He recalls the shouting for Unitas – and shouting at Shula
A scarred Colts helmet. A Super Bowl jersey. A football autographed by the 1970 NFL champions. These are the treasures in Bill Curry’s office.
“Once in a while, I walk in, and look at them, and smile,” said Curry, a Colt from 1967 to 1972. “The best days of my life, in football, were in Baltimore. But my biggest keepsake from my Colts days isn’t an item. It’s the sensation of standing in the end zone in Memorial Stadium, before a game, with all of those Dundalk guys up there [in the stands] going crazy in the world’s largest outdoor insane asylum. “The first guy who’s introduced is the center, so I’m pawing the dirt, and guys are holding me by the shirt, and the announcer says, ‘And now the offensive unit for the Baltimore Colts — from Georgia Tech, No. 50, Bill Curry,’ and I run out to midfield, and he goes through the rest of the offense until there are 10 of us in the huddle. And that’s nice, but what happens next? He says, ‘From the University of Louisville, No. 19 ...’ and that’s the last thing you hear because the decibel level is louder than a jet plane. And when that sonofagun [quarterback Johnny Unitas] runs out and sticks his head in the huddle, well, the game is over. The other team doesn’t know it, but it’s over.
“We’re a bunch of grown men out there with tears in our eyes. You’d think it was high school stuff, but that’s the greatest feeling in football that I ever had. And it happened week after week, and year after year. What an amazing time to be in Baltimore; I’d do it again in a heartbeat.”
For Curry, 73, those six years with the Colts trump all other achievements, from winning Super Bowl I with the Green Bay Packers to running the NFL Players Association, to coaching at Alabama, Georgia Tech, Kentucky and Georgia State. Not a bad resume for someone who was the next-to-last selection (279th) in the 1965 NFL draft.
“That’s when Packers coach Vince Lom- Bill Curry bardi turned to his staff and said, ‘We’ve drafted 19 players and it’s 2 a.m. and I’m going to bed. Do something humorous with the 20th selection,’ ” Curry said.
Two years later, he was selected by the New Orleans Saints in the expansion draft and then sent to the Colts in a trade for quarterback Gary Cuozzo.
Playing for coach Don Shula “meant everything to me,” Curry said, despite their rocky start.
“In my first game in 1967, against Atlanta on national TV, I clipped a guy and we had an 80-yard punt return called back. Shula flipped out, ran onto the field, grabbed me by the shoulders and cussed me out. So I shouted back at him in the same language.
“Well, before practice Tuesday morning, I’m thinking, my one-game Colts career is through. I found Shula and said, ‘Coach, I apologize. I didn’t think I clipped, and you came out there, and I lost it.’
“He kind of smiled and said, ‘I kind of liked that. Just don’t clip the guy.’ ”
Half a century later, Shula’s response still resonates with Curry:
“Do you wonder why we played hard for that man?”
A linebacker that season, Curry later moved to center and anchored the line of the Colts’ two Super Bowl teams (1968 and 1970). Twice named to the Pro Bowl, he was dealt to the Houston Oilers in 1973 — one of 26 Colts cast off in the purge of veterans by general manager Joe Thomas. Curry had been among Thomas’ fiercest critics after the firing of coach Don McCafferty and the benching of Unitas.
“If I had my life to live over, I’d keep my mouth shut most of the time,” he said. “I couldn’t have played any harder. That’s my single redeeming virtue.”
Nowadays, Curry speaks at leadership seminars and lives in Atlanta with his wife, Carolyn. Married 53 years, they have two children and seven grandchildren “who see me as a large toy, like a beanbag,” he said.
“All of those highly touted things, like the Super Bowl, are overrated except for one thing — grandparenthood. The most wonderful part of life is when they hand your baby’s baby to you. Then you want to go about fixing the world for them.”
Center Bill Curry, right, with linebacker Dennis Gaubatz in 1967. Curry called his days with the Colts “an amazing time to be in Baltimore; I’d do it again in a heartbeat.”