Bill Curry is known for a lot of things hereabouts. He played and coached at Georgia Tech. He was the start-up coach at Georgia State. So passionate and well-spoken is he on the virtues and vices of college football, he is practically the resident poet laureate of the sport. (Oh, also he coached at a little at a school in Tuscaloosa).
But, as we verge on the 50th Super Bowl, he also is a major historical resource on the professional side. How many people do you know who played in the very first Super Bowl? Curry did, hiking the ball to Green Bay quarterback Bart Starr as a 235-pound center in 1967.
For that matter, in his professional travels he played in three of the first five Super Bowls, starting in Nos. III and V with the Baltimore Colts.
I talked to Curry last week about the vast differences between the first Super Bowl and the latest ones for a story appearing in Sunday’s AJC and at myajc.com.
If you know Curry, you know that a single story couldn’t hold everything he had to say. Here are a few bonus observations from the retired 73-year-old coach:
- The Packers famed grumpy coach Vince Lombardi – for whom the Super Bowl trophy is named – hated the team’s accommodations for that first game (played in L.A.) in beautiful Santa Barbara. “He was walking around with is head down and chin poked out because Santa Barbara was too nice. He thought nobody could get ready to play football in a place like there, there are just too many distractions.”
If only he had lived to see the distractions today.
- While the world conceded that the lordly Packers would easily handle the representative from the upstart AFL, the Kansas City Chiefs, Lombardi was unusually stressed. He was under great pressure from all the NFL brass to put the Chiefs in their place.
Said Curry, “He had a way of getting you focused. He would use fear and harassment, whatever it took If you were not sufficiently hateful by about Thursday, he figured, I’m going to make sure you hate me enough by Sunday that you’ll be ready to kill ‘em.
“He told us the day before the game if you break curfew you will never play another game in the National Football League. And the fine will not be $100, it will be $2,500. We could tell it was a little more important to him than the norm.”
- While Curry was on the winning side in No. I, he felt the sting of the first lost suffered by the NFL establishment as the Colts center in Super Bowl III. Joe Namath and the Jets famously won that one following Broadway Joe’s poolside guarantee.
“We just turned the ball over and got beat by the Jets. We beat them the next four times we played them but nobody knows that, nobody cares. That was a disaster,” Curry said.
He was 2-1 in Super Bowls (3-1 in world championships counting the 1965 NFL championship). A career long snapper, he did not however, snap for Jim O’Brien’s winning kick in Super Bowl V.
“I played every play but was not the long snapper then. I was the long snapper for about 13 games but we picked up Tom Goode off waivers. He was the greatest long snapper I had ever seen. I was real happy to see him doing it,” Curry said.
- The Packers treat their past with respect. They regularly host reunions of that first Super Bowl champion team. This year, the team even sent him a cut glass replica of the Lombardi Trophy.
Although when the old survivors get together, they seldom reminisce about the game itself. “I don’t know that we’ve ever mentioned Super Bowl I,” he said. “We probably talk more about training camp and what we had to go through putting up with Lombardi.”
- When he’s watching No. 50, for whom does a veteran of No. 1 cheer? “How can you not root for Payton (Manning)?” Curry said. “Usually, I try real hard not to pull for one team or another. What’s exciting to me is the football part, the chess match, in this case seeing the league’s top defenses go at it.”
As for the other quarterback in the game, the lightning rod named Cam Newton, Curry said, “I love to watch Cam compete. Whether you like him or dislike him because of his foolishness after the play, the son of a gun can play.”