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Photo: Curley Culp won an NCAA title for Arizona State in 1967 before becoming a Hall of Fame football player for the Kansas City Chiefs.
By Mike Chapman
The passing of NFL legend Curley Culp at age 75 on Nov. 27 made me think about the NCAA heavyweight champions of the past who went on to play professional football. My list comes to just seven, but I may be missing a few.
Culp was a tremendously impressive physical specimen who won the NCAA title for Arizona State back in 1967. That tournament was held at Kent State University and was the second of the 47 NCAA Championships I have seen in person.
I had three good friends in the finals: Dale Anderson who won at 137 pounds for Michigan State, Don Buzzard who was second at 190 for Iowa State, and Vic Marcucci, who took the title at 167 for the Cyclones.
But one of the most vivid memories came in Culp’s final match of the night, which ended in 51 seconds!
Weighing around 240 pounds of rock-solid muscle, Culp blew through the heavyweight division that was loaded with talent, including Dave Porter, the defending NCAA champion of Michigan. Culp posted a 15-5 rout in his first match, then pinned Michigan State’s Jeff Richardson, Big Ten runner-up, in 1:50. The next match pitted two All-American football players and Culp pinned Oklahoma’s Granville Liggins in 3:46.
(Ironically, Granville Liggins, who finished sixth after losing to Culp in 1967, went on to a long and highly successful career in the Canadian Football League.)
The crowd was stunned in the quarterfinals when Nick Carollo of Adams State, seeded eight, posted a 5-4 win over Porter, and won in the semis to gain the finals. But Culp caught the smaller foe in a classic lateral drop for a sensational 51-second finish. He also won the award for most pins.
The dramatic finals culminated a great career for Culp, who won three Western Athletic Conference titles and posted an overall record of 84-11-1. He had been a star in both football and wrestling at Yuma High School in Arizona and was first team All-American on defense for the Sun Devils football team.
In the pros, he played for the Kansas City Chiefs (1968-74), the Houston Oilers (1974-1980) and the Detroit Lions (1980-81). He was an All-Star selection seven times and in 1975 was chosen as the NFL Defensive Player of the Year by one major news outlet.
“Culp was so strong he required two and three players to block him,” says Wikipedia, adding that he “is regarded as one of the NFL’s greatest nose tackles.”
In a poll taken in 2006, he was named the top athlete in the history of the entire state of Arizona, and in a special issue in 1999, Sports Illustrated placed him third on its list of the 50 top sports figures in the state’s history.
Culp is a member of the inaugural Arizona Athletic Hall of Fame and was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2013.
The legendary athlete died in Pearland, Texas, from pancreatic cancer, but left a stunning legacy in two very tough sports!
(To view Chapman’s other notable all-time wrestling football players, subscribe to WIN by clicking here or by calling 888-303-0606)
(Mike Chapman is the founder of WIN Magazine, the Dan Hodge Trophy, the National Hall of Fame Dan Gable Museum, author of 30 books and was named to the National Wrestling Hall of Fame football.