Marty Vaughn had no idea why he was being summoned to head football coach Harry Gamble’s office a day or two before Penn’s October 19, 1973 game versus Lehigh. At first, the Quakers’ freshly minted starting quarterback thought he might be in trouble. But now, more than 47 years later, the conversation remains vivid.
“They had this quarterback by the name of Kim McQuilken—a big, strapping, prototypical quarterback at the time,” Vaughn says of the Lehigh All-American who went on to play in the NFL for several seasons. “And I remember Coach Gamble looked me right in the face and said, ‘Listen, we know who the better quarterback is—and Friday night you’re gonna show ’em who it is.’ I walked out of there thinking, ‘Damn, he thinks I’m better than this guy. I gotta go out there and prove him right.’”
These days, exciting Black quarterbacks like Patrick Mahomes, Lamar Jackson, and Deshaun Watson are dominating the NFL and revolutionizing the position. But for a long time, Black quarterbacks remained a rarity even as Black players commonly occupied other positions. “Part of it was ignorance and racism,” says Vaughn, who claims that he was encouraged to switch to wide receiver throughout his time playing high school football in McKeesport, Pennsylvania. “Even in my senior year, they kept trying to bring up guys to take my position. My mother always said, ‘You have to be twice as good to get an opportunity.’”
After the tumult of the 1960s, more African American students were admitted to universities across the country, and when Vaughn arrived at Penn in 1971, he gravitated to his fellow Black classmates. Many sat together in a part of Franklin Field “we called the Black section,” Vaughn says. “It was encouraging to look up and see those Black faces in the crowd back then. They were pulling for you—not as you the quarterback or you the running back. They knew us. We ate together. We talked about our families. We shared experiences.”
Vaughn led the Quakers to winning seasons in ’73 and ’74, and for more than 45 years has remained close with many of his former teammates and other members of what he says is a tight-knit Class of 1975. A corporate finance executive living just outside of Philadelphia, he sits on the Penn football board and returns to campus to watch games when he can (when he’s not hitting the road to watch his daughter Mikayla Vaughn, who plays basketball for Notre Dame and has been to the Final Four twice and won a national championship). And he’s offered advice to players like Ryan Glover, who in 2018 was the only regular Black starting quarterback in the Ivy League.
Read more at The Pennsylvania Gazette.