Curley Culp, NCAA heavyweight wrestling champ and defensive tackle for Arizona State in the 1960s, is among the NFL stars selected for enshrinement into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio, the Hall's Selection Committee announced Saturday.
Culp, 66, will be a member of the Class of 2013, joining fellow honorees Larry Allen, Cris Carter, Bill Parcells, Jonathan Ogden, Dave Robinson, and Warren Sapp who will be inducted in to the Hall for its 50th anniversary celebration Aug. 6 in Canton.
Culp's professional football career spanned the 1960s, 70s and 80s, playing for the Kansas City Chiefs (1968-74), Houston Oilers (1974-80), and Detroit Lions (1980-81). Among his NFL career highlights: a six-time Pro Bowl selection, 1975 Defensive Player of the Year, and a participant in Super Bowl IV.
Prior to being a second-round pick in the NFL draft in 1968, Culp made a name for himself on the gridiron and as a grappler in Arizona, first at Yuma High School, then at Arizona State.
At Yuma High, Culp was a man among boys, having already grown to 6'1", 260 pounds. He won back-to-back heavyweight titles at the 1963 and 1964 Arizona high school state wrestling championships. In a 1999 interview with the Arizona Republic, Culp said, "I was probably a better high school wrestler than football player, but what I am most remembered for is football.”
Culp chose Arizona State because the school allowed him to continue to compete in both football and wrestling. Known for his physical toughness in both sports, legend has it that he was so strong, the defensive lineman broke the helmets of three Sun Devil teammates during football practice. Yet, by contrast, as a senior, Culp was voted "Boy With The Best Smile" in 1967.
As a wrestler, Culp was a three-time WAC (Western Athletic Conference) champ, and a two-time qualifier for the NCAAs. As a junior, he got knocked out of title contention by Iowa State's Steve Shippos in the quarterfinals of the 1966 NCAAs. The following year, at the 1967 NCAAs at Kent State University (located only a few miles from Canton Hall of Fame), Culp concluded a perfect 19-0 season by pinning three of his four opponents, including finals rival Nick Carollo of Adams State in just 51 seconds to become Arizona State's first NCAA champ. At the 1967 NCAAs, Culp also pinned down the Gorriaran Award, presented to the wrestler who racked up the most falls in the least amount of time.
On the football field and wrestling mat, Culp was an impressive physical specimen. Houston Oilers’ Greg Sampson described his former teammate this way in a 2010 interview: "Curley Culp was a block of granite. He held the field in the middle all across the center. He was a nose guard that they build defenses around. Very agile. Very strong."
In the years since retiring from sports, Curley Culp has been honored a number of ways. He was named the No. 3 athlete in Sports Illustrated magazine’s “50 Greatest Sports Figures” of Arizona list in 1999, and No. 6 in The Arizona Republic’s “Athletes of the Century” list that same year. In addition, Culp has been welcomed into a number of Halls of Fame, including the Arizona State University Sports Hall of Fame, the Arizona High School Hall of Fame, the National High School Sports Hall of Fame, the Arizona Wrestling Hall of Fame, and the Arizona Sports Hall of Fame… along with the Kansas City Chiefs Ring of Honor, and the Arizona State Ring of Honor. Now he can add the Pro Football Hall of Fame to that impressive resume.
Want to see Culp in action on the mat? Check out YouTube video of the Sun Devil pinning down his heavyweight title at the 1967 NCAAs... and the College Wrestling Examiner article about Culp's fast fall.
Fan of college heavyweights? For photos and info on the best of the big men of college wrestling, visit NCAA Heavyweight Champs Yahoo group (covering champs from 1928 through 2000)... and NCAA Heavyweight Champs 2 (champs since 2001).
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