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Remembering Curley Culp

Remembering Curley Culp

12/04/2021
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Editor’s note: Curley Culp’s kind and giving spirit touched many people during in his life, which will be celebrated today in funeral services in Pearland, Texas.
 
One such encounter came with Kristi York and her family. When Curley made the public announcement of his cancer diagnosis, Kristi contacted the Pro Football Hall of Fame and inquired about contributing an article expressing her family’s appreciation of him as a way to honor his legacy. Here are her words.
 
 
By Kristi York
Special to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
 

At age six, my son Evan was already a mini football historian. He was captivated by past Super Bowl highlights and liked to study old trading cards. So, in February 2013, when it was announced that Curley Culp — card number 82 in his NFL “Super Bowl Supermen” set — would be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, Evan was overjoyed.

Six weeks later, our family travelled from Canada to Canton for a short vacation. By random chance, we visited the Hall of Fame on the exact same day as Curley and his wife, Collette. As fate would have it, our paths would cross in the Gallery. The long version of this encounter can be found in this blog post from the Haggar Gold Jacket Report. The short version is: after recognizing one of his NFL heroes, Evan began summarizing Curley’s statistics, teammates and accomplishments. For a brief moment, Curley and Collette were completely mystified. Was this really happening? Why would a six-year-old know about a nose tackle whose playing career ended three decades earlier?

As we chatted and explained Evan’s love for the game, Curley and Collette were gracious and friendly. They were both genuinely excited about Curley’s election to the Hall of Fame, noting that the Senior Class was a wonderful category to give past players an opportunity to be recognized for their contributions.

Weeks later, we received a large package in the mail, with an invitation from Curley and Collette to attend the Enshrinement Weekend in August as part of Curley’s contingent of family and friends. Surprised, honored and deeply touched by their generosity, we accepted.

The Enshrinement Weekend (which coincided with the Hall’s 50th anniversary) was simply unforgettable. Evan was introduced to other Hall of Famers (and greeted legendary Chiefs linebacker Willie Lanier with one of his nicknames, “Honey Bear”). He did a live TV interview on NFL Network and visited with Rich Eisen on set. He sat on the 50-yard line with the Culp family at Sunday’s Hall of Fame Game, dressed in a kid-sized Kansas City Chiefs uniform and helmet. 

Truth be told, it wasn't always easy for Evan to be the only kid in kindergarten who cared about NFL football. His teachers and classmates looked at him blankly as he eagerly recited scores and statistics of years past. Instead of printing his own name, he would bring home pieces of paper with “Curley Culp” and “Elvin Bethea” written in crayon. There aren’t many children in Canada who would be familiar with the Houston Oilers, let alone two of their top defensive players from the 1970s.

For Evan, attending the Enshrinement Weekend was like seeing his football cards come to life. Instead of being bewildered by his endless NFL chatter, people welcomed his comments and wanted to interact with him. Curley’s gift gave him a weekend where everyone around him shared his passion for football and its history.

Curley’s soft-spoken and humble demeanor made him the perfect role model for Evan. In a Hall of Fame class that featured outgoing personalities like Warren Sapp and Cris Carter, Curley was content to be in the background, quietly and respectfully enjoying the moment. By taking an interest in a young fan and encouraging him to embrace the game, Curley exemplified what it means to be a Hall of Famer.

We have stayed in touch with the Culps since 2013, mailing them a Christmas card and photos every year. Curley added to Evan’s football card collection by sending him some special edition Hall of Fame cards. In early 2020, the two of them e-mailed back and forth during Super Bowl week, while Curley and Collette were in Miami to support the Kansas City Chiefs.

Today, Evan is a high school student and dedicated baseball athlete. The photos of him with Curley are prominently displayed in his bedroom, along with a commemorative helmet that Curley signed for him. We are all grieving the loss of a phenomenal football player and a true gentleman. Curley’s legacy will live forever in our hearts, and in the Gallery of bronzed busts where he and Evan first met.

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