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Curley Culp (born March 10, 1946 in Yuma, Arizonamarker) is a former professional American football player. A versatile offensive and defensive lineman, he played college football at Arizona State Universitymarker, and played professionally in the American Football League for the Kansas City Chiefs in 1968 and 1969, and for the National Football League Chiefs, Houston Oilers, and the Detroit Lions. He was an AFL All-Star in 1969 and a six-time AFC-NFC Pro Bowler.

College years

During his years at Arizona State, this future NFL stalwart honed his skills on the gridiron by becoming a master grappler on the mats -- winning the 1967 NCAA heavyweight wrestling title. His combination of compact bulk, amazing leverage "I got my strength carrying 50-gallon cans of feed on my dad's pig farm in Yuma," said Curley and quickness made him the prototype that all future nose tackles would be measured by. Pro defenses in the 1970s then began widespread use of the versatile 3-4 alignment, made possible by these powerful titans of the middle.

Culp was also an outstanding wrestler. In 1967 he dominated the NCAA tournament by pinning three of four opponents while capturing the heavyweight title. As a wrestler, he was known for his unstoppable lateral drop. Culp was also named to the 1968 U.S. Olympic wrestling team.

Due to his accomplishments both in football and wrestling, Culp was named the Greatest Athlete in the History of Arizona during the state's centennial celebration. He was named All-American in football by the Sporting News and TIME in 1967.

Professional career

Kansas City Chiefs

At 6'1" and 265 lbs, Culp was considered a bit too short for the defensive line and a bit too slow to play linebacker. He moved from Denver to Kansas City in search of a team that could properly utilize his unique talents. Culp's play as a nose tackle actually took root in Super Bowl IV. Chiefs coach Hank Stram, in an attempt to nullify the Minnesota Vikings' quick outside rushing attack, decided to line Culp directly nose-to-nose with Vikings center Mick Tingelhoff. The smaller Tingelhoff could not block Culp one-on-one and had to be helped by the other linemen. This freed teammates Buck Buchanan, Willie Lanier, and other Chiefs defenders to get into the Vikings offensive backfield and shut down their running game. This game is often credited as the advent of the 3-4 defense.

“Curly Culp was a tremendous athlete,” Pro Football Hall of Famemarker QB Len Dawson said. “He had such strength and quickness. I remember Jack Rudnay used to say that every center in the league should have to go against Curly in order to know what it’s like to go against the very best.”

Culp helped anchor the Kansas City defensive line during one of the greatest eras of Chiefs football. Heralded as one of the quickest defensive linemen in the league, Culp spent seven seasons in Kansas City (1968-1974). He was a starting defensive tackle on the Chiefs Super Bowl IV squad and appeared in 82 games with Kansas City. A member of the Chiefs 25-Year All-Time Team, Culp played in the 1969 AFL All-Star Game and the 1971 Pro Bowl. He was twice honored as the Associated Press Defensive Player of the Week and claimed the Chiefs unofficial sack crown in 1973 with 9 QB takedowns. Culp also registered five fumble recoveries in his Kansas City career.

Houston Oilers and Detroit Lions

When Culp got to Houston, Bum Phillips was the defensive coordinator for Sid Gillman at the time and had convinced the head coach to try a 3-4 defense, employing three down linemen and four linebackers, eschewing the standard 4-3 fronts of the day. The Oilers acquired Culp midway through the 1974 season for troubled DT John Matuszak. Culp had signed to play in the rival World Football League for 1975, so the Chiefs thought they were unloading a problem of their own. Culp outlived the new league and then some. It was one of the best trades in Oiler history.

Culp was so strong he required two and three players to block him, opening lanes for Elvin Bethea, Gregg Bingham and Ted Washington, Sr. (and soon Robert Brazile, the player Houston drafted with the first-round pick that came with Culp). Houston won seven of their remaining nine games after Curley came to Houston. As Phillips later said, "Curley made (the 3-4 defense) work. He made me look smart."

Culp's finest season came in 1975. He notched 11½ sacks, an unheard of total for a defensive tackle. He won All-Pro honors and was chosen NFL Defensive Player of the Year by the Newspaper Enterprise Association and as such received the George S. Halas Trophy.

The nose tackle position would become notorious for shortening careers. As linemen attacked Curley from every angle, injuries and age began to take their toll. Midway through the 1980 season, Culp was released and claimed by Detroit, where he stayed an additional season, closing out his 14-year NFL career.

So great was his impact that the Sporting News named Culp to the All-Century teams of both the Kansas City and Houston/Tennessee franchises. Or, more to the point, as voiced by Hall-Of-Famer center Jim Otto, "Curley Culp was perhaps the strongest man I ever lined up against."

Houston Highlight: In a September, 1975 game against the San Diego Chargers, Culp scooped up a Charger fumble and rumbled 38 yards. Even though teammate Elvin Bethea yelled that Curley was going the wrong way, he managed to find the right end zone for the only points of his NFL career. The score helped Houston beat San Diego, 33-17, and secured the Oilers' first 2-0 start since 1966. The team would finish the 1975 season 10-4.

Legacy

In January, 2008, he was voted by a panel of former NFL players and coaches to Pro Football Weekly 's All-Time 3-4 defensive team along with Harry Carson, Lawrence Taylor, Randy Gradishar, Howie Long, Lee Roy Selmon, and Andre Tippett.

In March 2008, Kansas City Chiefs Chairman Clark Hunt decided that former DT Curley Culp will be the 2008 inductee into the Chiefs Hall of Fame. The 38th member of this prestigious group, Culp will be enshrined into the Chiefs Hall of Fame at halftime of the Chiefs Alumni Game this fall. Culp played a total of 13 seasons in the AFL/NFL with Kansas City, Houston and Detroit and was selected to a total of six AFL All-Star Games or Pro Bowls.

See also




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