KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Curley Culp, the Hall of Fame defensive lineman who helped the Kansas City Chiefs win their first Super Bowl during a 14-year NFL career, died Saturday of complications from pancreatic cancer. He was 75.

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Culp announced this month that he had been diagnosed with stage 4 cancer. His wife, Collette Bloom Culp, announced “on behalf of our family and with a broken heart” the five-time All-Pro’s death.

“The entire Pro Football Hall of Fame family mourns the passing of Curley Culp. He was a wonderful man of great integrity who respected the game of football and how it applied to everyday life,” Hall of Fame President Jim Porter said. “Curley’s humility and grace were always apparent.”

Culp was considered one of the strongest players in the NFL during his playing career, though his position on the interior of the defensive line meant his play often went unnoticed. He was chosen to participate in six Pro Bowls, and he was second to Steelers cornerback Mel Blount for AP Defensive Player of the Year after the 1975 season.

Kansas City Chiefs defensive tackle Curley Culp (61) takes part in Super Bowl IV against the Minnesota Vikings.
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@CurleyCulp

It wasn’t until long after his playing days — Culp retired in 1981 — that he was finally inducted into the Hall of Fame. But after his enshrinement in 2013, Culp proudly wore the golden jacket of a Hall of Famer seemingly everywhere he went.

“Our team certainly lost a great one today,” Titans controlling owner Amy Adams Strunk said in a statement. “Curley was a game changer for our defense when he came to us in the trade with the Chiefs and was pivotal to our success during the Luv Ya Blue days. He rightfully earned a place in the Pro Football Hall of Fame and I was fortunate to spend some quality time with Curley and his wife Collette when we hosted the Oilers reunion this past September.

“They also brought two of their young grandchildren for that weekend and Curley’s love for those two was very obvious. He will forever be remembered as a ferocious nose tackle as a player and a Hall of Fame gentleman off the field.”

Culp learned to use his speed and leverage while at Arizona State. He was an All-American in football for the Sun Devils and, standing 6 feet and weighing about 265 pounds, won the heavyweight national championship in wrestling.

The Denver Broncos selected Culp in the second round of the 1965 draft with the idea of turning him into an offensive guard. But when it became clear that wasn’t going to work, they traded him to the Chiefs, where Hank Stram plugged him into the middle of a defensive line that ultimately would take Kansas City all the way to the Super Bowl.

“I guess I proved them wrong,” Culp told The Associated Press in a 2013 phone interview. “A little fireplug, that’s me.”

lete,” while Thomas called him “ornery as hell.”

Culp was traded to the Oilers in 1974, and he had arguably his best season the following year. He remained in Houston through the 1980 season, and then spent one season in Detroit before announcing his retirement.

He would often show up for Chiefs games in later years, and he stayed in touch with many of his old teammates. He was inducted into the team’s Hall of Fame in 2008, less than two years after Lamar Hunt’s death.

Curley Culp

Curley Culp
refer to caption
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Culp playing with the Chiefs in Super Bowl IV
No. 61, 78, 77
Position: Defensive tackle
Personal information
Born: March 10, 1946
Yuma, Arizona
Died: November 27, 2021 (aged 75)
Height: 6 ft 1 in (1.85 m)
Weight: 265 lb (120 kg)
Career information
High school: Yuma (AZ)
College: Arizona State
NFL Draft: 1968 / Round: 2 / Pick: 31
Career history
 * Offseason and/or practice squad member only
Career highlights and awards
Career NFL statistics
Forced fumbles: 14
Fumble recoveries: 10
Player stats at NFL.com · PFR
Culp (right) stopping a Vikings running play during Super Bowl IV

Curley Culp (March 10, 1946 – November 27, 2021) was a professional American football player. An offensive and defensive lineman, he played college football at Arizona State University, was the NCAA heavyweight wrestling champion while at ASU, and played professionally in the American Football League for the Kansas City Chiefs in 1968 and 1969, and in the National Football League for the Chiefs, Houston Oilers, and Detroit Lions. He was an AFL All-Star in 1969 and a six-time AFCNFC Pro Bowler.

Early life and education

Curley Culp grew up in Yuma, Arizona, the youngest of 13 children including a twin sister, Shirley. At Yuma Union High School he was a standout first in football and then in wrestling, winning state high school titles as a heavyweight in 1963 and 1964. He was recruited to Arizona State University to play both sports.

Collegiate career

Wrestling

At Arizona State, Culp amassed a 84-11-1 record, three Western Athletic Conference championships, and was the 1967 NCAA heavyweight champion, winning the Gorriaran Award for scoring the most falls at the Division I championships.

Football

Under legendary Arizona State football coach Frank Kush, Culp played nose guard, including on the 1967 team that allowed opponents an average of only 79.8 yards per game. He won All-America honors in football as well as wrestling.

Professional career

Kansas City Chiefs

The Denver Broncos drafted Culp in the second round of the 1968 NFL Draft, but considered him too small for the defensive line at 6’1″ and 265 lbs. After trying him at guard, they dealt him during training camp to the Kansas City Chiefs in exchange for a fourth-round draft pick (Mike Schnitker). He played for Kansas City for seven seasons, appearing in 82 games, achieving nine sacks in 1973 with nine QB takedowns, and also recovering five fumbles during his career with the team.

Culp’s role as a nose tackle in the pros actually took root in Super Bowl IV, where he was a starting defensive tackle. 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. The effectiveness of the Chiefs’ defensive game plan helped continue the growing popularity of the 3-4 scheme in the 1970s from the college to pro ranks.

Houston Oilers

When Culp arrived in Houston, Bum Phillips was the defensive coordinator for Sid Gillman. He 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. In basically an exchange of defensive tackles who had threatened to jump to the World Football League, the Oilers acquired Culp and a first-round draft choice in 1975 from the Chiefs for John Matuszak on October 22, 1974. Both Culp and Matuszak had signed contracts with the Southern California Sun and Shreveport Steamer respectively. It became known as one of the most lopsided trades in NFL history,  made worse for the Chiefs when the Oilers selected Robert Brazile with the draft pick.

Culp was so strong he required two and three players to block him, opening lanes for Elvin Bethea, Gregg Bingham, Ted Washington, Sr. and later Brazile. 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.”

As a nose tackle, injuries and age began to take their toll. Midway through the 1980 season, Culp was released and was claimed by Detroit, where he stayed an additional season before 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.  Hall-Of-Famer center Jim Otto of the Raiders called him “perhaps the strongest man I ever lined up against”.

Legacy

Culp is regarded as the NFL’s greatest nose tackle. He played a total of 13 seasons in the AFL/NFL, and was selected to a total of six AFL All-Star Games or Pro Bowls. He was twice honored as the Associated Press Defensive Player of the Week.  In 1975, 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.

He was inducted into the Arizona State University Sports Hall of Fame at its inception in 1975, and was named Greatest Athlete in the history of Arizona during the state’s centennial in 2006.

Culp is a member of the Kansas City Chiefs 25-Year All-Time Team,  and in March 2008 was inducted into the Chiefs Hall of Fame.

On August 3, 2013, he was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Death

Culp announced on November 16, 2021, that he had been diagnosed with Stage IV pancreatic cancer He died eleven days later at the age of 75.