You might not know the name, but you probably know his work.
Bill Curry was the center for the Green Bay Packers during the team’s first two Super Bowl wins. He also went on to become a big time college football coach.
WTMJ’s John Mercure had a chance to catch up with Curry for WTMJ Conversations.
Transcription provided by eCourt Reporters, Inc.
JOHN MERCURE: Bill, tell me about the first time you met Vince Lombardi and what that impression was like.
BILL CURRY: Wow, I got up off the pile on the last play of the last game of my college career, which was in Athens against the Bulldogs and we got beat 7 to nothing. Terrible day, raining, mud everywhere, and I was not a happy camper. And I’m drudging off the field and there stands Red Cochran who was a Green Bay Packer assistant coach. I didn’t know he was going to be there. And he introduced himself and he said, “I’m the backfield coach for the Green Bay Packers and I’m here to speak to you and Carolyn. I trust that Carolyn is at the game.” And I said, “Well, she is.” He said, “Well, get showered and finish up with the post-game things with Coach Dodd and then come on back out here and get Carolyn because I’d like to take the two of you to dinner in Atlanta.” I said, “What?” He said, “Yeah, I’d like to take you out to dinner. And, furthermore, I have airplane reservations and I’d like to fly you and Carolyn to Dallas, Texas, where you will attend the Green Bay Packer versus Cowboys game tomorrow.”
I mean, can you imagine? I mean, this is — this is like a gift from God. And I suppose in the literal sense it was, because it was just all so overwhelming. So it’s a longwinded answer to your question, “When did I meet Vince Lombardi.” Well, sure enough went to dinner with Red, went home, packed our little overnight bags, got on an airplane with him, flew to Dallas, attended at the Cotton Bowl the Green Bay Packer rout of the Dallas — young Dallas Cowboys team.
The Packers just annihilated them that day. And we were seated with Marie Lombardi, who was one of the great ladies ever, and just loved us immediately and always did throughout our time in Green Bay. And about the middle of the fourth quarter, especially with the game out of hand and the Packers in control, I guess that’s why this was done, but, somebody came up in the stands and got me and walked me down to the sideline, and as soon as the final gun went off, the Packers won the game, I was walked over to Vince Lombardi, introduced to him. And he said, “Come on, Bill, let’s walk to the locker room.”
And that was the first time I ever met Vince Lombardi. And, actually, my knees were shaking like leaves, and we were walking across the turf there at the Cotton Bowl and he turns to me abruptly and he said, “Bill, you want to be a Green Bay Packer?”
“Yes, sir. Yes, sir, I do. I do.”
I would have — I would have paid them on the spot. So that was my introduction to Vince. And then he walked in the locker room and proceeded to rip that team to shreds because they had not played as well as he thought they should.
JOHN MERCURE: What made Vince Lombardi such a good leader, Bill?
BILL CURRY: A lot of things. I didn’t do well with him, and I regret that to my dieing day. And I had to go to his hospital room and apologize to him when I learned that he was on his deathbed. Actually,
Bob Long shamed me into doing that, and I’m ashamed of that, but I thank God for Bob.
But Lombardi would have been a great coach anywhere, anytime, in any sport, in any dimension. In fact, I think he took the girls basketball team at St. Cecelia in New Jersey, I think he won the state championship with them. I’m not sure about that, but I read that somewhere. He was incredibly confident and detailed about his plan, and he could communicate it, and he didn’t mind communicating with such repetition that there was no chance in the world that you were going to forget it. He had a lot of strong suits, and I think in that time, much like this time, there was a lot of racial strife, and his said strongest suit in terms of personnel — he doesn’t get credit for this, but it’s the truth, I witnessed it — but he would not tolerate racism. There was no prejudice in that locker room, none, ever. He’d experienced prejudice because of his Italian heritage and because he was a Catholic, and he would not allow that to happen in our locker room.
And here I walked in the locker room, I had never been in a huddle with an African American person until I had gotten to some all star games, but never in my career at College Park High School or Georgia Tech had we ever had an African American player, and this locker room was a loaded with great big, fast, brilliant African American players, and I thought they would hear my southern accent and hurt me and send me home, I really did, and I didn’t blame them. That’s not what they did. And this is another thing that I give Lombardi credit for, I don’t know how he did this, but those guys embraced me, especially led by Willie Davis and Herb
Adderley, but Willie especially took me in, taught me how to act, taught me what it was going to take to make the team and made me feel welcome at a time when I least deserved it, and it changed my life forever and it gave me a mission with every team I ever coached that we would do it the same way.
Oh, by the way another thing, nobody could beat us, I noticed that, too. There were teams — there were teams that had no African American players or one or two and bragged about it, and I wondered if they were going to figure it out eventually. I guess they did.