Eventually, the barrier was bound to be broken.
The guy who actually did it admits it was just a matter of time, literally even coming down to a matter of hours.
If the schedule hadn't given Condredge Holloway and Tennessee the first crack at history in early September 1972, there was another black quarterback waiting at Mississippi State who could have slid into the record books in his place.
"If the game was played an hour-and-a-half later, Melvin Barkum would be answering these questions, not me," Holloway said. "That's the way that worked, and I was just more concerned with what was going on football-wise."
As artful dodging attention as tacklers, Holloway still uses his knack for misdirection to bring in as many other players as possible when the focus is on him and the historic snaps he took for the Vols nearly 40 years ago as the first black player under center in the SEC.
Whether another came along later that day or 10 years later, Holloway officially knocked down the door and in some ways helped set the table for a league that long after his career was over would send a black quarterback to New York City to collect a Heisman Trophy.
Of course, it certainly didn't hurt that the player who broke the mold proved more than capable of handling perhaps the most important position in all of sports.
Bill Battle wasn't looking for history.
The Tennessee coach just wanted talent, and he also needed a quarterback.
His recruiter in Huntsville, Ala., Ray Trail, had the perfect guy for the Vols, a versatile, absurdly athletic kid named Holloway.
Alabama and coach Paul "Bear" Bryant also were after Holloway and willing to sign the black player, but the Crimson Tide made clear there wouldn't be a spot for him at quarterback. Battle, the UT coaching staff and by extension the entire state of Tennessee had no problems opening up that position for Holloway to compete for, which ultimately produced a signature and paved the way for a legacy.
"We were looking for players," Battle said. "We were looking for talent, and we knew he could play. He wanted a chance to play quarterback, and that wasn't any problem for me. I didn't know (if he could play quarterback) because I hadn't seen him enough in high school. Ray Trail recruited him and was there in Huntsville for a while and did a great job getting close to the family and Condredge, and there was no doubt in Ray's mind he could play quarterback.
"But I hadn't seen enough of him to know."
It didn't take much of a glimpse of Holloway for Battle to figure out he could handle the load.
And the only thing that kept the Vols from moving up the date of Holloway's famous first start was the freshmen eligibility issue in place at the time.
"It didn't take but a week on campus before we figured out he could help us," Battle said. "We had a great defense in 1971, one of the best I've ever been around, but we were really struggling at the quarterback position.
'The Color Orange' addresses more than football
"We went through four quarterbacks. If freshmen had been eligible, I guarantee Condredge could have helped us as a freshman."
That chance would come soon enough, but even without any varsity action as a freshman, the buzz for Holloway was building.
Given the time period and continued racial tension, Holloway certainly faced his share of critics and opened some unsigned letters that weren't wishing him well.
Battle's secretary was around to intercept a few of those notes, but Holloway generally didn't need the shield. UT fans might have embraced the quarterback regardless of his skin color, but once they saw what he was capable of in a freshman game against Notre Dame, he had all the support and positive reinforcement he would need.
"He got so endeared to the Tennessee fans early, I think they protected that," longtime sports information director Bud Ford said. "There were a lot of people that stood up for that, and Tennessee fans were on his side. We were playing great football and winning games, and they were on his side.
"I don't recall any real (negative) instances, and the reason is because Condredge didn't talk about it. He didn't say a lot about what went on, and there were a few of them, but he didn't talk about it."
The conversation about him was soon focusing instead on his game-breaking ability to make defenders miss, extend plays with his feet, grit through pain and ensure that UT was well-stocked in tear-away jerseys for No. 7.
The racial aspect would continue to be a story when the Vols would go on the road and national writers flocked to Knoxville to feature Holloway, but what he did on the field at quarterback seemed to quickly take precedence over the fact that he was simply playing there in the first place.
"What was happening around the world and in our society, that was furthest from my mind when the ball was snapped," Holloway said. "I had no thoughts about it, no solutions, I didn't even think about it. At the time I was 18, and it was all football, all about execution, all about doing what we needed to do to win the game.
Great player, electrifying highlight tapes. Condredge Holloway, that was a hell of a player.
"There were quite a bit of bad letters. It happened, and that's just the way it was. I didn't think anything great about it or bad about or indifferent, it's just part of what went on and I dealt with it."
And it apparently didn't do much to hold him back on the way to 25 career victories and three bowl appearances.
No matter how many big plays he made with the Vols, games he won or touchdowns he threw, Holloway still couldn't get any traction with the NFL.
The New England Patriots wanted him as a defensive back, so Holloway again found a team willing to let him take the snaps and packed up for Canada.
But now, years after his career ended, the debate about his ability and how it would translate to the current game continues.
If color was the issue then, it's not now with guys like Michael Vick and Donovan McNabb having enjoyed plenty of success at the next level - often using the scrambling blueprint Holloway provided.
If it was a matter of his underwhelming size, Drew Brees has proved that height isn't always the best way to measure a passer.
"I would have loved to have seen Condredge Holloway play in modern football - shotgun, spread offense, similar to what you see every week," former Super Bowl-winning coach Jon Gruden said. "He would have been devastating running the read-options. He wasn't in an offense that accentuated the forward pass, either.
"Great player, electrifying highlight tapes. Condredge Holloway, that was a hell of a player."
More specifically, though, Holloway was a quarterback - and a productive one at that.
Officially he was the first of his kind, and if not a trendsetter at the time, one that at least cracked the door for others to follow. It might still not even be completely open yet, but when Auburn's Cam Newton picked up his Heisman in December, there was some evidence of how far the game has come since Holloway first put on his pads.
"Let's face it, just being honest, I still feel that African-Americans that are playing quarterback are still facing challenges, they're still facing stereotypes," ESPN college football analyst and former Ohio State quarterback Kirk Herbstreit said. "To think that Condredge was the first in the SEC, the most powerful conference year-in and year-out in college football, that's a great honor and something for him to be very proud of and for the university to be very proud of.
"But we still have a lot of work to do. I feel, just being candid, that people still have certain issues or challenges with their ability to be a quarterback. There's stereotypes about them being athletic, but not necessarily very cerebral. I think it's very unfair, and I think getting these stories out more and more are going to help break down those barriers."