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Long before Lamar Jackson and Patrick Mahomes, or even Warren Moon and Randall Cunningham, it was Onree Jackson who blazed the trail for black quarterbacks in the NFL.
It happened 51 years ago when the Boston Patriots selected Jackson in the fifth round of the 1969 NFL Draft.
It was suggested at the time that Jackson could become the “Willie Mays of Football” given his impressive skill set. But even with that moniker and eye-opening potential, Jackson never played a single snap in the NFL, as he was released before the 1969 regular season.
Still, he made an impact.
Jackson is viewed as one of the best to ever play at Alabama A&M and even led his team to a championship victory. He also won the Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Conference Overall Player of the Year award in both 1967 and 1968, ultimately becoming the first player to ever attend an all-black school to be selected by a pro football team.
It wasn’t crazy to think Jackson might thrive with the Patriots, who were led to a 4-10 record in 1969 by coach Clive Rush and quarterback Mike Taliaferro. Instead, he’s a classic case of “what if,” although his accomplishment of reaching the NFL with the Patriots shouldn’t go unnoticed.
“It’s a pride thing now,” Jackson said in a 2016 interview with The Associated Press. “I’m proud of what happened. Though I didn’t make it, it was kind of a foot in the door type-thing.”
Almost 50 years after Jackson was drafted, Jacoby Brissett became the first black quarterback to start a game for the Patriots, filling in for a suspended Tom Brady during the 2016 season after Jimmy Garoppolo suffered an injury. Jackson stated in an interview with AL.com that he would be cheering for the Patriots on that special night, putting aside any grudge he held toward the organization.
“I don’t usually pull for them,” Jackson said. “But I’ll pull for ’em tonight.”
Jackson might not necessarily have the statistics or the highlights, but no one can deny he was a true pioneer in the history of football.