Football pioneer Marlin Briscoe visits Omaha

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April 27th, 2011

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Omaha, NE – Hundreds of students of all ages attended a spelling lesson, of sorts, this week, which included words like leadership, scholarship, character, and kindness. At the 84th annual eighth grade Honor Roll luncheon at the Qwest Center Wednesday, pioneer football player and native Omahan Marlin Briscoe addressed the proud parents and over 300 eighth grade students from across the metro who were recognized for their academic achievements.

“I really wanted to be an honor roll student but I didn’t make it because of spelling,” he told the crowd. “Not my fault,” he said. “Back then, every time we took a test the teacher would change the words.”

Marlin Briscoe with Omaha South High School Senior, Andrew Martinez, a Rotary Club Honoree (Photo Angel Martin)

Briscoe, also known as “Marlin the Magician,” said some years ago, he was also an honoree. He was the first African American quarterback for the University of Nebraska Omaha, formerly called Omaha University. And, in 1968, he was the first African American in the U.S. to become a starting quarterback for a professional football league. He played professional football for nine years and received two Super Bowl rings. But, Briscoe said, after he stopped playing, he began to make some bad choices, which led to a life of drugs, alcohol, and homelessness.

“Even when I was at the lowest of the lowest, I always knew that I would come out of it,” he said. “I didn’t know when, but I knew that I was never going to give up.”

Marlin Briscoe was the keynote speaker at the Omaha Rotary Club's 84th annual eighth grade Honor Roll luncheon (Photo by Angel Martin)


Briscoe came to Omaha in the 1950s, and grew up in the South Omaha housing projects. Racial tension at the time was intense, but he said the black community worked together as a village, shaping many successful black people.

“They made sure that sports were available to us but also education and other considerations were available to you,” he said. “We had to learn how to cook, sew, all that stuff in South Omaha before we could get to the gym, and that’s the honest truth.”

“Our mentors taught us how to be well rounded. We couldn’t go in the gym and start shooting baskets, no you had to hit that library … so we had that type of looking after.”

Briscoe now lives in California and said he has been clean and sober for 20 years now. He leaves behind this message with Omaha, a place he still calls home, to never give up, even when you reach bumps in the road. Because, as he said, giving up isn’t an option.

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