Pro foot­ball’s first black quar­ter­back Bernie Custis dies

Cape Breton Post - - IN MEMORIAM -

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.

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