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.
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.
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.
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“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.”
Culp was part of a defense that included fellow Hall of Famers Emmett Thomas, Willie Lanier, Bobby Bell and Buck Buchanan. And in the fourth Super Bowl, that group shut down the Vikings’ vaunted run game in a 23-7 victory.
“Curley was a dominating force on the defensive line for the Super Bowl IV championship team,” Chiefs Chairman Clark Hunt, whose late father Lamar Hunt founded the team, once told AP. “One of many great players that helped build the tradition and foundation of the Kansas City Chiefs.”
Hall of Fame quarterback Len Dawson recalled Culp as “a tremendous athlete,” 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.
Funeral arrangements were not immediately available.