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Willie Thrower was a pioneer for African Americans in football, the first to play quarterback professionally.
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Born in Pennsylvania in 1930, Willie Thrower made history in 1953, when he relieved Bears QB George Blanda during a game against the San Francisco 49ers. Thrower's professional career, however, was short-lived. He played another game that season, but was not re-signed by the team. Thrower went to Canada to play for the Blue Bombers in Manitoba for three seasons and finished his career playing semi-professionally in Toronto.
Born on March 22, 1930, in New Kensington, Pennsylvania, Willie Thrower was the first African-American quarterback in professional football. Sometimes referred to as "the Jackie Robinson of the football," Thrower started out as a strong high school player and went to have an impressive college athletic career. As a college player, he broke new ground, becoming the first African-American quarterback to play in the Big Ten Conference. Thrower helped his school, Michigan State University, win the national championship in 1952.
With such an impressive college football career, it should have been easy for Thrower to go professional. Professional football, however, at this time was still fairly segregated with little opportunity for African-American players. The few black players who were in the professional leagues largely held defensive positions. Though he wasn't drafted, he did receive a contract from the Chicago Bears as a back-up quarterback.
Thrower made history in October 1953, when he relieved Bears quarterback George Blanda during a game against the San Francisco 49ers. During that fateful game, he completed three out of eight passes for a total of 27 yards. Thrower's professional career, however, was short-lived. He played another game that season, but was not re-signed by the team. Thrower went to Canada to play for the Blue Bombers in Manitoba for three seasons. He finished his career playing semi-professionally in Toronto, but retired after suffering a shoulder injury.
After his football fame faded, Thrower took his life in a different direction. He became a social worker in New York City for a while and later returned to his hometown where he owned two taverns.
Willie Thrower died on February 20, 2002, in his hometown of New Kensington, Pennsylvania. He was survived by Mary, his wife, and their three sons. News reports of his death reminded the world of his impressive accomplishments and how he helped inspire other African Americans to play football.
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