Before His Time: Charlie Brackins

In my last post on the 1955 rookie class, I noted that quarterback Charlie Brackins only played one year in the NFL, but that I would have more to say about him in another entry. Brackins’ significance is that he was just the second black T-formation quarterback to play in the league and was the first one to be drafted. At 6’2” and 200 pounds, he was a remarkable athlete, very similar to incumbent Tobin Rote in size and playing style, but he did not last the full 1955 season.

Brackins, a star at Lincoln High School in Dallas, played four years at Prairie View, an historically black college in Texas. In those four years, the Prairie View Panthers went 9-1, 7-2, 12-0 and 10-1, for a combined record of 38-4. The last two seasons, 1953 and 1954, Brackins led the Panthers to the Black College National Championship. Statistically, he completed 269 of 534 passes for 3,485 yards, but there’s more. He was a 60-minute man. Charlie also played defense, punted and kicked placements, and he was a three-time black college All-America.

The Baltimore Afro-American reported in January 1955 that the Colts had considered drafting Brackins, but were happy to nab celebrated Lincoln University halfback Leo Lewis instead. Lewis never played in the NFL, but went to Canada and ended up being elected to both the Canadian and College Football Halls of Fame. The Packers grabbed Charlie in the 16th round and signed him in February. In March, the Milwaukee Journal noted that scout Jack Vainisi brought Tobin Rote and receiver Billy Howton with him to Prairie View to sign Brackins. The two Packer stars invited Brackins to work out with them in Houston before training camp.

At training camp, Brackins drew favorable coverage initially. In the rookie intrasquad game on July 30th, he completed six of 16 passes for 72 yards and scored the winning touchdown on a quarterback sneak. A week later, in the team’s intrasquad game he opposed Rote and completed 15 of 37 passes for 180 yards and two touchdowns in a losing cause. Coach Lisle Blackbourn assessed Charlie to Bud Lea, “Oh, he’s got to learn. He never was taught correctly from the start. But Brackins has the right physical and mental assets to really come through.”

Brackins saw spot duty at quarterback throughout the preseason and handled kickoffs for the team. After a particularly bad outing by Rote in the third preseason game, Blackbourn posited that he might start Brackins in the next game against the Eagles. That did not come to pass, but Brackins did start the final exhibition game against the Cardinals on September 17th. Unfortunately, he was victimized for a pick-six by Night Train Lane in the first quarter and was soon lifted for Rote.

A few days after the Cardinals game, Blackbourn told the Milwaukee Journal, ”When Rote has a bad day at quarterback or hits a slump, he works all the harder and eventually comes back. Brackins won’t. He just doesn’t seem to have any confidence that he can ever do better. He does have the potential. We certainly haven’t given up on him. Just so he doesn’t completely give up on himself. If he does, he’s through.”

In Blackbourn’s doghouse, Brackins remained on the bench during the first four weeks of the season, aside from his kickoff duties. In week five, Brackins got his one brief shot to line up under center in a blowout loss to Cleveland, 41-10. Newspaper accounts note that both Rote and Brackins were under relentless pressure from the Browns’ pass rush, and Charlie’s only two passes fell incomplete. Two weeks late, after 52-31 loss to the Bears in Chicago, Brackins was released on November 7 amidst intimations of curfew violations. His NFL career was over after just seven weeks.

The next black quarterback to take a snap in the NFL would be Marlin Briscoe with the Broncos in 1968 and technically that was in the AFL. The only other black QBs to play for the Packers in the regular season so far have been Willie Gillus in the 1987 replacement games and Seneca Wallace in 2013.

Charlie went into the army and starred in service ball, being named to the All-Army team in 1957. At some point, he injured his knee and was not the same player when he tried out as a defensive back for the Dallas Texans of the AFL. He died of cancer in 1990.

1955bcbrackins  1955 Bowman-style custom card is colorized.


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