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tara sullivan

The first Super Bowl with two Black starting quarterbacks is inspirational indeed

Philadelphia's Jalen Hurts (left) and Kansas City's Patrick Mahomes appeared together Monday night on Super Bowl "opening night" in Phoenix.Ross D. Franklin/Associated Press

At the end of Super Bowl LII in Minnesota, the NFL handed out a sheet of paper with all the records tied or broken that night. The impressive list of 29 statistics reflected the aerial wizardry of Nick Foles (in victory) and Tom Brady (in defeat), two quarterbacks who’d more than earned their way into the history books. From 874 combined passing yards on down, the numbers didn’t lie.

There’s a list going around the Super Bowl this week too, and though it contains but a single entry, it is as important to celebrate as anything in the history of the NFL.


When Patrick Mahomes and Jalen Hurts take the field Sunday as the first two Black quarterbacks to start against each other in the Super Bowl, there is every reason to celebrate the occasion, for the Black quarterbacks who came before them, for the Black quarterbacks who never got the opportunity to go before them, and for those who might follow in their footsteps.

Pictures don’t lie either. And in a world where representation matters, where it works so importantly in concert with opportunity, with skill, with hard work, and maybe even with a little bit of luck, what the world will see on the field Sunday in Phoenix matters. A lot.

“There’s history being made,” Chiefs running back Jerick McKinnon told reporters Monday night. “That’s a beautiful thing. Something I can look back and tell my kids that, ‘I was a part of that, I experienced that.’ So it’s a blessing. This whole experience is a blessing.

“To have that on top just adds to it.”

“It’s amazing — especially being Black History Month as well,” echoed Eagles cornerback Darius Slay. “I’m thankful for this moment, to be a part of this. This is crazy with two Black quarterbacks in the Super Bowl, one of the biggest games in the world.”


We pause for a moment to lament the comparative lack of progress in NFL coaching hires, where the road for Black coaches remains blocked in ways that the meritocracy of the playing field can’t solve. NFL owners, that near-homogenous block of white, aging billionaires, may pretend to adhere to open-minded thinking by following the letter of the law with the league’s Rooney Rule, but they still haven’t figured out a way to believe in the intent of the policy, which is to diversify and open up opportunity for all qualified candidates.

On the field, players can prove their worth, and the more they succeed at the highest level, the more young players they inspire to play quarterback because of them, the more impossible it becomes for anyone along the way, youth coaches and the like, to push them in a different positional direction. We’re seeing it this year in Phoenix.

Mahomes is eyeing his second Super Bowl title.John Locher/Associated Press

“I’m really excited for both quarterbacks, what they can represent to a ton of kids,” Eagles coach Nick Sirianni said Monday night. “Not only are they two African-American quarterbacks, but they’re the two best quarterbacks in the NFL this year. First-team All-Pro, second-team All-Pro.

“They both play at the highest level.”

Chiefs coach Andy Reid expressed a similar sentiment in the days after Mahomes hobbled his way to victory in the AFC title game.

“The biggest thing is they are really good,” Reid said. “I think it’s a tribute to them. It is unique. I don’t ever look at it that way. I look at, I don’t really care what color you are. You are a good player. At that position, it takes a tremendous amount of time and effort. I can really appreciate that.


“I’ve never been one to look at the color part of it. Where I grew up, we had everybody. Everybody was a part of the equation. Someday I hope that’s the way it all works.”

As do we all. But again, numbers don’t lie.

The NFL has had a championship game since its 1920 inception, and is about to stage its 57th Super Bowl. In that time, seven Black quarterbacks started the game, with Hurts set to become the eighth. This year guarantees a third champion to join Doug Williams and Russell Wilson, and Hurts adds himself to the list that includes Mahomes (making his third Super Bowl start), Steve McNair, Donovan McNabb, Colin Kaepernick. and Cam Newton.

When you consider that Hurts, 24, and Mahomes, 27, also represent the youngest matchup between starting QBs (51 years, 337 days), besting Hall of Famers Joe Montana and Dan Marino by 13 days, there is reason to believe that pipeline is strengthening.

The 24-year-old Hurts is set for his Super Bowl debut.Matt Rourke/Associated Press

“It can be done. The game has evolved. Times are changing,” Hurts said Monday night. “Obviously being part of something so historic and making history. You talk about breaking records and being the first to do this, but I think this is something on a whole different level. A whole different magnitude holds a different type of weight.


“I don’t know if I really have digested and kind of understand what’s going on just yet. But maybe later on. But obviously for my parents and my grandparents, this is something that isn’t normal. It’s special.”

Mahomes agreed: “I think about it a lot. The quarterbacks that came before me — Shack Harris, Doug Williams — that laid the foundation for me to be in this position. It goes across all sports. If you think about Jackie Robinson and the people who broke the color barrier in baseball, I wouldn’t be standing here today if it wasn’t for them.

“To be lucky enough to be in this position — and play against another great guy like Jalen — it will be a special moment. I’m glad we’re here today, but how can we keep moving forward? How can we motivate kids who are younger, who want to follow their dreams to be a quarterback?”

Tough questions for sure, but just by being on the field together, Mahomes and Hurts are showing the way.

Tara Sullivan is a Globe columnist. She can be reached at tara.sullivan@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @Globe_Tara.