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Death Notice Guestbook

Obituary: Willie Thrower / First black quarterback to play in NFL

Thursday, February 21, 2002

Willie Thrower, the first black quarterback to play in the National Football League, died of a heart attack yesterday at his home in New Kensington after a prolonged illness. He was 71.

After leading New Kensington High School's Red Raiders to WPIAL Class AA championships in 1946 and 1947, Mr. Thrower was one of eight members of his high school team to enroll at Michigan State University the following year. He was the first black quarterback to play in the Big Ten Conference.

As a backup on the 1952 Michigan State team that won a national championship under Coach Biggie Munn, he came off the bench to spark the Spartans to a 21-3 victory over Notre Dame.

With the Chicago Bears of the NFL in 1953, Mr. Thrower was primarily an understudy to quarterback George Blanda. But on Oct. 18 that year, George Halas, the Bears' owner and head coach, sent him into a game against the San Francisco 49ers. In that brief appearance, Thrower completed three of eight passes for 27 yards and was intercepted once in a 35-28 loss. But he made history.

He later played three seasons in the Canadian Football League, with the Toronto Argonauts and Winnipeg Blue Bombers, before a shoulder injury ended his career.

Mr. Thrower worked in the construction industry until his retirement in 1992. He was elected to the Westmoreland County Sports Hall of Fame in 1992.

Visitation is scheduled from 2 to 4 and 7 to 9 p.m. tomorrow at Ross G. Walker Funeral Home, 217 Freeport Road, New Kensington. The funeral will take place at Mount Calvary Missionary Baptist Church on Fourth Avenue in New Kensington at 10 a.m. Saturday, followed by burial at Greenwood Memorial Park in Lower Burrell.

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