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KANSAS CITY, Mo. Hall of Fame defensive lineman Curley Culp, who helped the Kansas City Chiefs win their first Super Bowl in 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 death of the five-fold All-Pro.
“The entire Pro Football Hall of Fame family mourns the passing of Curley Culp. He was a wonderful man with great integrity who respected the game of football and how it applied to everyday life,” said Hall of Fame President Jim Porter. “Curley’s humility and grace were always evident.”
Culp was considered one of the strongest players in the NFL during his career, though his position on the inside of the defensive line meant his play often went unnoticed. He was selected to participate in six Pro Bowls, and he finished second after Steelers cornerback Mel Blount for AP Defensive Player of the Year after the 1975 season.
It was not until long after his playing days – Culp retired in 1981 – that he was inducted into the Hall of Fame. But after his inauguration in 2013, Culp proudly wore the golden jacket from a Hall of Famer, apparently everywhere he went.
“Our team definitely lost a big one today,” Tennessee 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 deal with the Chiefs and was crucial to our success during the Luv Ya Blue days. He rightly got a spot on the Pro Football Hall of Fame and I was so lucky to spend some quality time with Curley and his wife Collette when we hosted the Oilers reunion last September.
“They also took two of their young grandchildren with them to that weekend, and Curley’s love for the two was very evident. He will forever be remembered as a fierce nose tackle as a player and a Hall of Fame gentleman off the field.”
Culp learned to use his speed and leverage while in Arizona State. He was an All-American in football for the Sun Devils and, who stood 6 feet and weighed about 265 pounds, won the heavyweight national wrestling championship.
The Denver Broncos selected Culp in the second round of the 1968 draft with the idea of making him an offensive guard. But when it became clear it would not work, they switched him to Chiefs, with Hank Stram putting him in the middle of a defensive line that would eventually take Kansas City all the way to the Super Bowl.
“I suppose I proved them wrong,” Culp told The Associated Press in a 2013 telephone interview. “A little fire plug, it’s me.”
Culp was part of a defense that included other Hall of Famers Emmitt Thomas, Willie Lanier, Bobby Bell and Buck Buchanan. And in the fourth Super Bowl, that group shut down the Vikings’ acclaimed running game with a 23-7 victory. Primarily a defensive tackle, Culp made the switch to nose tackle during the Super Bowl victory as the team successfully experimented with the 3-4 defense, which was relatively new to the NFL at the time.
“Curley represented the franchise with honor and respect both on and off the field,” Chiefs chairman Clark Hunt, whose father Lamar Hunt founded the team, said in a statement Saturday. “He was known as a fierce competitor and a discriminator who commanded a great deal of respect. His legacy will forever be remembered by the Chiefs Kingdom. Our prayers go out with his family at this time.”
Hall of Fame quarterback Len Dawson remembered Culp as “a huge athlete,” while Thomas called him “wear as hell.”
Culp was traded to the Oilers in 1974, and he undoubtedly had his best season next year, thriving in Bum Phillips’ 3-4 schedule. Culp was released by the Oilers during the 1980 season and was picked up by the Detroit Lions. He finished the 1980 season with the Lions before retiring after the 1981 season.
He often appeared at Chiefs matches in recent years, and he kept 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.
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.