Eisenberg: Lamar Jackson's Other History Making, And More Thoughts

012820_Eisenberg

Scattershooting about the Ravens and this and that …

Real history would be made if, as expected, Lamar Jackson wins the league Most Valuable Player award Saturday night.

He would be the youngest winner since Jim Brown in 1957, having turned 23 after the regular season ended. He also would be the first player from the Ravens to win the award.

What's truly eye-opening, though, is the select group he would join as an African-American quarterback winning the award.

Incredibly, Cam Newton was the first to do it outright, and that was just four years ago. Steve McNair shared the award with Peyton Manning in 2003. Patrick Mahomes became the second outright winner last season.

Meanwhile, 27 white quarterbacks have won or shared the MVP award since 1959.

The disparity illustrates the difficulties African-American quarterbacks have faced for decades in trying to convince scouts, coaches and front offices that they could play the game's most important position at the sport's highest level.

Jackson has constantly dealt with such doubts, going back to high school. His "not bad for a running back" comment was years in the making, and you can be sure many players from past generations raised fists in support when they heard it.

But by becoming the third African-American quarterback to win the league MVP award in the past five years, Jackson would help send the message that the football world finally is changing in this important respect.

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Many years ago, I was a young sports reporter covering a soccer team owned by Lamar Hunt, who had founded the American Football League and also owned the Kansas City Chiefs.

If I needed a comment from Hunt for a story, I called him. It was hardly great reporting. Hunt's phone number was listed. Anyone could call him.

Few men had a greater impact on pro football and other sports. He founded the AFL at age 26. He drove the merger with the NFL. He came up with the name for the Super Bowl. He also was instrumental in the growth of tennis and soccer in this country.

Though he came from immense wealth (his father, oil tycoon H.L. Hunt, was one of the richest people in America), Lamar Hunt could relate to fans. He understood them, respected them and wanted what was best for them. Before home games in Kansas City, he walked through the parking lots and talked to tailgaters, asking if everything was OK.

Hunt died in 2006. His son runs the Chiefs now. When they take on the San Francisco 49ers in the Super Bowl Sunday, I'll think about the owner who made his phone number public so fans could call him. I'll be rooting for Lamar Hunt's team.

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Seeing the reaction of Ravens and other NFL players to the shocking news about Kobe Bryant, I recalled what Kevin Byrne, the Ravens' executive vice president of public and community relations, told me last fall during an interview for my podcast about former Ravens.

We were talking about Tom Zbikowski, who played safety for the Ravens from 2008 through 2011 and also was a professional boxer. Byrne told me NFL players most admired athletes from two other sports, basketball and boxing – boxers because they're so tough and basketball players because they're so outrageously athletic.

"Football players consider themselves great athletes, but they look at basketball players and go, 'Wow, we can't do that,'" Byrne told me.

Bryant, who died in a helicopter crash Sunday, was maybe the ultimate example. His natural talent was so immense that he probably could have played in the NBA when he was 15. Add his competitiveness and work ethic to the mix and it's no wonder few athletes in any sport have played so well for so long.

I'm pretty sure no NFL player watched Bryant on the basketball court and thought, "I could do that." That's partly why there was such an outpouring of respect Sunday.

Bryant's death produced sadness around the world. I'm sure plenty of Ravens, past and present, are among the millions who lost a hero.

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Yes, the Ravens are among the six teams that cut Raheem Mostert before he emerged as a star running back for the San Francisco 49ers this year. But I have a hard time faulting Baltimore's front office for not seeing Mostert's potential when he was here for seven games in 2015.

He was an undrafted rookie who had already been cut by two other NFL teams after a college career in which he averaged just 189 rushing yards per season. He had great speed, but it wasn't clear he would ever develop into more than a kick returner.

The 49ers get to crow now that he's running wild for them, but if they're so smart, why did they give Mostert just six carries in 2017 and 34 in 2018 before watching him go off this year?

He deserves great credit for persevering and making the most of the right opportunity. But I'm not sure Mostert was ready to take flight before now.

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