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SPECIAL REPORT: The Legend of Curley Culp

News 11 chronicles the life and legacy of the Puma from Yuma

YUMA, Ariz. ( KYMA, KECY-TV ) - A homegrown student athlete from Yuma elevated from modest beginnings to become one of football's all-time greatest icons.

Curley Culp will go down in history as the man who forever changed the nose tackle position.

But his imposing size and athleticism could never measure up to his even bigger heart.

“You don't meet people like that every day. You know? In fact, I'm never gonna meet anybody like Curley Culp ever again.”

Tim Painter - Yuma High School Athletic Hall of Fame Committee member

“He was. He was a gentle giant, everybody that knew him, loved him.”

Tom Daniel - Curley Culp's former Yuma High School wrestling coach

Curley Culp is the embodiment of living life to it's fullest.

Born into a local homesteading family after World War II, it's where Curley developed his character and strong family values.

“I think he's the epitome of what a parent would want their son to be. He was humble, he was sincere, he was caring, he was loving and he was tough.”

Tom Daniel - Curley Culp's former Yuma High School wrestling coach

“Intelligent, gifted athletically humble, smiling. Seemed to always have a smile on his face. He just seemed to enjoy life.” 

Tim Painter - Yuma High School Athletic Hall of Fame Committee member

Quickly learning football and wrestling at Yuma High School would set the course for the rest of his life.

It wouldn't take long for Curley's brilliance and athleticism to shine.

Curley became a local household name in both sports, leading the Criminals to back-to-back state wrestling titles.

Coming of age in the 1950's and 60's, Curley faced opposition more dangerous than any athletic opponent; racial injustice.

“Certain restaurants we could not go in because of Curley. And but we, but there was, it was a it was a shame. Even, even here in Yuma. There was some restaurants that they would not let African American into their restaurant.”

Richard Moran - Curley Culp's former Yuma High School teammate

Curley also experienced prejudice in other ways, giving his own accounts of discrimination during his youth.

The personal influences of civil rights icons like Martin Luther King and Rosa Parks inspired his perseverance.

Curley's high school athletic and academic accomplishments opened up an avenue that would take him to new heights, a football scholarship at Arizona State University that also allowed him join the university wrestling team.

While in Tempe, Curley's legend grew.

He would go on to earn all-American and all-conference honors as a defensive lineman, and he would become ASU's 1st national heavyweight wrestling champion.

“Sports Illustrated Magazine. That's what they called him, the Puma from Yuma. And he kind of revolution, revolutionized the position of nose tackle.”

Tom Daniel - Curley Culp's former Yuma High School wrestling coach

This success would catapult Curley into a 14-year NFL career, capped off with winning a Super Bowl, and receiving numerous individual honors.

None greater than Curley's induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2013.

He also flourished in raising his own family and running his own businesses.

But on November 27th of 2021, shocking news came to light.

Curley Culp lost his battle with pancreatic cancer, but he found triumph in every life he touched.

Some of those who knew him best, believe the life he lived can ultimately bring victory to the lives of others.

“And that’s what young people today should look at his life, what kind of life that he had, and they should want to aspire to be like Curley Culp. Maybe not necessarily the athlete, but the person.”

Tom Daniel - Curley Culp's former Yuma High School wrestling coach

“The thing that people don’t, who do didn't know him won't know; is he was a great person.”

Tim Painter - Yuma High School Athletic Hall of Fame Committee member

The Yuma High School Athletic Hall of Fame Committee is currently making a push to further honor Curley's memory.

Proposals are in the works for public displays to be set up on the Yuma High campus and another public area within the City of Yuma.

Article Topic Follows: Special Reports
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Rob Fram

Rob Fram rejoined the KYMA News Team in February 2010.

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