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Marlin Briscoe “The Magician”

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The family of Marlin Briscoe would appreciate donations to help cover his funeral expenses.

Marlin, who was as smooth as smoke and just as difficult to contain or truly define, passed peacefully away on June 27, 2022 ending a life of spellbinding accomplishment and struggle; often against seemingly insurmountable barriers, and himself. He was 76 years old.

He had been recently hospitalized at Coast Line Hospital in Norwalk, Calif., near his home outside of Long Beach. He died from complications of pneumonia.

Marlin was a timeless pioneer. In 1968, his rookie year with the Denver Broncos, he became the first Black quarterback to start in a pro football game in the United States. Standing 5-foot-10 and weighing no more than 180 pounds, he was a fearless athlete in a game of colliding giants. He scrambled and threw with an uncanny power and accuracy and could disappear into the end zone when he couldn’t find an open receiver. Little wonder that he earned the nickname “The Magician.”

In his first year of play, Marlin was named runner-up for AFL Rookie of the Year after passing for 1,589 yards and 14 touchdowns and rushing for 308 yards and three running touchdowns of his own. There are veteran receivers who still talk about the sting of catching his bullet-precision passes.

In his later years, Marlin began to have trouble with his legs, legs that carried him through nine years in the old American Football League and the National Football League. It was a career that awarded him with two Superbowl rings – both with the Miami Dolphins -- that, on special occasions, he wore with great pride.

“My father loved the game of football. He loved it even when it didn’t always love him back,” said his oldest daughter, Angela Pruitt-Marriott. “He always wanted to make a meaningful difference not only in football but also in his community. I think he accomplished that.”

You could see Marlin beaming with pride behind President Barack Obama with his Dolphin teammates at the White House in 2013 when the team was honored for its perfect 1972 season.

At the same time, despite the fame and adoration, Marlin could also be just a regular guy who couldn’t get his fill of barbecue ribs, popcorn, the daily Los Angeles Times, CNN and vintage Perry Mason reruns on television.

Always Hollywood handsome and armed with a stellar-bright smile, Marlin was a charmer. He was married and divorced three times. Off the field, for years, he favored stylish clothes and sported a dark halo of well-trimmed hair and a thick mustache. He loved to dance; he loved to dance so much that, according to his friends, he earned another nickname: “Disco Briscoe.”
While not usually a man of many words, he made the ones he uttered in his slightly raspy, baritone voice count. And then again, he could be quite outspoken, especially when it came to current events and matters of racial equality and fairness.
Today, a section of M Street in his native South Omaha is named in his honor, Marlin Briscoe Way – The Magician.

Marlin was born on Sept. 10, 1945, in Oakland, Calif. to Marlin and Geneva Briscoe. When he was five years old, he moved with his divorced mother to Omaha where she worked in a meat packing plant across the street from the housing development where she raised him and his late sister, Beverly Ann Briscoe. He attended Omaha South High School and soon emerged as a star basketball and football player prior to his graduation in 1963.

After accepting a partial scholarship to play basketball and football and to study engineering, Marlin went on to play football at the Municipal University of Omaha, which is now the University of Nebraska at Omaha. There, Marlin emerged as the team’s star quarterback.

A bigger-than-life bronze statue of Marlin throwing a pass stands at the entry of the Baxter Arena, the university’s stadium.

Despite his relatively small size for a professional football player, he was drafted by the Broncos in 1968.

“All I wanted was a chance to showcase my skills,” he told The New York Times in 2014. “It was a mirror of what the ’60s were about, particularly in the African American community. We said, ‘No, this is what we want.”

What he wanted most was to be the quarterback for the Broncos. And, he wasn’t discouraged that the prevailing attitude in pro football at the time was that Blacks lacked the intelligence, skill and leadership for the key position. Marlin shattered that stereotype in September 1968 when he took the field against the Cincinnati Bengals.
Nevertheless, after a record-setting debut, he was pulled from the post without explanation and never permitted to play at the post again.

It was a soul wound from which he never recovered, say friends and fellow players. “It bothered him,” recalled James Harris, Marlin’s teammate with the Buffalo Bills in 1969.
Yet, Marlin quickly reinvented himself as a versatile receiver. Playing for the Bills in 1970, he caught 57 passes for 1,036 yards and eight touchdowns and was selected for the Pro Bowl.

After his football career ended, he reinvented himself again, going into the storage business, teaching and coaching a Southern California high school football team, and working as a high-ranking official for the Boys & Girls Club in Los Angeles. In more recent years, he worked for the Boys & Girls Club in Long Beach where he lived the rest of his life.

“My father had an extraordinary NFL career that broke racial barriers and will have a lasting impact for generations to come,” his youngest daughter Rebecca Briscoe said. “Despite his struggles off the field, he was one of the strongest most resilient people I knew, and that is how he should be remembered.”

If we beat the $16,000 fundraising goal, the surplus of funds will be donated to the Marlin Briscoe UNO Athletics Scholarship administered by the University of Nebraska Foundation.


Angela Pruitt
Brooklyn, NY

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