Curley Culp, traded before rookie season, gets enshrined into Pro Football Hall of Fame 40 years later

Chris Graythen

Thought to be "too small" to play defensive tackle, few coaches knew what to do with him. But Kansas City head coach Hank Stram had an idea, and it helped the Chiefs win a Super Bowl.

It is easy to look at the statistics of a modern NFL player like J.J. Watt and immediately know why he is such a dominating inside force on the defensive line. When you look back at the history of the game, and its numbers, you will see that the full measure of a player simply cannot record the kind of overall impact a player can have. When inducting a player like Curley Culp into the Hall of Fame, you have to go with anecdotes and descriptions from those who played with him and against him.

"A dominating force on the defensive line for the Super Bowl IV championship team," said Chiefs chairmen Clark Hunt.

"Ornery as hell," added (Emmitt) Thomas.

"Curley was a tremendous athlete," (Hall of Fame quarterback Len) Dawson said. "He had such strength and quickness."

And really a few quotes from peers only begin to describe the kind of impact that Culp had on the game during his 14 seasons in the NFL from 1968 to 1981 with the Kansas City Chiefs, Houston Oilers and briefly the Detroit Lions. It was because of Culp's unique size and ability that coaches were building defenses for him rather than trying to find out where he fit in their own.

The Broncos selected Culp in the second round of the 1968 draft, but at 265 pounds they felt he belonged at offensive guard rather than defensive tackle. When they realized that wasn't working, they traded him to the Chiefs. Head coach Hank Stram saw his team move to a new "3-4 defense" that would only work if someone in the middle was a force to be reckoned with for opposing centers.

That's exactly what Culp was able to do, being that he was exceptionally athletic for someone his size. The Chiefs allowed the fewest points in the league during his rookie season, and repeated that effort again in 1969 en route to their first and only Super Bowl victory. The team they beat in Super Bowl IV, the Minnesota Vikings, ran for only 67 yards against the Chiefs defense thanks to Culp lining up directly against center Mike Tingelhoff.

He was so difficult for Tingelhoff to manage that he drew double-teams, and the Chiefs shut down a rushing attack that had put up 222 yards in the conference championship game.

Culp played seven years with the Chiefs before being traded to the Houston Oilers during the 1974 season. Still only 28 years old, Culp made the Pro Bowl in each of the next four years. Pro Football Reference named Culp as a second team All-1970s Team defensive tackle, behind only Hall of Famers Alan Page and Joe Greene. The Chiefs enshrined Culp into their franchise Hall of Fame in 2008, 40 years after the Broncos traded him to Kansas City because they had no use for him.

"I guess I proved them wrong," (Culp) said with a chuckle. "A little fireplug, that's me."

Basically, that says it all.

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