Sunday, June 1, 2014

Toler joins '51 Dons teammate in '55 customs

Until I watched the ESPN documentary '51 Dons, I had never heard of Burl Toler. He wasn't familiar from my football card collecting days of the 1950s-1960s . . . because he never had a football card.

Go back and review my blog post for May 30, when I presented by 1955-style All-American card of Ollie Matson, and you'll get a bit of background. For further reading, I recommend the obituary run in the N.Y. Times, .

Toler was a Memphis native who went to a segregated high school and never played prep football. He enrolled at City College of San Francisco where he was a teammate of future Hall of Famer Ollie Matson. In 1948 the CCSF Rams won the mythical junior college national championship; both Toler and Matson transferred to the University of San Francisco the next year.

The Dons were 7-3 in 1949, 7-4 in 1950 and 9-0 in 1951. Toler played on the offensive line but excelled on defense as a linebacker, not a position traditionally played by blacks in that era. Another Hall of Fame teammate, Gino Marchetti, said Toler was the "best tackler, the hardest hitter, and had the most speed" on a defense that held its 1951 opponents to an average of just eight points per game.

Eight of the 1951 USF Dons eventually played in the NFL, but not Burl Toler. He was drafted in the ninth round (#105 overall) of the 1952 NFL draft by the Cleveland Brown, but suffered a career-ending knee injury in the college all-star game against the L.A. Rams.

Toler worked for many years in the San Francisco school district as a teacher and, later, as the first black secondary school principal in the system.

He was also a well-respected sports official. In 1965 he became the first black official in any U.S. major professional team sport. He was named a head linesman in the NFL by commissioner Pete Rozelle. Rozelle knew Toler well. When the 1951 Dons were rolling up their 9-0 record, Rozelle was the school's athletic publicity director.

Toler officiated in the NFL on-field for 25 years, through the 1989 season, then joined the commissioner's office in a supervisory capacity. He was on the field in Cincinnati for the 1982 AFL Championship Game known as the Freezer Bowl for the -59 degrees wind chill conditions. In 1980, he became the first black official in the Super Bowl.

Toler died in 2009.

It seems appropriate that Burl Toler finally gets a football card.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Your comments, criticism, additional information, questions, etc., are welcome . . . as long as they are germane to the original topic. All comments are moderated before they are allowed to appear and spam comments are deleted before they ever appear. No "Anonymous User" comments are allowed.