A (Black) History-Filled Night on November 23, 2020
If the NFL officiating careers of Referee Jerome Boger, umpire Barry Anderson, side judge Anthony Jeffries, line judge Carl Johnson, down judge Julian Mapp, field judge Dale Shaw and back judge Greg Steed had ended the night of November 23,2020, it would nonetheless go without further comment that these seven black veterans in stripes who paraded single file out of their dressing room at Raymond Jones stadium in Tampa, Florida had permanently set their cleats in historical cement to equate with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s (Morehouse) becoming only the third African-American recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize (1964) and the February 11, 1990 release of freedom fighter Nelson Mandela from South Africa’s Reuben Island Prison after 27 years.
November 23 was a night to remember in the annals of American history but not solely for the refs. It might have been coincidental but the mixing which constituted the 50th birthday of Monday Night Football between the Los Angeles Rams and the Tampa Bucs brought some historical baggage with it.
In 1949, Grambling University running back / linebacker Paul “Tank” Younger was signed to a free agent contract by the Los Angeles Rams. He became the first player from a HBCU to be signed by an NFL team. He went on to play 10 seasons with both the Rams and the Pittsburgh Steelers. No Hall of Fame honor yet; however, forward advance to 1977 and the Tampa Bucs.
After a splendid career at Grambling and finishing fourth in Heisman balloting behind that year’s winner Earl Campbell, only one NFL team, the Tampa Bay Bucs, worked out and scouted the native of Zachery, Louisiana as a possible pick in the ’77 draft. Joe Gibbs, then Tampa’s offensive coordinator, recommended Williams be drafted as a QB in the 1978 draft. This represented the fulfillment of a dream for Williams’ head coach Eddie Robinson who wanted an HBCU player drafted as a quarterback and not relegated to another position. He had earlier attempt to groom another Grambling great, James “Shack” Harris from Monroe, Louisiana to be drafted as a quarterback by pro football and even hired coaching great Doug Porter to focus on Shack. He succeeded. Harris was drafted in the 8th round of the 1969 draft by the Buffalo Bills as a quarterback. Harris eventually ended up with the Los Angeles and was chosen by the late Coach Chuck Knox to start for the Rams, making “Shack” the first African-American quarterback to start for an NFL team ( the first “brother” from an HBCU (or anywhere else for that matter) drafted in pro football as a quarterback and in the first round was Eldridge Dickey of Tennessee State University who was picked up number uno by the Oakland Raiders in the 1968 draft. Despite a strong showing in training camp. Dickey was moved to wide receiver and never played a down at QB. The Raiders second draft pick that year was University of Alabama QB Kenny Stabler (any guess who got the QB job).
Duly noted, the seven pioneering NFL referees on November 23 included three from HBCUs. Besides referee Boger (Morehouse), a 17-year veteran who wears # 23, there was line judge Mapp, a 12-year vet who wears # 10 and hails from Grambling and back judge Steed, an 18-year vet who wears #12 and is a graduate of Howard University. Of the 122 active NFL officials, 36 are Black. Of the 36, ten attended HBCUs.
Besides the three history-makers, the other seven are: 12-year veteran side judge Jimmy Buchanan (SC State) who wears #86, 25-year veteran side judge Boris Cheek (Morgan State) who wears #41, 18-year veteran umpire Roy Ellison (Savannah State) who wears #81, one-year veteran field and side judge Dominque Pender (Howard) who wears #114, 14-year veteran field judge Dyrol Prioleau (Johnson C. Smith) who wears #109, 11-year veteran Greg Yette (Howard) who wears #38, and 15-year veteran umpire Ruben Fowler (Huston-Tillotson) who wears #71. A brief further breakdown, two of the 10 are from the SIAC, five are from the MEAC, one from the CIAA, one from the SWAC and one independent school.
I would be remiss if I didn’t make one more observation surrounding Black athletic history night of the 23rd. Burl Toler Senior, the first Black NFL official ever from 1965, attended Lemoyne-Owen College in his hometown of Memphis before moving to the west coast. In 1965, he became the first Black game official in any North American pro sport. Johnny Grier, who attended the University of DC, became the NFL’s first Black referee in 1988.
An additional note, Michael (Mike) Carey, in 2008, became the first Black to referee a Super Bowl (Super Bowl XLII between the New England Patriots and New York Giants). Carey has since retired. he played college football as a running back for Santa Clara University. At the time of his retirement, Carey was one of the two senior referees in the NFL, along with Walt Coleman. Carey and his wife are also entrepreneurs and inventors in the ski and winter sports industry.
Last updated on November 29, 2020