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Curley Culp, Hall of Fame nose tackle for Kansas City Chiefs, Houston Oilers, dies at 75

NFL, Kansas City Chiefs, Tennessee Titans

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Hall of Fame defensive lineman Curley Culp, who helped the Kansas City Chiefs win their first Super Bowl during a 14-year NFL career, died Saturday of complications from pancreatic cancer. He was 75.

Culp announced this month that he had been diagnosed with stage 4 cancer. His wife, Collette Bloom Culp, announced "on behalf of our family and with a broken heart" the five-time All-Pro's death.

"The entire Pro Football Hall of Fame family mourns the passing of Curley Culp. He was a wonderful man of great integrity who respected the game of football and how it applied to everyday life," Hall of Fame president Jim Porter said. "Curley's humility and grace were always apparent."

Culp was considered one of the strongest players in the NFL during his playing career, though his position on the interior of the defensive line meant his play often went unnoticed. He was chosen to participate in six Pro Bowls, and he was second to Steelers cornerback Mel Blount for AP Defensive Player of the Year after the 1975 season.

It wasn't until long after his playing days -- Culp retired in 1981 -- that he was inducted into the Hall of Fame. But after his enshrinement in 2013, Culp proudly wore the golden jacket of a Hall of Famer seemingly everywhere he went.

"Our team certainly lost a great one today," Tennessee Titans controlling owner Amy Adams Strunk said in a statement. "Curley was a game changer for our defense when he came to us in the trade with the Chiefs and was pivotal to our success during the Luv Ya Blue days. He rightfully earned a place in the Pro Football Hall of Fame and I was fortunate to spend some quality time with Curley and his wife Collette when we hosted the Oilers reunion this past September.

"They also brought two of their young grandchildren for that weekend and Curley's love for those two was very obvious. He will forever be remembered as a ferocious nose tackle as a player and a Hall of Fame gentleman off the field."

Culp learned to use his speed and leverage while at Arizona State. He was an All-American in football for the Sun Devils and, standing 6 feet and weighing about 265 pounds, won the heavyweight national championship in wrestling.

The Denver Broncos selected Culp in the second round of the 1968 draft with the idea of turning him into an offensive guard. But when it became clear that wasn't going to work, they traded him to the Chiefs, where Hank Stram plugged him into the middle of a defensive line that ultimately would take Kansas City all the way to the Super Bowl.

"I guess I proved them wrong," Culp told The Associated Press in a 2013 phone interview. "A little fireplug, that's me."

Culp was part of a defense that included fellow Hall of Famers Emmitt Thomas, Willie Lanier, Bobby Bell and Buck Buchanan. And in the fourth Super Bowl, that group shut down the Vikings' vaunted run game in a 23-7 victory. Primarily a defensive tackle, Culp made the move to nose tackle during that Super Bowl win as the team successfully experimented with the 3-4 defense, which was relatively new to the NFL at the time.

"Curley represented the franchise with honor and respect both on and off the field," Chiefs chairman Clark Hunt, whose father Lamar Hunt founded the team, said in a statement Saturday. "He was known as a fierce competitor and a difference maker who commanded a great deal of respect. His legacy will forever be remembered by Chiefs Kingdom. Our prayers are with his family at this time."

Hall of Fame quarterback Len Dawson recalled Culp as "a tremendous athlete," while Thomas called him "ornery as hell."

Culp was traded to the Oilers in 1974, and he had arguably his best season the next year, thriving in Bum Phillips' 3-4 scheme. Culp was released by the Oilers during the 1980 season and was picked up by the Detroit Lions. He finished out the 1980 season with the Lions before retiring after the 1981 season.

He would often show up for Chiefs games in later years, and he stayed in touch with many of his old teammates. He was inducted into the team's Hall of Fame in 2008, less than two years after Lamar Hunt's death.

Funeral arrangements were not immediately available.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.

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