William "Willie the Pro" Thrower: First African-American NFL Quarterback


"Everyone knows the Jackie Robinson story; nobody knows the Willie Thrower story", says Thrower's son, Melvin in a 2017 interview with the Chicago Bears.


Willie Thrower was an African-American football player born in Pennsylvania in March 1930. Thrower, a quarterback with notably longer arms and larger hands than expected for his 5'11" frame, became known as "Mitts" because of his incredible arm strength and ability to hurl a football over 70 yards down the field. In 1952, Thrower was an integral part of the national championship winning Michigan State Spartans.


After college, Thrower was offered a one year contract with the Chicago Bears, earning a salary of $8,500 playing backup to Chicago's starting QB George Blanda. Thrower would play his first NFL game on October 18, 1953 when he was subbed into the lineup to replace Blanda due to his poor performance in this game against the 49-ers. Thrower was able to advance the Bears to the 49-ers' 15-yard line, but was then benched by Coach George Halas, who put Blanda back into the game. Thrower would be inserted *briefly* in just one more game before being released from his contract by the Bears. He finished his career in the Canadian Football League playing 3 years with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, and also a short semi-pro stent in Toronto, before retiring early, at the age of 27 due to a shoulder injury.


Thrower, a member of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc., moved to New York following his pro career and became a social worker. He died in 2002 at the age of 71 of a heart attack. He received numerous honors and recognition throughout his life and career, and his achievements broke barriers for those who would come after him.


Sources:


(2017, February 20) Thrower Made History in Bears debut. Retrieved from https://www.chicagobears.com/news/thrower-made-history-in-bears-debut-18572369


Associated Press. (2002, February 22) Thrower was first black QB to play in NFL. Retrieved from http://www.espn.com/classic/obit/s/2002/0221/1338084.html


Klein, A. (2010, October 13) William “Willie the Pro” Thrower (1930-2002). Retrieved from https://www.blackpast.org/african-american-history/william-willie-pro-thrower-1930-2002/


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