KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — When he hears the name Curley Culp, the first thing that Chiefs defensive backs coach Emmitt Thomas does is smile. Then he shakes and head and says, “He was an ornery feller.”
Thomas and Culp were stalwarts on the Kansas City defense from 1968-74, helping the franchise win its only Super Bowl. Thomas played so well in the backfield that he’d eventually land in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, while Culp revolutionized the defensive tackle position.
Now, Culp’s about to join his old friend in Canton.
He was announced as a senior nominee last August, and in February was selected as one of seven inductees into this year’s class. He may not have the same name-recognition as Warren Sapp or Bill Parcells, but he’ll be no less proud when he’s enshrined on Saturday night.
“Very excited, very pleased and very humbled that I’ll be part of the next group coming in,” Culp said in a phone interview with The Associated Press. “It’s an exciting time, people calling, wanting to write a story. Friends and people you meet over the years calling and congratulating.
“It’s been great,” Culp added, “to enjoy the ride.”
After all, his career was quite a ride.
An amateur wrestler with a national reputation, Culp learned about speed and leverage during his time at Arizona State. He was drafted by the Denver Broncos of Lou Saban, but was ultimately shipped to the Chiefs after a failed attempt to transition from the defensive line to offensive guard.
The problem was that Culp was just over 6 feet and weighed about 265 pounds, which even in those days was considered too small to play defensive tackle. But when he arrived in Kansas City, where there was a pressing need to plug the middle of the line, Hall of Fame coach Hank Stram decided to tailor the defense to his new addition and lined Culp up against opposing centers.
Culp wound up playing in five Pro Bowls over 14 seasons.
“I guess I proved them wrong,” he said with a chuckle. “A little fireplug, that’s me.”
Culp was able to occupy offensive lineman so successfully that it freed up a cadre of future Hall of Famers to become stars in their own right: Thomas at cornerback, Willie Lanier and Bobby Bell at linebacker, and Buck Buchanan at the other defensive tackle position.
There was perhaps no better example of Culp’s value than in the fourth Super Bowl, when the Chiefs took on heavily favored Minnesota. Culp lined up against Vikings center Mick Tingelhoff in their 3-4 defense, helping to shut down one of the NFL’s best running attacks.
“Curley was a dominating force on the defensive line for the Super Bowl IV championship team,” said Chiefs chairman Clark Hunt, whose late father Lamar Hunt founded the team, “and one of many great players that helped build the tradition and foundation of the Kansas City Chiefs.”
Hall of Fame quarterback Len Dawson, who along with running back Mike Garrett and wide receiver Otis Taylor stole most of the headlines in those days, recalled Culp as “a tremendous athlete” who made his mark with impressive strength and quickness.
“And ornery as hell,” added Thomas, who like Culp made it into the Hall of Fame as a senior nominee. “He did it with his strength and quickness, but part of that was from his wrestling, and we were fortunate with those guys to have some very intelligent guys on defense.
“When we lost him to Houston,” Thomas said, “it really dismantled our defense.”
Culp was traded to the Oilers in 1974, where he helped shore up a defense that struggled mightily before his arrival. Several organizations voted him the defensive player of the year for his memorable 1975 season, and he wound up staying with Houston through the 1980 season.
He played one year for the Detroit Lions before retiring.
Culp will be enshrined along with Sapp and Parcells as part of a Hall of Fame class that also includes Larry Allen, Cris Carter, Jonathan Ogden and Dave Robinson.
“I had an opportunity to play 14 years, but the Super Bowl stands out,” Culp said. “The opportunity to play with a veteran team — me and Jim Marsalis were the youngest on the team — it’s gratifying to be there and get that leadership and that direction. Lot of history there.”
Culp may have finished his career in Detroit, and spent some of his best years in Houston, but he still has a place in his heart for the members of those ‘69 Chiefs. He stays in touch with several of his old teammates and remains fond of the Hunt family.
He was inducted into the team’s Hall of Fame in 2008, less than two years after Lamar Hunt’s death, and is now heading into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
“I’ve talked to Bobby Bell quite a bit. Emmitt congratulated me, Jan Stenerud, a couple other gentlemen,” Culp said. “Everybody is happy and pleased that I’ll be among the other Chiefs.”