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*Willie Thrower was born on this date in 1930. He was a Black college and NFL football player.
Born near Pittsburgh in New Kensington, Pennsylvania, Willie Lee Thrower played halfback in the single-wing formation for New Kensington High (present-name: Valley High School) as a freshman just after the end of World War II in 1945. Single wing halfbacks received a direct center snap, and then had run, handoff, or pass options. The team lost two games. In subsequent seasons his coach installed the T formation and moved Thrower to the quarterback.
He was known as "Mitts" because of his large hands and arm strength, which stood in contrast to his 5' 11" frame. New Kensington won 24 straight games from his sophomore to senior years, including the 1946 and 1947 Western Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic League (WPIAL) Class AA championships. He would only lose one game in his career. As a dual-threat quarterback, Thrower was also an All-WPIAL and all-state first-team honors. He was named captain for an All-American scholastic selection covering the nation east of the Mississippi River. His final high school record was 35–3–1.
Despite his accomplishments, Thrower still experienced Jim Crow racism. In 1947, the Miami, Florida Peanut Bowl, featuring top high school teams around the country, rescinded the invitation it had extended to Ken High to play in the annual prep classic game when organizers saw a photograph of Thrower. In addition, many colleges opted not to extend Thrower a scholarship when they discovered he was black College football. After graduating, Thrower chose to play collegiate football for Michigan State University from 1949–1952.
He was the first Black quarterback to play in the Big Ten Conference in 1950. During the 1952 championship season, Thrower was an integral part of the title run, completing 59 percent of his passes (29-of-43) for 400 yards and five touchdowns. In a crucial game with Notre Dame. In his final college game, Thrower completed seven of his 11 attempts for 71 yards and a touchdown and added a rushing touchdown in a 62–13 win over Marquette that sealed the nation's Number 1 ranking and championship for Michigan State.
Professional career (National Football League):
Although Thrower was not drafted in 1953, he was offered one year, $8,500 contract with the Chicago Bears. He became the backup quarterback and roommate to future Pro Football Hall of Famer George Blanda. He did not play until October 18, 1953, against the San Francisco 49ers replacing Blanda. He moved the team to the 15-yard line of the 49ers but was denied a chance to score a TD when Halas put Blanda back into the game. The Bears eventually lost the game 35–28. Thrower completed 3 out of 8 passes for 27 yards and had one interception, and the Bears released Thrower after the 1953 season.
In 1979, he was elected to the Westmoreland County Sports Hall of Fame. In 1981, he was inducted into the AK Valley Hall of Fame. In 2003, an official state marker was dedicated to him in his high school. In 2011, he was inducted into the WPIAL Hall of Fame. As the first Black quarterback in the NFL, in 2002, Thrower told The Valley News Dispatch of Tarentum, Pa, "I look at it like this: I was like the Jackie Robinson of football. A black quarterback was unheard of before I hit the pros."
Willie Thrower died of a heart attack in New Kensington on February 20, 2002, at the age of 71. His funeral was held at the Mount Calvary Missionary Baptist Church in New Kensington. In 2006, there was a statue of Thrower near Valley High School in New Kensington, unveiled during a Valley football game attended by Pittsburgh Steelers owner Dan Rooney and Thrower's family. Former NFL quarterback Warren Moon also mentioned Willie Thrower in his Pro Football Hall of Fame acceptance speech. Moon thanked Thrower, among others, for inspiring him when few Blacks played the quarterback position in the NFL.