|Date of birth||September 23, 1928|
|Place of birth||Washington, DC|
|High school||John Bartram High School|
|1958||Tip Tops (Jr)|
|1959||East York Argonaught (Jr)|
|1960–63||Oakville Black Knights (Jr)|
|1964–72||Burlington Braves (Jr)|
|1955–56||Ottawa Rough Riders|
Bernie Custis is a former American and Canadian football player who went on to a distinguished coaching career. He is known for being the first black professional quarterback in the modern era and first in professional Canadian football, starting for the Hamilton Tiger-Cats in 1951.
Custis was born in Washington, DC, and graduated from John Bartram High School in Philadelphia in 1947. He excelled in track in high school.
College playing career
Custis was a star quarterback at Syracuse University in 1948, 1949 and 1950, setting numerous Syracuse records that would last for decades. Custis was recruited by Coach Reaves Baysinger, who was replaced by Ben Schwartzwalder after a 1–8 season. He played the first two seasons of the Coach Schwartzwalder's 25-year tenure at Syracuse. The team went 4–5 in 1949 and 5–5 in 1950.
Syracuse passing statistics
Professional playing career
National Football League
He was drafted in the eleventh round of the 1951 NFL draft by the Cleveland Browns, but did not play in the NFL. At that time, there was a "gentlemen's agreement" that limited the number of black players and there had never been a black quarterback in professional football. The Browns told Custis that he could play safety, but he resisted. They then offered to release him, but only if he did not play for another NFL team.
Custis chose to sign with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats in the Interprovincial Rugby Football Union (IRFU), a league that would become the Canadian Football League Eastern Division in 1958. Custis played prior to the actual formation of the CFL.
Custis started at quarterback for Hamilton in 1951, becoming the first black player to play quarterback in Canadian professional football. He started every game for Hamilton in 1951, in both the regular season and playoffs, which finished with a 7–5 record. They won their first-round playoff game 24–7 over Toronto in Toronto. They lost in the Eastern finals to Ottawa 9 to 11 in front of a sell-out crowd of over 17,000 at Hamilton Civic Stadium. Custis was named to the IRFU All Star team as a quarterback in 1951.
Despite being an All-Star at quarterback, he was switched to running back in 1952, where he was also a successful player. The 1952 Tiger-Cats had an outstanding regular season, finishing 9–2–1, but lost in the playoff finals to Toronto 7–12.
Custis finished his professional career with the Ottawa Rough Riders, playing running back in 1955 and 1956.
After the end of his professional career, he stayed in Canada and began a career as a teacher and elementary school principal. At the same time, he coached junior level football, most notably with Oakville Black Knights and Burlington Braves of the Canadian Junior Football League (CJFL). At Burlington, he coached future Canadian Football Hall of Fame player Tony Gabriel.
From 1973 to 1980, he served as a Head Coach at Sheridan College. During his tenure, his record was 86–14, winning six consecutive Eastern College Championships from 1973–78.
In 1981, he accepted the head coach position at McMaster University. In his second year with the Marauders, he improved the team's standing from seventh to first place. Over eight seasons he led the Marauders to a 31–23–1 record. He was named the OUAA Coach of the Year in 1982 and 1984 and was named CIAU Coach of the Year in 1982. He was inducted into the McMaster Athletic Hall of Fame in 2000.
In 1994 he was inducted into the Canadian Football Hall of Fame as a "builder" for his contributions to junior and college football in Canada.
Highlights and honors
As a player
- IRFU (Canadian League) All Star 1951 as Quarterback
- IRFU (Canadian League) All Star 1954 as Running Back
- 1953 Grey Cup Winners (Canadian Football Championship)
- Syracuse University Athletic Hall of Fame (1977 Inductee)
As a coach
- All-Star Coach 1975, 1977, 1978
- OUAA Coach of the Year 1982, 1983, 1984, 1985
- CIAU Coach of the Year (Frank Tindall Trophy) 1982
- Canadian Football Hall of Fame (1998 Inductee)
- McMaster University Hall of Fame (2000 Inductee)
- List of Grey Cup champions
- A Star is born: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pn7hvFlmb_c
- 2013 Hamilton Sports Hall of Fame Inductee: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ODsJgaGu0AI
- Note: Fritz Pollard is credited by some as being the first African-American quarterback in pro football. In 1923 Pollard took several direct snaps from the center in an NFL game for the Hammond Pros.
- John Bartram High School
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- "Archived copy". Archived from the original on August 26, 2011. Retrieved 2011-08-28.
- "Hall of Fame Sheridan College Institute of Technology and Advanced Learning, Oakville, Brampton, Mississauga". Sheridancollege.ca. Retrieved 2011-08-28.
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- "Canadian Football Hall of Fame and Museum". Bernie Curtis. Archived from the original on August 26, 2011.
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