Bernie Custis, a Pioneering Quarterback, Dies at 88


Bernie Custis in 1982 as a coach of the year in Canada.

Julien Lebourdais/The Canadian Press, via Associated Press

Bernie Custis, widely considered to be the first black quarterback in modern professional football, died on Thursday. He was 88.

The Hamilton Tiger-Cats, the team with which he made his pro debut in what became the Canadian Football League, announced his death but did not say where he had died or specify the cause.

Custis became a starter with the Tiger-Cats on Aug. 29, 1951. He had been a star quarterback with Syracuse University and was selected by the Cleveland Browns in the 1951 National Football League draft.

Told he would play safety with the Browns, he resisted the move and opted to sign with Hamilton. He started every game at quarterback in his first season. Fritz Pollard, a halfback who was black, took some N.F.L. snaps at quarterback in the 1920s.

Custis moved to running back the next season and in 1953 helped Hamilton win the Grey Cup championship game, 12-6 over Winnipeg. Custis finished his pro career…

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