In his first NFL start, Jacoby Brissett led the New England Patriots to a 27-0 win over the Houston Texans on Thursday Night Football, completing 11-of-19 passes for 103 yards while rushing for 48 more and a touchdown.
The outing was nothing more than average when looking at the numbers strictly, but what made Thursday night historic had nothing to do with Brissett’s performance.
The 23-year-old rookie was the first black quarterback to make a regular season start in a Patriots uniform, 56 years after the franchise was founded.
In its history, the Patriots have had six other black quarterbacks, but none have had the opportunity to start a regular season game for the team.
The answer could certainly be attributed to a number of different reasons, but one thing is for sure — Boston is unique; its complicated narrative polished with the shine of revolutionary victories while stained by a history of racial differences. At times the city has shown it is as bitter and cold as its weather.
In an interview with The Undefeated, USC law professor Jody David Armour spoke about his experiences attending Harvard in the early 1980s.
“The racial tension in Boston [in the 1970s] was so thick you could cut it,” said Armour. “I can remember walking through Harvard Square with my homie…and whites from South Boston just driving up, shooting the ‘N-word’ and other epithets at us. They’d make special trips…that was kind of mood that there was in the city.”
Hall of Fame quarterback Warren Moon had a similar experience — and he didn’t even live in the area.
Speaking to SB Nation, Moon noted instances from when his teams traveled into the area to play against the Patriots.
“Oh man. Oh yeah. I was called the N-word there many times. I almost jumped over a fence and went after a guy for it,” Moon said. “Their old stadium had this kind of a hill you would walk up to get to the locker room. The stadium was down in a bowl. They had a chain-link fence going along toward the locker room…
“Right along there were fans, and one guy was berating me to death. I couldn’t take it, and I went toward the fence and tried to hop over it, and a couple of teammates held me back. But over and over again, he kept yelling at me: ‘n****r, ‘n****r, ‘n****r.'”
Many NFL teams struggled with racial inequality on their teams, but things were even more complicated at the quarterback position. Teams rarely trusted a black athlete to lead the offense until as recently as the 1980s.
That attitude has changed as of late — black quarterbacks are becoming closer to the norm, rather than the minority, especially since so many have succeeded at the position.
In comparison to the rest of the league, Brissett is simply another quarterback — and that’s a good thing.
In retrospect, Brissett probably wasn’t expecting to be on the field Thursday night at all; at least not earlier in the year. He was supposed to be the understudy’s understudy, learning about the game while spending Sundays on the sideline.
But sometimes life has a funny way of working things out.
A year ago, it seemed unlikely he would miss any playing time but after his suspension, Jimmy Garoppolo got the call to become the team’s starter.
Last week, Garoppolo injured his shoulder and all eyes turned to Brissett.
Drafted in the third round of this year’s NFL Draft, Brissett posted exceptional numbers at North Carolina State.
In his two years as a starter, he compiled 5,268 yards and 43 touchdowns through the air with only 11 interceptions. He also rushed for nearly 1,000 more yards and scored nine touchdowns with his legs.
Now he has a chance to show he belongs on the Patriots, and he did a fair job in his debut.
Whether he knew it or not, Brissett made history in Foxborough on Thursday night.