Herb Trawick: CFL trailblazer

Herb Trawick: CFL trailblazer
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Herb Trawick was a real CFL trailblazer. The former Montreal Alouette was the first to break the colour barrier in the league. As February is black history month in Canada, this seemed like a good time to look back at his career.

Herb Trawick was born in Pittsburgh and played college football at Kentucky State where he was a three time All-American. After serving in the U.S. Army during World War II, Trawick came to Canadian Football in 1946. 

Trawick played 12 years in the CFL*, all with Montreal, from 1946 to 1957.   Trawick played guard and tackle, which at that time meant playing both sides of the line of scrimmage.

[It should be noted he played in the Pre-CFL days but is retropsectively regarded as the first African American CFL player].

Herb wasn’t the first choice.

If you know your CFL history you will have noted that Trawick was with the Als from their inception. They began play in the IRFU in 1946 & Herb was right there on the team.

He may have been the first African American to play for a CFL team, but he wasn’t actually the Als first choice.

Jackie Robinson started his baseball career in the minors with the Montreal Royals at this time. His popularity did not go unnoticed by those putting together a team in Montreal. GM Lew Hayman wanted to make an impact and initially attempted to sign Ohio State D-Lineman Bill Willis.

Willis may have accepted the offer but for the formation of the AAFC. That led to an offer to try out for the Browns, led by his former coach Paul Brown.

Willis chose the latter option, but not before recommending Trawick to the Als management.

Herb makes his mark

Compared to the behemoths that patrol the modern gridiron Herb Trawick doesn’t seem that large. He was 5 foot 10″ and weighed 230 lb. Quite a lightweight compared to the modern lineman.

However, Trawick would go on to be a multiple All-Star selection, Grey Cup winner and have a 12 year career with the team. Quite the iron-man too as in eight of those seasons he was a 60 minute player, appearing on offense, Defense and special teams.

His greatest moment came in the Als Grey Cup victory of 1949. The 8-4 Als upset the 13-1 Calgary Stampeders 28-15. The Stamps were defending Champs, and had gone into the game extremely confident.

That confidence came from being the second Western Division team to win the Grey Cup.

They did so on the back or a remarkable 14-0-1 season. The Stamps had gone 12-0 in the regular season. Their only ‘blemish’ came in a 4-4 tie with Saskatchewan in the first game of a two leg Western semi-final.

To this day the 1948 Stamps remain the only undefeated team in CFL history.

So to combine that with a 13-1 season the following year meant the Stamps were a remarkable 27-1-1 going into this game. Surely they would win? Trawick and the Als had other ideas.

On a muddy, icy field with the Larks leading 11-7 the Stamps had the ball. Trawick flattened Stamps QB Keith Spaith, knocked the ball loose and rumbled for a 35 yard touchdown.

Herb Trawick in action. Image from montrealalouettes.com

The Social Side

Herb was successful as the first African-American player to suit up in the CFL. But what about off the pitch?

He felt low-balled by the financial offers he received from the team, and had issues with the off-season work offers.

At this time if the team could find you a good off-season job it was an extra benefit. They found Herb a doorman position. He made good money as a ‘celebrity’ on the door at a popular local spot. It just didn’t reflect the fact he had a degree. There was no future. No real status.

Wrestling was another avenue he explored. There were business ventures that came and went before he made it.

Trawick is still well remembered in Montreal football and a park in the city has been named after him.

He became a Canadian citizen in 1953, four years before his final season.

The Awards

Herb Trawick was named an East All-Star on seven occasions. Taking those honours in five consecutive seasons from 1946-1950, and again in 1954 & 1955.

He appeared in 4 Grey Cup games with Montreal in 1949 & the 1954-6 seasons. He was part of the Als first Grey Cup win in 1949.

Trawick’s selection to the 1955 All-Star team made him the first player to be chosen for the Eastern team seven times.

Herb Trawick was popular with both the fans and his teammates as indicated by his being elected team captain in 1951.

Herb was elected to the Canadian Football Hall of Fame in 1975.

If you want to know more about this wider subject I recommend reading the book Gridiron Underground: The Journey of African-Americans in Canadian Football

Featured Image: Herb Trawick lineman with the Als. Image from cfl.ca

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