Long before there was Patrick Mahomes, Jalen Hurts, Doug Williams or even Warren Moon, there was Chuck Ealey.
When Mahomes and Hurts lead the Kansas City Chiefs and Philadelphia Eagles, respectively, on to the field Sunday, it will mark the first Super Bowl featuring two Black starting quarterbacks. Adding emphasis to the historic matchup is that it comes during Black History Month.
Some 51 years after he came north to play quarterback in pro football, Ealey sees Sunday's matchup as one featuring two quality quarterbacks who happen to be African-American.
"I think it (racial climate) is different in Canada," Ealey said in a telephone interview. "But when you're in the U.S., this has been an issue for many years . . . I understand both sides of the spectrum.
"For the bottom line, two very good guys who happen to be Black are playing in the Super Bowl. That's what I see."
Ealey wasted no time making CFL history. As a rookie, he led the Hamilton Tiger-Cats to the '72 Grey Cup, becoming the first Black quarterback to win a championship in Canada.
It wasn't until Jan. 31, 1988, that Williams became the first Black quarterback to win a Super Bowl, doing so with Washington.
The CFL was also ahead of the NFL in terms of having two Black starters in the Grey Cup. That first happened in 1981 when Moon rallied Edmonton to a 26-23 decision over an Ottawa Rough Riders team led by J.C. Watts, the former Oklahoma star who would go on to prominence in American politics after football.
Such was the case again in 1982 when Moon guided Edmonton to a 32-16 Grey Cup win over Condredge Holloway and the Toronto Argonauts.
After six seasons in Canada (1978-83), Moon played 17 NFL campaigns with Houston, (1984-93), Minnesota (1994-96), Seattle (1997-98) and Kansas City (1999-2000). He's the only player to be enshrined into both the Canadian Football and Pro Football Hall of Fame.
In 2004, Mike (Pinball) Clemons made pro football history when the Argos downed the B.C. Lions 27-19 in the Grey Cup game. That made Clemons the first Black head coach to win a title in either the CFL or NFL.
Bernie Custis holds the distinction of being the first Black pro quarterback in the modern era when he started for the Hamilton Tiger-Cats in 1951. He moved to halfback the following year, helping the Ticats win the '53 Grey Cup before finishing his career with Ottawa in 1956.
Custis was inducted into the Canadian Football Hall of Fame in 1998. He died in 2017 at age 88.
"The story is history when you bring that out to Canadians," Ealey said. "But to Americans being on the other side of the border, it doesn't have the same message.
"I think the poignant thing there is it's not a big deal for us in Canada . . . it's not a big news story after the first time it happened."
After an undefeated high school career in Portsmouth, Ohio, Ealey was 35-0 at Toledo (1969-71). He led the school to three straight Tangerine Bowl victories, earning MVP honours each time.
But Ealey, 73, was bypassed in the '72 NFL draft after making it clear he only wanted to play his position at a time when Black quarterbacks weren't seriously considered in the league.
"They wanted to put me at defensive back after college," Ealey said. "And I said, 'No. I never played defensive back.'"
Ealey said he attended Toledo to get an education and not as a means to get to the NFL. And if he wasn't going to be allowed to play quarterback, he was prepared to head into the business world upon graduation.
The six-foot, 195-pound Ealey played seven CFL seasons with Hamilton (1972-74), Winnipeg (1974-75) and Toronto (1975-78). He finished his career in Canada with 13,326 passing yards and 82 touchdowns.
Last year, Ealey was named for induction into the U.S. College Football Hall of Fame. He capped his tenure at Toledo as its all-time leader with 5,275 passing yards and 45 TDs and is one of just four players to have his number retired by the school.
Ealey has remained in southern Ontario long after his CFL career. A dual citizen, Ealey became involved in business, most notably investment banking, after football.
"We're only about four-and-a-half hours to Toledo so it wasn't like we lived in Florida and came here and stayed," Ealey said. "But we found the fundamental aspects of living were much more comfortable for us (in Canada) than going back into the U.S., and build from there once I played."
Ealey doesn't see himself as a football pioneer or trailblazer.
"No offence, but no, I don't," he said. "It's very interesting that you become a trailblazer when someone says you can't go there because of the colour of your skin.
"I don't think of it as a trailblazer as much as you do what you can, you take that information and help people understand, 'Why did that happen and what did you do about it?' Being an African-American Canadian, or whatever you want to call it, you understand how the fight has always been to be recognized and colour should never ever get into any of it. Period.
"But you can't do anything about it so why get upset? You just keep moving with what you do. That's always been my philosophy."
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 8, 2023.
Dan Ralph, The Canadian Press