FORT WAYNE, Indiana--He was sports legend in the making…Joe Gilliam, one of the NFL’s first black starting quarterbacks…led the Pittsburgh Steelers in 1974 to a 6 and 0 preseason and 4 and 1 regular season before management replaced him with Terry Bradshaw. Some say drugs were Joe Gilliam’s downfall...others blame racism.
“When you talk about the historical development of the Pittsburgh Steelers,” says local filmmaker Dexter Rogers, “his name is glossed over, not even mentioned or considered.”
Rogers is a Fort Wayne journalist and filmmaker. He’s producing a 90 minute documentary he hopes will get Joe Gilliam the recognition he deserves.
“If it wasn’t for a Joe Gilliam going through the things that he did you wouldn’t have a Doug Williams winning the Super Bowl, you wouldn’t have a Cam Newton winning the Heisman Trophy then come in as Rookie of the Year the following year or Michael Vick signing two $100 million dollar contracts.”
Rogers has scored some big interviews for his project…Warren Moon, Bob Costas…Terry Bradshaw, too, who says Joe Gilliam was the better quarterback. Gilliam battled drug addiction for years, ended up homeless before getting his life back together only to die of a heart attack at age 49. It’s a powerful story, and Dexter Rogers has some powerful help telling.
“Got a call from Bob Costas Super Bowl weekend…he praised my work and said that he’ll do whatever he could to help me get this distributed, hopefully on his network.”
Producing a film documentary on your own is very hard to do, but Rogers says whenever the going gets tough, he thinks about Joe Gilliam.
“Knowing there are guys like Gilliam who deserve to have their stories told, but they simply die and nobody cares, but I do,” he says. It’s incumbent upon me to keep going even when I don’t feel like it.”
Eric Olson reporting, out in Your Country.
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