directors at Dartmouth and Columbia are unsure if their schools have had a Black quarterback.

Throughout the 32-year history of Ivy League football, fewer than 15 Blacks have played quarterback, an average of one every two years. Only twice since the conference was formed in 1956 have two Blacks lined up behind center in the same game.

The first time was in 1970, when Harvard's Roderic Foster '73--the second, as well as last, Black to play quarterback at Harvard--and Princeton's Rod Plummer met on the Ivy gridiron.

The second time came last weekend when Danny Clark of Brown and Malcolm Glover of Penn met head-to-head. Ivy League leader and unbeaten Penn (4-0 overall, 3-0 Ivy) won the game, 10-0.

Although there have not been many Black quarterbacks in the Ivy League, a few of them became stars. Marty Vaughn of Penn is the school's all-time passing leader. In two seasons, Vaughn, who graduated in 1975, passed for 3429 yards and 29 touchdowns.

Kurt Schmoke, now the Mayor of Baltimore, played quarterback at Yale during the late 1960s but was eventually switched to defensive back.

The lack of Blacks playing quarterback is not an Ivy-only phenomenon. It is a rarity to see Blacks playing quarterback at any level--high school, college or professional.

In the NFL, for instance, 52 percent of the players are Black, but only five Blacks currently play quarterback--the most to ever play in the league at one time.

When present Houston Oilers quarterback Warren Moon graduated from the University of Washington in 1978, professional teams were interested in drafting him--but only as a defensive back. Moon instructed NFL teams not to draft him, instead opting for the Canadian Football League. Moon played quarterback and led the Edmonton Eskimos to five consecutive championships.

While Moon enjoyed great success in the CFL and later in the NFL, it was Doug Williams' MVP performance in the Super Bowl last January that shattered many of the myths surrounding Blacks.

"After that, there was nothing anyone could say, and still make sense," McCluskey says.

"The times are really changing," Glover says. "I think that stigma has been proven false. Now that some have been given a chance, that perception is falling rapidly."

McCluskey believes the reason there are few Blacks in the NFL is that they are not groomed in high school and college.

"Coaches would take a quick look and feel that Blacks did not have the knack to be drop-back passers," McCluskey says. "Consequently, they were switched to flanker or some other position once they got to college."

Clark says he has faced a similar stereotype.

"The only thing that bothers me is that when people see me play, they want to label me as a running quarterback," he says. "Everyone was saying before the year began that I couldn't throw the ball. In high school, I was a passing quarterback. I did your basic five-step drop."

Two weeks ago against Princeton, Clark had the best game of his collegiate career, completing 15 of 24 passes for 218 yards and throwing two touchdowns.

Testament

Clark's statistics--and his teammates--testify to his ability to throw well.

"He can throw, he definitely has an arm," defensive back Anthony Smith says. "When the ball comes to me when we are throwing the ball around, it looks like it's not coming that fast. But when it reaches me, it's a bullet. He reminds me of [Chicago Bears quarterback] Jim McMahon."

McCluskey says that while he believes that stereotypes of Black athletes have lost credibility, "Myths usually die a slow death."

"I would be surprised if things have changed in the backwoods of America," McCluskey says. "The stereotypes all go back to the doubts of whether or not Blacks can cut it intellectually. This hits at every stage, whether it's in the classroom or on the field."

Doubts about Blacks being intellectually capable of playing quarterback are just one of many stereotypes that Blacks have had to overcome. There has been a suspicion that whites on a football team might not listen to a Black in the huddle, McCluskey says.

"People did not believe that the other players on the team would respect a Black quarterback," says McCluskey. "Back when I played, there was the belief that Blacks lacked the ability to call plays, to make plays under pressure. A lot of it has to do with the culture."

Clark, who lives in Jackson, Mississippi, says he has never encountered that problem in high school or at Brown.

"With the team, there is no difference," Clark says. "We're one big happy family. As far as I can tell, everyone here is happy about the way I'm playing. In high school, I never had a problem."

For Glover, who lives in San Diego, Calif., there was never any problem with his playing quarterback.

"I came from a Black neighborhood," Glover says, "so someone had to do it."

He says he has never had a problem with being one of the team's leaders at Penn. His claim is backed up by several of his teammates.

"A lot of people look up to him as being a leader," says junior running back Bryan Keys. "I think that says a lot about Black quarterbacks, Black people and the Ivy League. At an Ivy League school, as prestigious as Penn is supposed to be, a Black is looked up to by other players on the team."

While McCluskey had a favorable experience as the pioneer quarterback at Harvard, the Black quarterback who followed him did not enjoy a similar experience.

Foster, who now sells real estate in Dallas, burst onto the national scene in his first varsity appearance for Harvard. With the Harvard offense struggling in its season opener against Northeastern in 1970, Foster, a sophomore, came off the bench and dazzled.

Passing for 120 yards and running for another 78, Foster spearheaded the Crimson to a 28-7 victory over the Huskies. The local media conducted a frantic search to find out who the new Black quarterback was.

"I got quite a bit of attention after that game," Foster says. "I got known all over the country after my sophomore year. It's just too bad my junior and senior years could not have been as good."

Like a bolt of lightning, Foster disappeared as quickly as he had come. In a game against Princeton, he broke open a close game by scoring on an electrifying 78-yard quarterback draw he had called at the line of scrimmage.

But when he was running for the touchdown, he pulled a hamstring muscle, and limped the final 20 yards before collapsing in the end zone.

Foster missed the final two games of the season and found himself second-string the next year, Harvard Coach Joe Restic's first season.

Foster--known as a hot dog on the field and outspoken off it--never quite got along with the coaches at Harvard.

Off the field, and usually in the locker room after games, he gave a hungry media the quotes it craved.

After regaining the starting job when Eric Crone was injured, Foster complained to reporters after a victory over Holy Cross that the team was being fed Restic's Multiflex offense too quickly.

Opposing teams saw him as a showboat. While his teammates wore black shoes, Foster preferred to wear white shoes, a la New York Jets quarterback Joe Namath.

"Some said I might have been a little cocky," Foster says. "They could have been right. Joe Nameth wore[the white shoes]. I idolized him, so I wore them."

Although Harvard never lost in the seven games he started, Foster was benched during the middle of his junior year and was eventually switched to fullback.

An all-purpose performer during his days at Harvard, Foster played quarterback, fullback, tailback, punter and returned kickoffs and punts.

People who give credence to stereotypes of Black athletes had only to look at this year's Olympic Games to see that those stereotypes are simply unjustified, McClusky says.

One example McCluskey cites is that of a Black swimmer from South America, Anthony Nesty, who won the gold medal in the 100-meter butterfly.

"I swim here, and just last week, there was a physican talking about the different bone structure of Blacks," McCluskey says with irony.

"Where I grew up, we had one pool in our entire town, and everybody was there," he says. "What people have got to realize is that it's access. How is a Black kid supposed to become a great swimmer if there is no swimming pool, or become a quarterback if he is not given a chance?" Statistics of Black Harvard Quarterbacks John McCluskey '66

Passing

Year  Att  Comp  Int  Yds  Tds 1963  2  0  0  0  0 1964  50  15  1  145  0 1965  85  31  4  293  1 Total  137  46  5  438  1

Rushing

Year  Att  Yds  Avg  Td 1963  1  2  2.0  0 1964  44  211  4.8  3 1965  52  118  2.3  1 Total  97  331  3.4  4 Rodney Foster '73

Passing

Year  Att  Comp  Int  Yds  TD 1970  84  38  5  447  3 1971  67  34  8  286  2 1972  0  0  0  0  0 Total  151  72  13  733  5

Rushing

Year  Carr  Yds  Avg  TD 1970  66  383  5.8  8 1971  46  82  1.8  0 1972  32  229  7.2  2 Total  144  694  4.8  10

Want to keep up with breaking news? Subscribe to our email newsletter.

Tags