Pioneering black QB dies quietly in Canada

Berne Custis was the first black quarterback to start in pro football and major college football but few remember his name.

The Talk of Fame Network is about many things, but one of the most important is honoring the history of the game and putting the modern game in its historic place. That’s why we hope our readers and listeners take a few minutes to read Steve Simmons’ moving column on the death of Bernie Custis.

So, who in the heck was Bernie Custis you ask? He was a pioneer.

He was the first black quarterback to start at a major university. He was the first to start at quarterback in professional football when he was sent to the Hamilton Tiger-Cats of the Canadian Football League by Paul Brown. Brown felt America was not ready for a black backup to Otto Graham but knew Custis was too talented to release him to another NFL team.

So he sent him to Canada.

Custis passed away this week at 88, a quiet man who was a trailblazer. He opened the door to black quarterbacks in the CFL, and it was there that players Warren Moon went to learn his trade before returning to the NFL to forge a Hall-of-Fame career of his own.

Bernie Custis never raised a ruckus about the racism that cost him his chance in the NFL, and he never looked for special recognition as the first black starting quarterback in professional football in 1951 in Canada. In fact, when his old college roommate at Syracuse, a guy named Al Davis, kept offering him jobs with the Oakland Raiders he turned them all down to stay in his adopted country, a place where he found both opportunity and a life free of the bigotry that stained American life.

To get the full story on this trailblazing man, click on this link to read Simmons’ full column from the Toronto Sun. It’s worth a few minutes of your time.