Brandon Bridge started the last game of the Alouettes 2015 season…against Saskatchewan. It marked the first start by an African-Canadian quarterback in the CFL’s long and storied history. All without the slightest mention. Maybe it’s Canada. Here we don’t see colour, we see PEOPLE. MAYBE we’re so happy to see a Canadian quarterback of ANY colour, we just didn’t notice. Fair enough, eh? If it doesn’t mean that much to us, it CERTAINLY meant a lot when Marlin Briscoe broke the colour barrier, becoming the first african-american starting quarterback in the NFL in 1968.
Hugh Campbell, the former coach of the CFL’s Edmonton Eskimos who recruited CFL and NFL Hall of Famer Warren Moon, described the NFL’s reluctance to sign and play black quarterbacks as “racial profiling”. He believes that skin color impacted the league’s vision when it came to African-American quarterbacks.
The comparison between the NFL’s attitudes towards quarterbacks of colour and the CFL’s continued prejudice against homegrown quarterback talent is NOT a fascile one. To this day Canadian quarterbacks are switched to “speed positions” like wide receiver, EXACTLY as was done with African American quarterbacks in the 1930’s and 40’s. And while the racial profiling of the past had coaches believing black quarterbacks lacked the “intelligence” and “leadership” required for the quarterback position, Canadian QB prospects face similar bigotry at home AND on the road.
With the Ticats signing of Chuck Ealey in 1972, there began an “underground railroad” of black quarterback talent to the CFL. Warren Moon, Jimmy Jones, Conredge Holloway…all great athletic talents that couldn’t get a look or an opportunity to play their position. And while black quarterbacks of the past were accused of NOT getting the education and coaching needed to perfect their craft…the VERY SAME arguments are wheeled out in denying Canadian talent the same opportunity.
As a result the CFL is littered with talented, athletic EX-CIS quarterbacks playing out of position. The Alouettes themselves have Marco Brouilette and Kyle Graves, with Kyle Quinlan on the Suspended list…sadly. Brad Sinopoli may be poised to grab Best Canadian in 2015…for Ottawa as a RECEIVER. And while Canadian quarterbacks succeed in other roles…there’s no underground railroad to take them to friendlier climes, where they can play at their chosen position.
Why does race come into the discussion at all? The breaking of the colour barrier in football brought a related quarterback issue to the fore : whether “pocket passing” is REALLY the only way to success in football. In the CFL, mobile, dynamic and exciting talents like Chuck Ealey, Warren Moon, Condredge Holloway, Damon Allen, Tracy Ham and a host of others answered that question once and for all…changing the game forever. And while quarterbacks like Doug Flutie, Joe Barnes, Matt Dunigan and Tom Clements proved that mobile quarterbacks come in all sizes and colours, it was with the breaking of the colour barrier that came a legitimization of a different way of playing the position. A way that has always been WELL suited the peculiarities of the Canadian game.
Brandon Bridge’s 45 yards of rushing marks the BEST Alouettes quarterback running performance since Adrian McPherson gained 121yds on the ground in his only start and win in Hamilton in 2010 (2nd to Joe Barnes’ Alouettes’ single game record).
So, while THIS team’s 2 decade tradition of pure pocket passing MAY go some way to explaining this season of MISFIT and MISERY…the Alouettes’ single-minded devotion to the philosophy becomes little more than a defacto colour barrier, “choking” the talents of yet another gifted athlete. Hopefully Brandon Bridge’s “successful” 1st start, added to Cato’s body of work, will turn those thoughts around, unstuck from the morass of the past.
Three seasons after Anthony Calvillo’s retirement perhaps we can FINALLY stop that pesky Quarterback Carousel, get this Alouettes team righted and heading in a better, more exciting and prosperous direction.
Can the next Grey Cup be far behind? MAYBE next season.
GO ALS GO!