In 1964 Joe Namath was drafted by the NFL's St. Louis Cardinals and the AFL's New York Jets. Even without the then record 4-year, $427,000 contract that the Jets offered it's difficult to imagine Joe Namath taking the world by storm in St. Louis. Namath and New York were made for each other. Playing for the Cardinals Namath would never have found himself in the situation that looked, for six weeks at least, like it would end his football career but he managed to emerge with his reputation and character intact.

Quarterback James Harris was drafted by the Buffalo Bills out of Grambling University in 1969 and by the strength of his ability and character, overcame the obstacles that were thrown into his path to succeed as the first African American to begin a season as a starting quarterback. It's time to set the Wayback Machine for the year 1969 and the state of New York to see two quarterbacks come through in pressure situations.

Events This Week:
July 18, 1969 - Joe Namath agreed to sell his interest in the Bachelors III and end his retirement from football.
Walk through the doors and into the offices of any professional sports league, or any of their teams, and it is doubtful there will be much attention paid as everyone carries-on with their busy days. Walk into the room a few steps and say the word “GAMBLING” and see how quickly you become the center of attention for the entire room.

From the beginning of organized sports the problems that arise when the competitions are over and athletically gifted, extremely talented people have time on their hands and nothing to occupy their attention have had to be dealt with. With the introduction of free agency into baseball and that concept’s spread through the other major sports, money to put many indulgences within reach was added into that equation

Still, as burdened as professional sports organizations are with alcohol,  drugs, performance enhancers and any other illegal activity, nothing scares a league and its teams down to their chalk lines than the thought of a gambling scandal.

On January 12, 1969 Joe Namath added a large dose of legitimacy to the American Football League by leading the Jets to a 16-7 victory over a strong Baltimore Colts team that had only lost one game the entire season. He was named the Super Bowl MVP for that achievement to add to his AFL player of the year honors.

A few months earlier Namath, along with two partners, bought a nightclub and named it Bachelors III (three being the marital status of the club owners). With Namath drawing crowds anywhere in New York wherever he chose to hang out, the club became the hot destination for celebrities and other athletes. Where the trouble began for Namath was inside the club, in the downstairs area, a bank of pay phones hung on the wall where NFL investigators had observed gamblers, bookies and mobsters engaging in illegal activities.

After an investigation, Pete Rozelle informed Namath that he could either sell his interest in the club or face a suspension. Namath rebelled against Rozelle’s interference and instead, on June 6, 1969 announced his retirement from football. Namath was never accused of gambling on football games but Rozelle, like any other league commissioner, was primed to act on any instance of players associating in any way with known gamblers.

Baseball was the first sport to achieve national popularity and in its early days was always dealing with suspicions of players associating with crowds that included gamblers and bookmakers. The issue exploded on everyone involved when rumors spread though baseball to reporters that the 1919 American League Champion White Sox were being paid to throw the World Series against the Cincinnati Reds. The White Sox lost the, at that time, the best of nine series 5-3.

When talk of the scandal continued to intensify, team owners realized that the reputation and integrity of baseball was in danger and appointed the first commissioner ever in professional sports. Federal judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis was given absolute power over the sport of professional baseball’s owners and players, both major and minor leagues.

On August 3, 1921, a day after the Black Sox conspirators were acquitted, Landis issued a statement, “Regardless of the verdict of juries, no player who throws a ball game, no player who undertakes or promises to throw a ball game, no player who sits in confidence with a bunch of crooked ballplayers and gamblers, where the ways and means of throwing a game are discussed and does not promptly tell his club about it, will ever play professional baseball.” To keep the dangers of being involved in gambling fresh in all baseball players’ minds, signs are hung on the walls of all clubhouses in the major and minor leagues warning that betting on baseball would be punished by lifetime banishment.

The NFL has also faced threats from gambling scandals in their history. The night before the 1946 NFL Championship game, word reached New York Giants’ owners, who notified Commissioner Bert Bell that two players, fullback Merle Hapes and quarterback Frank Filchock, had been offered money (reportedly $2,500) to lose by more than the 10-point spread in the game against the Chicago Bears.

Neither were punished by a lifetime ban but both suffered for staying quiet. Hapes confessed before the game that he had been approached, was banned from the game and never played in the league again. Filchock didn’t come clean until the trial of the alleged ringleader but his career was effectively over also. He played one game four years later before dropping out of sight.

Rozelle himself had to deal with a gambling scandal in his early days as commissioner. On April 17, 1963 he suspended Paul Hornung, 1956 winner of the Heisman Trophy and star running back for the Packers, and Alex Karras, one of the top defensive tackles in the league, indefinitely for gambling on football games. The fact that neither player was accused of betting against their own team or selling information to gamblers wasn’t a consideration and they both missed the 1963 season. On March 16, 1964 the NFL reinstated both to active status.

Because of Namath’s retirement, Rozelle found himself in a bind. There was one year to go before the merger between the NFL and AFL and one of the game’s most high profile, television friendly players would not be playing on Sundays. On the other hand, Rozelle couldn’t back down from his action because of the threat that the gambling interests at the Bachelor’s III night club could pose to the game and its integrity.

The issue was finally settled after a series of meetings between Rozelle and Namath that gave the commissioner everything that he had demanded from the beginning. It was agreed that Namath would sell his interest in the club and only to a buyer that was NFL approved. Namath also agreed to be more careful of his off-field associations. On July 18, 1969 Joe Namath officially ended his retirement from football and joined his teammates at training camp.

July 20, 1947–Quarterback James Harris was born in Monroe, Louisiana.
There was a time not very long ago when an African American man was not considered to have the ability, let’s just be blunt and say they weren’t considered smart enough to understand the intricacies of the quarterback position. Not that they weren’t good football players. They were excellent running backs, speedy receivers, powerful linemen, but you just didn’t want one quarterbacking your team. It is a given that the human capacity for ignorance is practically bottomless but why that mindset held on until 1969 is still hard to believe.

Like all professional sports leagues until the late 1940’s, the NFL has their own shameful history of racial segregation to look back on. Fritz Pollard was one of the first two African Americans to play in the league during its formation in 1920. He was the tailback (the player who receives the center snap in the single-wing offense) for the Akron Pros and was co-head coach of the team in 1921 (for more see Dropping Back In NFL History: Johnny Unitas and His Golden Arm). Pollard, along with nine other African American players were banned from the league when the NFL segregated in 1926.

In 1946 the NFL was forced to re-integrate when, while the Cleveland Rams were in the process of moving to Los Angeles. Unless the NFL agreed to drop their segregation policy the Rams would be denied a lease to play games at the Los Angeles Coliseum. The Rams signed running back Kenny Washington and his college roommate, Woody Strode to contracts for the 1946 season to end the NFL’s color barrier. (For more see Dropping Back: March 19 to 25).

James Harris starred at quarterback at Grambling University from 1965 to 1968 and was the eighth round pick of the Buffalo Bills in 1969. Also on the Bills that season was Marlin Briscoe who had been acquired to play wide receiver that year. Briscoe had been drafted in the 14th round the previous year by the Denver Broncos with the idea that he would be converted to defensive back after he had been a starter at quarterback for the University of Nebraska at Omaha. As part of his rookie contract Briscoe negotiated and received a 3-day trial at quarterback and showed enough to make the team as a backup.

In the Broncos’ third game they were 0-2 and losing 20-3 to the Patriots when Briscoe was put into the game at quarterback. He nearly brought the Broncos all the way back before losing 20-17. That effort did win him a start the following week against the Bengals where he became the first African American to start a game at quarterback. He had a rough first half and was pulled but it Briscoe playing the position at the start of the game was still a significant accomplishment at the time.

Briscoe finished the season with a Broncos’ rookie record of 14-touchdown passes in the seven games he played but found out he would not be brought back to the Broncos as a quarterback in 1969. He was given the excuse that he was too small at 5’ 9” to play the position.

After being drafted by the Bills and traveling to Buffalo, Harris was initially told that he would be playing wide receiver. Fortunately for Harris, he had legendary coach Eddie Robinson in his corner to help him negotiate a rookie contract and provide encouragement. Even though he ended up signing as a quarterback, Harris still had a mountain of obstacles to overcome during training camp. He once recalled, “I wouldn’t get any work in during practice but they’d keep two or three of us afterward to throw. That was my time. I was ready for it. Every night I stayed in and studied. I wasn’t going to let them say black quarterbacks were dumb.”

Harris made adjustments for everything that came up against him in his first camp. When the team ran sprints Harris would hold back. He didn’t want anyone to notice his speed and use that as another reason to move him out of the quarterback position. When the offensive linemen claimed that they couldn’t understand him as he called the snap, as an excuse for Harris being sacked, he began snapping the ball every play on one.

With all the troubles and obstacles Harris faced in training camp, he still won the starting quarterback job, beating out Jack Kemp among others. Kemp was in the final year of his career and Harris credited him, along with Briscoe, with helping in his development as a quarterback. In the opening game that season against the defending World Champion New York Jets Harris stepped behind center as the first African American starting quarterback in NFL history.

Even though Harris persevered through his first training camp and season, things never got easier for him in his struggle to be accepted as a quarterback. He injured knee ligaments during the 1970 preseason and by the time he got back, rookie Dennis Shaw had established himself as the starter. The team struggled in 1970 and 1971 and Lou Saban was named the head coach for 1972. Saban was the coach who ended Briscoe’s attempt to be a quarterback in Denver and his arrival in Buffalo meant that Harris was finished as a quarterback there.

After being released by the Bills, Harris worked for the Department of Commerce in Washington D.C., worked out every day and waited for a team to call and bring him in. Harris sat the entire 1972 season and figured his career was over when the Rams called. Former Rams great Tank Younger was working for the team and had also been a star at Grambling. He persuaded the Rams to give Harris a shot.

Harris spent 1973 backing up John Hadl and became the starter in 1974 after Hadl was traded to the Packers. He led the Rams to their second straight division title and first round win over the Redskins to become the first African American quarterback to start an NFC Championship Game. He almost became the first to start a Super Bowl but, with second and goal on the one-yard line, an offside penalty pushed the Rams back five yards. They failed to score the touchdown they needed and lost 14-10 to the Vikings.

In 1975 Harris hurt his shoulder in week 13 and sat while backup quarterback Ron Jaworski won the final two games of the season and the first round playoff game to put the Rams back into the NFC Championship game, that time against the Cowboys. Harris started but was benched in favor of Jaworski after the Cowboys jumped out to a 21-0 lead. Jaworski play the rest of the game, a 37-7 loss.

Harris’ shoulder continued to bother him in 1976 and during that offseason he was traded to the San Diego Chargers after the Rams brought Joe Namath in from the Jets to start. Harris spent the final three years of his career backing up Dan Fouts, who the Chargers had been developing to be their starting quarterback. Harris played three seasons with the Chargers before retiring after the 1979 season.

Harris ended up being inducted into the Southwest Athletic Conference Hall of Fame, the Grambling Athletic Hall of Fame and the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame. Harris spent from 2003 to 2008 as the vice president of player personnel for the Jacksonville Jaguars and is currently the Senior Personnel Executive for the Detroit Lions under General Manager Martin Mayhew.

While the process of African Americans being accepted as quarterbacks was still glacially slow, Harris’ ability to overcome the obstacles thrown in his path and succeed began to pave the way for their eventual acceptance. Another Grambling star, Doug Williams, was able to follow that path and eventually become the first African American to start, and win, a Super Bowl when the Redskins defeated the Broncos in Super Bowl XXII.


July 16, 1992 – Buck Buchanan, Hall of Fame defensive lineman with the Chiefs, died from lung cancer at the age of 51.

Notable Birthdays This Week:
July 16, 1906–Ray Richards; Tackle/Guard (Frankford Yellow Jackets/Bears/Lions) 1930–1936  
                                                    Head Coach (Chicago Cardinals) 1955–1957 Career Record 14-21-1

July 16, 1932–Max McGee; End (Packers) 1954–1967; 1-time Pro Bowler
Scored the first touchdown in Super Bowl history; a 37-yard touchdown pass from Bart Starr. He also caught a 13-yard touchdown pass in the third quarter to make the score 28-10 and put the game out of reach of the Kansas City Chiefs.

July 16, 1968–Barry Sanders; Running Back (Lions) 1989–1998; 6-time First-Team All-Pro; 10-time Pro Bowler;
                                    Inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2004

July 20, 1927–Dick Stanfel; Guard (Lions/Redskins)  1952–1958; 5-time First-Team All-Pro; 5-time Pro Bowler;
                                 Hall of Fame Senior Candidate in 1993 and 2012

July 21, 1908–Phil Handler; Guard (Cardinals) 1930–1936    
                                                  Head Coach (Cardinals) 1943–1945, 1949, 1951; Career Records 4-34-0

July 22, 1966–Tim Brown; Wide Receiver (Raiders/Buccaneers) 1988–2004; 9-time Pro Bowler

The Rest of This Week’s Birthdays
July 16th
1927–Charlie Toogood; Tackle (Rams/Cardinals) 1951–1957
1930–Bert Rechichar; Defensive Back/Placekicker/Kick Returner (Browns/Colts/Steelers) 1952–1961;
                                          3-time Pro Bowler
1943–Jimmy Johnson; Head Coach (Cowboys – 1989 to 1993) (Dolphins – 1996 to 1999); 80-64-0 Lifetime record;
                                            2 Division Championships; 2 Conference Championships; 2 Super Bowl Victories
1951–Jerry Sisemore; Right Tackle (Eagles) 1973–1984; 2-time Pro Bowler
1959–Gary Anderson; Placekicker (Steelers/Eagles/49ers/Vikings/Titans) 1982–2004; 1-time First-Team All-Pro;
                                          4-time Pro Bowler
1967–Roger Duffy; Guard/Center (Jets/Steelers) 1990–2001
1972–Aaron Glenn; Cornerback (Jets/Texans/Cowboys/Jaguars/Saints) 1994–2008; 3-time Pro Bowler
1982–Roscoe Parrish; Wide Receiver/Punt Receiver (Bills) 2005–2011              
1985–Kevin Huber; Punter (Bengals) 2009–2011
1987–Knowshon Moreno; Running Back (Broncos) 2009–2011
1988–Jermaine Gresham; Tight End (Bengals) 2010–2011

July 17th
1938–Tom Moore; Halfback/Fullback (Packers/Rams/Falcons) 1960–1967; 1-time Pro Bowler
1941–Daryle Lamonica; Quarterback (Bills/Raiders) 1963–1974; 2-time First-Team All-Pro; 5-time Pro Bowler
1953–Mike Thomas; Running Back (Redskins/Chargers) 1975–1980; 1-time Pro Bowler
1960–Scott Norwood; Placekicker (Bills) 1985–1991; 1-time First-Team All-Pro; 1-time Pro Bowler
1973–Eric Moulds; Wide Receiver (Bills/Texans/Titans) 1996–2007; 3-time Pro Bowler
1978–Morlon Greenwood; Linebacker (Dolphins/Texans) 2001–2008
1988–Luke Stocker; Tight End (Buccaneers) 2011–2011
July 18th
1916–Ed Cifers; End (Redskins/Bears 1941–1948; 1-time Pro Bowler
1939–Mike Pyle; Center (Bears) 1961–1969; 1-time Pro Bowler
1948–George Starke; Right Tackle (Redskins) 1973–1984
1950–Jerome Barkum; Tight End (Jets) 1972–1983
1963–Lonnie Young; Defensive Back (Cardinals/Jets/Chargers) 1985–1996
1967–Jeff Lageman; Defensive End (Jets/Raiders) 1989–1998
1979–Deion Branch; Wide Receiver (Patriots/Seahawks) 2002–2011
1988–Stevenson Sylvester; Linebacker (Steelers) 2010–2011             

July 19th
1919–Norm Standlee; Fullback/Linebacker (Bears/49ers) 1941–1952; 2-time Pro Bowler
1932–J.D. Smith; Fullback/Halfback (Bears/49ers/Cowboys) 1956–1966; 2-time Pro Bowler
1943–Jerry Smith; Tight End (Redskins) 1965–1977; 1-time First-Team All-Pro; 2-time Pro Bowler
1968–LeRoy Butler; Defensive Back (Packers) 1990–2001; 4-time First-Team All-Pro; 4-time Pro Bowler
1983–Brent Grimes; Defensive Back (Falcons) 2007–2011; 1-time Pro Bowler
1986–Evan Dietrich-Smith; Guard (Packers) 2009–2011
1987–Jerraud Powers; Defensive Back (Colts) 2009–2011
1988–Trent Williams; Tackle (Redskins) 2010–2011
1988–Kyle Williams; Wide Receiver (49ers) 2010–2011

July 20th
1939–Jimmy Warren; Defensive Back (Chargers/Dolphins/Raiders) 1964–1977; 1-time Pro Bowler
1945–Jake Scott; Defensive Back (Dolphins/Redskins) 1970–1978; 2-time First-Team All-Pro; 5-time Pro Bowler
1971–Ron Stone; Guard (Cowboys/Giants/49ers/Raiders) 1994–2005; 3-time Pro Bowler
1973–Casey Wiegmann; Center (Bears/Chiefs/Broncos) 1997–2011
1980–Jordan Gross; Tackle (Panthers) 2003–2011; 1-time First-Team All-Pro; 2-time Pro Bowler
1982–D.J. Williams; Linebacker (Broncos) 2004–2011
1983–Anthony Hargrove; Defensive End (Rams/Bills/Saints/Seahawks) 2004–2011
1987–Jeromy Miles; Defensive Back (Bengals) 2010–2011
1988–Terrell McClain; Defensive Tackle (Panthers) 2011–2011
1988–Quinton Carter; Defensive Back (Broncos) 2011–2011

July 21st
1912–Jim Barber; Tackle (Redskins) 1935–1941; 1-time First-Team All-Pro; 1-time Pro Bowler
1954–Don Macek; Center (Chargers) 1976–1989
1961–Henry Ellard; Wide Receiver (Rams/Redskins) 1983–1998; 2-time First-Team All-Pro; 3-time Pro Bowler
1975–Mike Sellers; Tight End (Redskins/Browns) 1998–2011
1979–David Carr; Quarterback (Texans/Panthers/Giants/49ers) 2002–2011
1980–Jon Dorenbos; Center (Bills/Titans/Eagles) 2003–2011; 1-time Pro Bowler
1983–Kellen Winslow Jr.; Tight End (Browns/Buccaneers) 2004–2011; 1-time Pro Bowler
1985–Tanard Jackson; Safety (Buccaneers) 2007–2011
1986–Wesley Woodyard; Linebacker (Broncos) 2008–2011
1988–Stephen Schilling; Guard (Chargers) 2011–2011
1988–Jah Reid; Tackle (Ravens) 2011–2011
1988–Jon Asamoah; Guard (Chiefs) 2010–2011

July 22nd
1938–Don Oakes; Tackle (Eagles/Patriots) 1961–1968; 1-time Pro Bowler
1940–Bake Turner; Wide Receiver (Colts/Jets/Patriots) 1962–1970; 1-time Pro Bowler
1941–Rich Jackson; Defensive End (Raiders/Broncos/Browns) 1966–1972; 3-time First-Team All-Pro;
                                       3-time Pro Bowler
1963–Eddie Anderson; Safety (Seahawks/Raiders) 1986–1997
1972–Keyshawn Johnson; Wide Receiver (Jets/Buccaneers/Cowboys/Panthers) 1996–2006; 3-time Pro Bowler
1983–Steven Jackson; Running Back (Rams) 2004–2011; 3-time Pro Bowler
1986–Sean Lee; Linebacker (Cowboys) 2010–2011

July 23rd
1910–Joe Carter; End (Eagles/Packers/Brooklyn Dodgers/Cardinals) 1933–1945; 2-time Pro Bowler
1926–Don R. Paul; Defensive Back (Cardinals/Browns) 1950–1958; 4-time Pro Bowler
1944–Walt Garrison; Fullback (Cowboys) 1966–1974; 1-time Pro Bowler
1957–Larry McGrew; Linebacker (Patriots/Giants) 1980–1990              
1974–Terry Glenn; Wide Receiver (Patriots/Packers/Cowboys) 1996–2007; 1-time Pro Bowler
1976–Matt Birk; Center (Vikings/Ravens) 1998–2011; 6-time Pro Bowler
1978–Nick Harris; Punter (Bengals/Lions/Bengals) 2001–2011
1983–Stanford Routt; Defensive Back (Raiders) 2005–2011
1983–Kelvin Hayden; Cornerback (Colts/Falcons) 2005–2011
1985–Scott Chandler; Tight End (Chargers/Cowboys/Bills) 2007–2011
1987–David Bruton; Defensive Back (Broncos) 2009–2011
1989–K.J. Wright; Linebacker (Seahawks) 2011–2011