May 21, 2018
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NFL's First African-American Official Dies

USF Legend of the Hilltop Burl Toler Passes Away at 81



(San Francisco) - Burl Toler, a member of the University of San Francisco's storied "Undefeated, Untied, Uninvited" 1951 football team, passed away Sunday, August 16 at Eden Hospital in Castro Valley, CA. He was 81.

Acknowledged as perhaps the best player on a team featuring four eventual NFL All-Pro selections and three who would later be enshrined in Canton, Toler suffered a career-ending knee injury in the 1952 College All-Star game against the Los Angeles Rams. In a strange twist of fate, Toler became a top NFL official and in a 25-year career worked multiple playoff games, including a pair of Super Bowls.

Toler earned his degree in science from USF in 1952 and added a Master's in 1966. Toler served his alma mater in a variety of capacities including a stint on the USF Board of Trustees (1987-96). Honored as USF's Alumnus of the Year in 1995, Toler worked for 17 years at Benjamin Franklin Middle School in San Francisco as a teacher and later served as the district's first African-American secondary school principal. The former Ben Franklin Middle School campus, now the home of two charter schools, was renamed in his honor on October 22, 2006.

Despite his physical gifts and strapping size, Toler never even played a down of prep football at Manassas High School in his native Memphis, but quickly emerged as a dominant force once recruited to the Bay Area. Toler earned two varsity letters at the University of San Francisco, beginning in 1950 after an outstanding career at City College of San Francisco. While at CCSF, Toler teamed with future Dons teammate and NFL Hall-of-Famer Ollie Matson to lead the school to the "Mythical" Junior College National Championship in 1948.

An exceptionally versatile two-way player, Toler was an anchor on the offensive line and a standout linebacker. Toler was an essential component of the Dons fabled 1951 "Unbeaten, Untied, Uninvited" team, which, despite a perfect 9-0 record and an average 33-8 margin of victory, was denied a bowl bid because it refused to leave its two African-American players - Matson and Toler - behind. Faced with mounting financial difficulty involved with funding big time football, the university dropped the program prior to the 1952 season.

A notoriously tight-knit group, the 1951 Football Team was honored for its unwavering commitment by the university, receiving honorary degrees of doctor of humane letters at the 2006 spring commencement. Although the Dons were denied a bowl berth, the entire team was recognized at the 2008 Fiesta Bowl at long last making an appearance in a bowl game.

Honored as a "Legend of the Hilltop" as one of the top 75 athletes in USF history at the institution's 150th anniversary in 2006, Toler became the third member of the 1951 Dons Football team inducted into the Bay Area Sports Hall of Fame in 2008, joining Matson and NFL Hall-of Famers Gino Marchetti and Bob St. Clair.

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

At the family's request, a scholarship will be established in memory of Burl Toler at the University of San Francisco. Please send donations to:

University of San Francisco
University Advancement - Attention: Ruby Wong
2130 Fulton Street
San Francisco, CA 94117-1080

Donations may also be sent to City College of San Francisco where a scholarship is established in the name of Toler's late wife, Melvia Toler.

50 Phelan Avenue
San Francisco, CA. 94112 
(415) 239-3000

Funeral Arrangements:
Tuesday, August 25 -
 Rosary, St. Ignatius Church (Fulton/Parker San Francisco) Viewing at 6:30 PM, followed by 7:30 PM Rosary.Wednesday, August 26 - Funeral Mass 10:00 AM, St. Ignatius Church (Fulton/Parker San Francisco) with reception to follow.

Condolences may be sent to:
Valerie Toler and Family
28832 Bailey Ranch Rd.

Hayward, CA 94542 

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