Saturday, January 08, 2005

Obituary: Rudy Custer - Class of 1931

Obituaries: Football
Rudy Custer, 92
Longtime aide did many jobs for Halas

by Don Pierson and Bill Jauss
Tribune Staff Reporters

The Navy assigned Rudy Custer to George Halas as an administrative assistant during World War II. Halas later wrote that Custer was so efficient, "I tagged him for postwar service to my Bears."

Custer, who died in Charleston, S.C., on New year's Eve at 92, never left the Bear's owner and coach, serving as business manager of the team for 38 years.

The title failed to cover the scope of Custer's duties.

"I also did advertising, public relations, travel arrangements, the stadium box office, credentials, halftime entertainment and personnel records. Just about everything but coaching and scouting," Custer told author Jeff Davis in a recently released biography of Halas, "Papa Bear."

Custer's primary contribution was to organize and oversee one of the first NFL television networks in 1949 when Halas feared TV exposure would diminish his gate.

Custer first sold a Monday highlights package to Standard Oil of Indiana, which sponsored the "Bears Quarterback Club" with host Red Grange. Later, Custer and Halas drew a 75-mile blackout area around Chicago and sold cable rights to games to the DuMont network.

In his autobiography, "Halas by Halas," the Papa Bear wrote: "Television's prime objective would undoubtedly be to flood the rich Chicago market with football telecasts, something I did not want. I delegated Rudy Custer to the task.

"Rudy worked hard and we finished with a loss of only $1,750. The quarterback show more than met loss. I told Rudy he had worked wonders but next year he would have to double them. He did."

Custer eventually sold rights to the Bears in the Deep South and West and was virtually running the DuMont operation.

"By the end, our network was the largest independent sports network in the country, at a profit of $153,000," Custer said.

Custer retired in 1984, the year after Halas died.

"Jim Finks was running the Bears then," former assistant coach Chuck Mather recalled. "When Rudy retired, Jim had to hire seven people to fill all the rolls he had filled for the Bears."

"Rudy was everything to the Bears," said Mather, Custer's longtime neighbor in Wilmette. There wasn't anything he couldn't do and didn't do."

But he loved his job.

"Dad was blessed to have a job he loved to pour himself into seven days a week," said his son Jim.

"When I was in high school, I hung around Soldier Field as a sort of gopher. It was hard to keep up with Dad. He stood only about 5 feet 3 inches, but he walked around like he was 8 feet tall."

Custer, was a native of Madison, Wis. and a graduate of the University of Wisconsin. He was working in advertising in Milwaukee when he entered the Navy and was an avid Packers fan.

He described Halas' offer to him in Davis' book, "He took me out to dinner at the end of his tour in '45. He handed me an envelope. It had $500 cash in it. I siad, 'George, you don't have to do this.' Halas replied, 'You don't know how much you've helped me. I'd like you to go to work for me.' Just like that! offered me $5,0000."

Custer said his boss in Milwaukee advised him to take it.

"Five thousand dollars felt like a million bucks to me," Custer said.

Besides his son, Custer is survived by a daughter, Terrie, and two grandchildren. His wife, Evie, died in 1991.

Originally published in the Chicago Tribune on January 8, 2005.

Note: Rudy Custer's graduation year is based on information in a June 5, 1931 article in the Wisconsin State Journal listing the Central High School graduates. He is listed as Rudof Presber Custer. Rudy Custer was the twin brother of Madison history chronicler Frank Custer, who was also a member of the Class of 1931.

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