Culp Enshrined in Pro Football Hall of Fame
It’s not every day that a sign for the Yuma High Criminals can be seen at the Pro Football Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony.
But the unusual sighting is fitting, considering the unorthodox route former Criminal great Curley Culp took to become a member of the most elite group of football players in the world.
More than 30 years after playing his last NFL game, Culp officially was named to the Hall of Fame on Saturday evening in Canton, Ohio.
“This is an occasion that had long been in my dreams and now lives in reality,” said Culp, who spoke for just more than 10 minutes. “I can not express how glorious a feeling this is for me and my family, who have long hoped with me that this day would come.”
While he took the podium, an unseen fan held up a sign with the name and logo of the Yuma High Criminals, a school that the burly Culp was a standout for on the offensive and defensive line and won two state championships in wrestling in the 1960s.
“I have learned so much over my life at Yuma High School, Arizona State University, University of Houston and University of Texas,” said Culp, who was voted in by the Hall of Fame’s Senior Committee and currently resides in Austin, Texas, where he runs a transportation business. “I learned that education helps you believe and understand that there’s basic worth of every human being no matter what his or her viewpoint may be. I learned that football is not just sport, but a life lesson of what it means to be a team player.”
In his speech, which he got through without breaking because of emotion, he thanked many of his family members — including his wife, Collette, and his two sons, Chad and Christopher. Chad, who introduced his father, told a story he heard as a child during a promotional video for the Hall of Fame. He told a Paul Bunyan-esque tale that in his father’s playing days, an opponent went right at Culp, who forearmed his opponent in the helmet and cracked it, forcing him to the sideline. When the opponent came back, a new helmet on this time, Culp cracked that one, too.
“I’ve always been amazed with my father’s excellence in the sport,” Chad said. “Everything he’s always put his hands on, from football to his transportation business, everything he’s ever done, he’s been the best at it. He’s the best father I could ever ask for.”
Curley Culp spent time talking about growing up in Arizona with his parents, Frank and Octavia, both of whom passed away more than 20 years ago, Culp said. He talked about working his father’s pig farm and picking watermelons in California with his brothers before, with the support of his beloved and late parents, he made it to Arizona State. As a Sun Devil, Culp won the heavyweight Division I Wrestling National Championship in 1967. He credited the success to the values his parents gave him.
“In life, as in sports, we should play hard and clean and always do our best to succeed,” Culp said. “So being elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame has helped me to remember and appreciate the guidance, mentoring and deep faith in God to ensure that my path was one that would make all the people close to me proud. My parents gave me that faith and it has taken me a long way.”
Culp was drafted by the Broncos in 1968 before he was traded to Kansas City, where he played for more than six seasons and helped anchor a defense that boosted the Chiefs to a 23-7 win over the Minnesota Vikings in Super Bowl IV. Named to the Pro Bowl six times, Culp also spent time playing for the Houston Oilers and Detroit Lions before retiring in 1981. While with the Oilers and playing the nose tackle of the 3-4 defense under coach Bum Phillips, meaning three linemen — Culp in the middle — and four linebackers, the former Criminal was a part of one of the first teams to run that scheme.
“In order to play the 3-4 (defense) and have it be a great defense, the guy who’s sitting at the nose (tackle) has to be a man’s man,” ESPN’s Tom Jackson said during the network’s broadcast. “That guy has to dominate — not only the center, but the 2-guard, as well.
“Curley Culp, and I’m sure all his teammates would tell you, he was the engine that drove everything else that (they) did.”