First Black NFL Official Dies At 81

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Obit Toler Football

Burl Toler, the first African-American official in NFL history who went on to work one Super Bowl in a distinguished career, has died. He was 81.

The University of San Francisco says Toler died Sunday at a hospital in Castro Valley. Toler was a star player on the Dons famous “Undefeated, Untied, Uninvited” 1951 football team that was denied a bowl bid despite a 9-0 record because it refused to leave its two black players — Toler and Ollie Matson — behind.

After suffering a career-ending knee injury in a 1952 college All-Star game, Toler turned to officiating and was hired by the NFL in 1965. He became the first black official in major American team sports.

He spent 25 years as a field judge and head linesman in the NFL. He was head linesman for Pittsburgh’s 31-19 Super Bowl win over the Los Angeles Rams in 1980.

“Burl Toler was a pioneer as the first African-American game official in pro sports,” NFL spokesman Greg Aiello said. “He was a great athlete who then became a great official. The NFL will always be proud of his contributions to football and his unique place in NFL history.”

Toler was one of four members of the 1951 Dons Football team inducted into the Bay Area Sports Hall of Fame, joining NFL Hall of Famers Matson, Gino Marchetti and Bob St. Clair.

Toler’s son, Burl Toler Jr., and his grandson, Burl Toler III, played college football for the California Golden Bears. Burl Toler III also has spent time on the practice squads for the Oakland Raiders and Washington Redskins.

Toler is survived by his brother Arnold of Memphis and six children — Valerie, Burl Jr., Susan, Gregory, Martel and Jennifer — along with eight grandchildren.

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