Bill Curry has lived a life in sports, starting from his days as a player in youth baseball in College Park, dreaming of one day taking the mound for the Yankees, to a prolific football career at Georgia Tech and then in the NFL with the Packers and Colts, among others.
He continued as a coach at Georgia Tech, followed by stints at Alabama and Kentucky. He accepted the coaching job at Georgia State in 2008 and was charged with building the program.
Curry, who turned 70 last month, will coach his last game on Saturday when the Panthers play at Maine. He announced in August that he was retiring after the season so that he could spend more time with his wife, Carolyn, their children and grandchildren.
He has thousands of memories, but he said there are six that stand out. I’m going to share one a day with you, today through Saturday.
Esteemed Colleague Steve Hummer is also working on a couple of stories about Curry that will run later this week. I’ll share the links when they appear. They promise to be special.
Anyway, here’s the fourth special memory Curry shared, in his words:
We won the world championship both years, but neither of those games jump into the emotional pitch that I feel for these others.
I was put on the expansion list, claimed by New Orleans and traded to Baltimore.
I show up at Baltimore.
This is how lucky a kid from College Park can get. Remember that two years previous one of the first guys that walked up to me was Bart Starr, who walked over to dinner with me and took me to church the next day with his wife and sons.
So I’m walking to practice the next day in Westminster, Maryland. It’s 100 degrees. I’m miserable. Carolyn’s 10 months pregnant. The baby will not show up like she’s supposed to. I don’t know if I’m going to make the team. It’s certainly not a sure thing.
Here comes this old bowlegged guy walking beside me with a rubber jacket on. Already sweating bullets. He’s whistling and humming a happy tune.
So I just decide I’ll mess with him.
“What are you happy about, old man? We’re getting ready to go down here and it’s going to be 150 degrees.”
Johnny Unitas looked at me and said, “Billy, let me tell you something son. You’re a longtime dead.”
I said, “What? What did you say?”
He said, “You’re a longtime dead. But you’re alive today. If you don’t like what you are doing today then don’t do it. I’m going to practice because I love to practice. I love football.
“When you come down there you might want to think about your attitude, too.”
My whole attitude changed in that instant. Again.
So I practiced hard. When I was leaving the field, it seemed like 20 hours later – we were on the field with Shula, in pads, twice a day. Lombardi only had pads once a day. We were out there 2 ½ hours each practice. It was all smashing. It was 10 times harder than the Packers’ training camp. Everybody had a different way to doing it.
I dragged myself up the hill. I tried to take a shower in no air conditioning. All your clothes are sopping wet, just nasty and comfortable.
This is maybe an hour of practice. I had to stay late anyhow because that’s when the long-snapping was done. So I had already been down there an extra 40 minutes. I trudged up the hill, got a shower, got dressed. Now it’s getting dark.
There’s somebody down there on that field, still.
I went back over there.
It was Johnny Unitas throwing to Raymond Berry, over and over and over. It was Unitas’ 12th year in the league. It was Raymond’s 13th.
That year, Johnny Unitas was the most valuable player for the third time and I decided that I had better start staying after practice.
To just be exposed to those kinds of people and then the combination in that same conversation of men like Willie Davis and John Mackey, both of whom adopted me and taught me what I need to learn about African-American culture and the NFL, and how to talk and what you say and what you don’t say was especially important to a Southern white boy.
I would say things unwittingly that were racist. I did not know they were racist. I didn’t mean to be.
So, just to rub shoulders with all of that.
Just think about who those people are. Every single name I just called is in the pro football hall of fame.
In my view, they are a lot more important than some sports hall of fame because they were in the business of educating naïve people to what it takes to communicate and be a part of a team with a diversity of players.
Super Bowl V and the power of the team
The All-American Bowl and the power of leadership
– Doug Roberson, AJC and AJC.com. Please follow me on twitter @ajcgsu