Over the years, there’s been a strong connection between wrestling and football, as many high school and college athletes start the school year on the gridiron, then once football season is over, strip off the shoulder pads, strap on the headgear and step onto the mat.
One of the most accomplished athletes to achieve considerable success in both sports is Curley Culp, an NCAA wrestling champ who was welcomed into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2013.
Born on a farm outside Yuma, Ariz., Curley Culp gained his strength doing farm chores which served him well as a defensive lineman for his high school football team… and as a wrestler, where he won back-to-back state heavyweight titles in 1963 and 1964. Beyond being a great athlete, Culp was an A student, National Honor Society member, and elected president of his school’s Future Farmers of America.
Culp was widely recruited, but chose Arizona State because it allowed him to continue in both football and wrestling. In fact, Culp is one of the few college athletes to earn All-American honors in both sports. As the Sun Devil heavyweight, Culp compiled an impressive overall record of 84-9-4, winning three WAC (Western Athletic Conference) titles and qualifying for the NCAA championships twice. As a senior, Culp breezed through his side of the bracket at the 1967 NCAAs, facing Nick Carollo of Colorado’s Adams State in the finals. The size difference between the two men was startling; as the commentator on ABC-TV’s “Wide World of Sports” pointed out in his introduction of the two heavyweights, Culp was 6’2” and 260 pounds, while Carollo tipped the scales at 205. Culp made short work of Carollo, pinning his opponent in just 51 seconds.
Culp truly was “Big Man on Campus” beyond his imposing “muscles on top of muscles on top of muscles” physique (to quote one of his coaches). While at Arizona State, Culp was named 1967 Homecoming King, 1967 Best Student Athlete, and “Boy with the Best Smile.”
In 1968, Curley Culp entered the NFL, first playing defensive tackle for the Kansas City Chiefs (helping them win Super Bowl IV in 1970). In 1974, he was traded to the Houston Oilers… then, in 1980, was sent to the Detroit Lions to play one season before retiring in 1981.
In August 2013, Culp was welcomed into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio. Always the gentleman, Culp concluded his induction speech by saying, “In life, as in sports, we should play hard and clean. Hopefully our stories, preserved forever in the Hall of Fame, will remind others what hard work and team work can produce.”
Check out Curley Culp’s official website www.curleyculp.com and watch him win his 1967 NCAA heavyweight title on YouTube:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JHKF8kkmbn0&feature=youtu.be
Staff Writer, InterMat