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RIP Curley Culp: Houston Oilers and NFL Legend

Curley Culp passed on 11/27/21. This is my tribute to the Oiler legend.

Jack Rudney Tangling with Old Teammate
Saying goodbye to a legend.

Hall of Famer and former Houston Oilers star Curley Culp died on November 27, 2021 He was 75 years old.

This is a very personal post for many reasons.

I feel like there are six people who influenced football more than others for me. And, yes, this is a super specific number.

First, there is my dad. He is the very definition of a good ol’ country boy, but what makes him special is that he questions everything. Whenever I am skeptical about something, that’s my dad coming out. It’s such a crazy juxtaposition for a number of reasons.

The next five? Well, as a child of the ‘70s in Houston watching football, this shouldn’t be shocking. They are Elvin Bethea, Robert Brazile, Bum Phillips, and Wade Phillips.

And Curley Culp.

It was Bum who came up with the defensive numbering/alignment scheme in 1956. After serving as the head coach and defensive coordinator for a number of squads, Bum was named the defensive coordinator for the Oilers in 1973. Much like Wade’s draft of J.J. Watt, I do strongly believe that the Oilers’ trade for Culp was directed by Bum. On October 22, 1974, the Oilers acquired Culp and a first round draft pick for John Matuszak.

That first round draft pick became Robert Lorenzo Brazile Jr., still one of the most underrated players in NFL history despite his election to the Hall of Fame in 2018.

As for Elvin Bethea? There was once a signing event at the Foley’s in Memorial City Mall, and Elvin and I had a laugh over our messed up fingers. Curley, sitting next to Elvin, made fun of both of us. It was a total blast. Me and Elvin.

Messed up fingers are fun!
Look at those awesome fingers!

When playing the 0-tech, Culp commanded double and triple teams. The thing about Culp was that every person watching the game knew that not only was he the strongest player on the field, he was also the smartest and most technically gifted. When playing in Bum’s one-gap scheme, Culp was a nightmare. The best modern day comp I can come up with for Culp in his prime is Aaron Donald, but without the same pass rushing ability. Culp, for the record, ended up with 68.5 sacks. He had 11.5 sacks as a nose tackle in 1975. Nobody was Culp.

So you have Culp as the nose tackle and Bethea as the defensive end. This allowed Brazile and Gregg Bingham to roam free.

It was this combination, this scheme, that taught me what teamwork is about. Culp and Bethea could engage four blockers, while Brazile and Bingham would rack up the tackles. Pay attention to Culp in the middle? Brazile would collect sacks. Block Brazile? Here comes Culp. It was art. It was putting your players and team in a position to succeed.

My longtime #NTLust? Curley Culp. My adoration of the 3-4 defense? Bum and Wade. My love of the 3-4 DE? Elvin Bethea.

Robert Brazile? That’s Dr. Doom right there, and he’s still one of my all-time favorite players. Ever see the movie “Wreck it, Ralph”? That was Brazile every play, destroying plays and souls like a ruthless machine.

There’s my football soul bared for all y’all to see.

If you ever listen to me on Battle Red Radio, you know how much I make fun of 1970s football...on the offensive side of things. Defensively, so many of the concepts remain relevant and effective fifty years later, and Curley Culp was an important aspect of that.

In all of NFL history, Culp was an outlier’s outlier. He was a nose tackle that could stop the run, rush the quarterback, create havoc on every play, all while being the smartest player on the field.

Thank you for all the knowledge and inspiration, Curley. Rest in peace.