Football pioneer Bernie Custis passes away at age 88

Hamilton Tiger-Cats legend and football pioneer Bernie Custis has passed away. He was 88.

Custis became the first African-American quarterback to earn the job of regular starter for a professional football team – not just in Canada, but anywhere in North America – when he took over command of the Ticats on Aug. 29, 1951.

A star quarterback at Syracuse University, Custis was drafted sixth overall by the Cleveland Browns in 1951 but was not given the chance to compete at the position by head coach and owner Paul Brown. Reluctant to trade him to another NFL team, Brown gave Custis the choice of CFL teams and dealt him to the Tiger-Cats.

An all-star his first season with Hamilton, Custis was moved to halfback by head coach Carl Voyles where he played three more seasons, winning the 1953 Grey Cup, before being dealt to the Ottawa Roughriders where he finished his playing career.

Custis returned to the Hamilton area and began a long career as an educator and was head coach of the McMaster Marauders from 1981 to 1988 while also winning a number of junior football championships.

He was inducted into the Canadian Football Hall of Fame as a builder in 1994.

Must Read