When Tua Tagovailoa joins the NFL, he’ll be the latest in the underrepresented (1.9% of overall players) but storied history of NFL players of Asian descent. For many decades, the NFL has seen Asian and Asian American players rise through the ranks to become some of the best athletes to ever play the game.
With many NFL players of Asian descent coming and going throughout the years, these are the seven who stood tall above the rest.
7. Kyler Murray
Murray, whose mother is Korean, was one of the biggest names in college football after transferring to Oklahoma. There, he became the Heisman winner and a surefire top pick in the 2019 draft. Now with the Cardinals, Murray has a passing and running game that makes him valuable in an era where running quarterbacks are making a bit of a comeback.
On top of this, Murray is a baseball player. He has not pursued a full-time second career quite yet, but he was drafted by the Oakland A’s, too. Murray will likely shoot up this list as he proves himself in the NFL.
6. Eugene Chung
In 1992, Eugene Chung became the first Korean-American football player to be chosen in the first round of the NFL draft. He was also the first Asian-American to be selected in the first round since 1962. He had a five-year career in the NFL. But after two years as a starter for the New England Patriots, he struggled to stay in the rotation for teams. Now, he serves as a football coach.
5. Dat Nguyen
For four years, Dat Nguyen was a defensive force for the Texas A&M Aggies. He was an All-American star who was drafted in the third round. Nguyen’s career was, unfortunately, cut short due to neck and knee injuries. His time with the Cowboys showed that despite his smaller size, he could be a force in the NFL. Now, he is trying his hand at coaching.
4. Johnnie Morton
Johnnie Morton, whose mother was from Japan, had a great career at USC as a wide receiver. His NFL career with the Detroit Lion saw him using his speed to run down the field at his college position and as a punt-returner. His brother, Chad, was also in the NFL.
3. Tedy Bruschi
The son of a Filipino mother, Tedy Bruschi made his name at the University of Arizona, where he was one of the best defensive players in the U.S. He found himself on the New England Patriots in the years before the team became a juggernaut with Tom Brady and Bill Belichick.
Bruschi amassed 1,110 tackles, 30.5 sacks, 12 interceptions, and 11 forced fumbles in his career. A stroke in 2005 could have derailed his career, but he was able to come back and play before retiring in 2008. Bruschi suffered another stroke in July 2019, and he’s still recovering.
2. Roman Gabriel
With a Filipino father, Roman Gabriel was the second overall pick in the 1962 NFL Draft at a time where diversity was a bigger problem than it is today. With a legendary career, Gabriel became the league MVP in 1969 and led the Rams in passing yards and touchdowns in 1973.
At the time, the quarterback may have been the greatest in NFL history, but he’s still believed to be among the most underrated QBs today. Gabriel, now 79 years old, is still awaiting enshrinement into the Hall of Fame. During his NFL career, he was well-known enough to appear on TV and in commercials.
1. Hines Ward
Born in Seoul, South Korea, Hines Ward was a surprise coming out of the third round of the 1998 NFL Draft. While Ben Roethlisberger gets lots of credit for the Steelers’ Super Bowl success, Ward was the MVP of Super Bowl XL. He retired with 1,000 receptions, 12,083 receiving yards, and 85 touchdowns.
Now retired, Ward became a staple on television before trying out coaching with the New York Jets. His place in the modern NFL cannot be denied.