Pro football’s first black quarterback Bernie Custis dies
Bernie Custis, pro football’s first black quarterback who blazed the trail for future stars like Warren Moon, Chuck Ealey and Damon Allen, has died. He was 88.
Custis made pro football history Aug. 29, 1951, when he became a starter with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats, who confirmed his death Thursday.
He starred at quarterback with Syracuse University and was selected sixth overall by the Cleveland Browns in the 1951 NFL draft.
But the former college roommate of Al Davis — the late Oakland Raiders coach and owner — was told he’d play safety with the club, a move he resisted.
The native of Washington, D.C., opted to sign with Hamilton instead, starting every game under centre in his first season in the Interprovincial Rugby Football Union, one of the leagues that would later form the CFL.
Custis moved to running back the following season and in 1953 helped Hamilton win the Grey Cup game, downing Winnipeg 12-6.
Custis finished his pro career with the Ottawa Rough Riders, playing running back in 195556.
After a brilliant career at Washington, Moon was undrafted by the NFL and headed to Edmonton for the chance to play quarterback professionally. After leading the Eskimos to five straight Grey Cup titles (1979-83), he went on to star for several teams in the NFL. He is a member of both the Canadian Football and Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Despite leading Toledo on a 35-game win streak in his three years as the starter, Ealey was bypassed by NFL teams and headed to Hamilton to play professionally in 1972. He became the Ticats’ starter later that year and was named the league’s top rookie.
Ealey capped his memorable first CFL season leading Hamilton to a 13-10 Grey Cup win over Saskatchewan at Ivor Wynne Stadium. He went on to play for Winnipeg and Toronto in the CFL before retiring after the ‘78 season.
Allen came to the CFL following his collegiate career at Cal State Fullerton, joining the Eskimos in 1985. Allen played for six teams over an illustrious 23year career, winning four Grey Cups.