By Anthony McClean, Editor In Chief Emeritus
The National Football League is spending the entire 2019 season in celebration of their 100th anniversary. From Jim Thorpe to Jim Brown, Red Grange to Mean Joe Greene, and everyone in between, there is plenty to celebrate.
We here at BASN Newsroom will join in the celebration as we take our own unique look at pro football’s 100th anniversary. Throughout the season, we’ll celebrate the greatest HBCU products in pro football history and their contributions.
Since so many HBCU players have left an indelible mark on the history of the league, there are so many ways we can display and tell their stories. We decided to take a simple approach in telling these stories — simply by the numbers.
Over the course of the season, we’ll list the greatest HBCU players in NFL history by the numbers. Now there will be some duplicates along the way, but it just further emphasizes the importance and greatness of their careers.
Today, we begin with numbers 00 through 10.
00 Ken Burrough (Texas Southern) WR
The 10th overall pick in the 1970 NFL Draft for the New Orleans Saints, the Jacksonville, Fla. native is best remembered for his 11 seasons (1971-81) with the Houston Oilers. A two-time Pro Bowler, Burrough was one of the most underrated wideouts of his era. He led the NFL in receiving yards in 1975 (1,063) and finished the season with eight touchdowns for the season and averaged 20.1 yards per reception. For his career, he ranks 85th on NFL All-Time Yards per Reception List with 16.9 yards per pass reception. In 2016, he was inducted into the Black College Football Hall of Fame.
1 Noland “Super Gnat” Smith (Tennessee State) KR/WR
One of the most explosive return specialists in pro football history, the 5-foot-5, 155-pounder led the AFL in kickoff return yardage with 1,360 yards in his rookie season of 1967. On December 17, 1967, the Jackson, Mississippi native returned a kickoff 106 yards for a touchdown, still the longest kickoff return in Kansas City Chiefs history. Smith currently ranks 18th on the NFL’s all-time kick return average List with 26.06 yards per return. During his three seasons in the AFL and the NFL with the Chiefs and San Francisco 49ers, Smith was almost exclusively on kickoff and punt returns, with 63 punt returns for 635 yards and one touchdown and 82 kickoff returns for 2,137 yards and one touchdown
5 Quinn Gray (Florida A&M) QB
A record-setting signal caller for the Rattlers, Gray finished his career as the school’s all-time leader in passing yards (7,378), pass attempts (1,113), pass completions (562) and TD passes (57). As a pro, the Fort Lauderdale native was signed in 2002 as a free agent by the Jacksonville Jaguars, where he was a backup from 2002 to 2007. He also signed and was on the preseason roster with Indianapolis in 2008, but after being released, he signed for the season with Kansas City. During his second year in the pros (2003), Gray played in NFL Europe and led the Frankfort Galaxy to the league’s championship.
7 Marquette King (Fort Valley State) P
An undrafted free agent who made the Oakland Raiders roster in 2012, the Georgia native won the punting job outright a year later and led the league in gross yards per punt, with 48.9. In 2014, King led the league in punting yards and total punts, with 4,930 on 109 punts. Those numbers also set single-season franchise records. During his time in the Bay, King became a fan favorite due to his on-field celebrations and dances following punts. Despite his popularity, the Raiders released the All-Pro punter in March of 2018. A month later, he signed with the division rival Denver Broncos.
7 Tavaris Jackson (Alabama State) QB
After leading the Hornets to back-to-back appearances in the SWAC Championship Game in 2003 and 2004, the Montgomery, Ala. native was chosen in the 2nd round of the 2006 NFL Draft (64th overall) by the Minnesota Vikings. By the end of the season, Jackson was the starter and went 8-4 in 2007 before injuries ended his season. In 2008, Jackson’s arm and Adrian Peterson’s legs helped lead the Vikings to the NFC North Division crown. Minnesota fell to Philly in the Wild Card playoff game and once some guy name Favre came to town, Jackson would be relegated to backup duty. After two more seasons in Minnesota, Jackson would spend time in Buffalo and in Seattle where he served as Russell Wilson’s backup for two Super Bowl seasons.
8 Greg Coleman (Florida A&M) P
The cousin of ex-MLB standout Vince Coleman (another FAMU alumnus) had a stellar 12-year NFL career including stints with Cleveland, Minnesota, and Washington. Originally drafted by the Cincinnati Bengals in 1976 (398th overall), the Jacksonville native earned the nickname “Coffin Corner” because of his ability to aim his kicks near the corner of the playing field where the end zone and out-of-bounds lines meet. One of the first black punters in the NFL, Coleman was selected by the fans to be a member of the Vikings’ 40th Anniversary team. he is a member of the Florida A&M Football Hall of Fame and is also a member of the State of Florida Track and Field Hall of Fame. He currently serves as a sideline reporter for the Vikings radio broadcasts on KFAN-AM
9 Steve McNair (Alcorn State) QB
One of the most decorated college and pro quarterbacks in football history. After four seasons with the Braves, “Air” finished his college career as the top passer in FCS history as well as winning the 1994 Walter Payton Award. Selected 3rd overall in the 1995 NFL Draft by the Houston Oilers, McNair spent the majority of his career with the Oilers/Titans franchise. The three-time Pro Bowler led the Titans to the playoffs four times — including a trip to Super Bowl XXXIV — as well being chosen as the NFL’s MVP in 2003. Traded to division rival Baltimore in 2006, he led the Ravens to the playoffs during his first season with the club before retiring two years later. Last month, McNair’s number was retired by the Titans during a halftime ceremony.
10 Eldridge Dickey (Tennessee State) QB
Selected 25th overall in the 1969 AFL Draft, “The Lord’s Prayer” was the first black quarterback drafted in the first round in pro football history. However, he was also one of the first to feel the wrath of the sports’ racism towards black quarterbacks as well. Despite a strong performance during training camp where he outperformed future Hall of Famer Ken Stabler, the Tennessee State standout was moved to wide receiver and never played under center during his entire pro career. A three-time All-American for the Tigers, the Houston native threw for over 6,500 yards and 67 TDs during his time at TSU. In 1966, TSU earned their first undefeated, untied season and their first National Black College Football Championship. The 1966 team averaged 41 points per game, allowing an average of only 4.
Next: Numbers 11-20
Anthony McClean can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.