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Bill Curry: Living proof of being a winner even in the midst of defeat
Bill Curry, briefly
William Alexander "Bill" Curry (born October 21, 1942) is a retired American football coach and former player. Most recently he was the head coach at Georgia State University, which began competing in college football in 2010. Curry formerly worked as a football analyst for ESPN.
Previously, Curry served as the head football coach at the Georgia Tech (1980–1986), the University of Alabama (1987–1989), and the University of Kentucky (1990–1996). He played football at Georgia Tech (1962–1964) and then played for ten seasons in the National Football League with four different teams: the Green Bay Packers (1965–1966), the Baltimore Colts (1967–1972), the Houston Oilers (1973), and the Los Angeles Rams (1974).
Photos of Bill Curry used by courtesy of BillCurry.net
Don Shula was coach of the Baltimore Colts who gave Curry the opportunity to start as their center.
Once upon a time
there was a real life "slaughter" in the deep south that was somehow overlooked by the national news media. The "slaughter" was when The Kentucky Wildcats faced The Florida Gators in September of 1994, it was more than just a Saturday night college football contest. It was a battle that was won days before the first kick-off. It was also where two men of completely different (possibly abstract) coaching would meet to play a football game all the while knowing that it was not going to be a mild affair. Not for Gators head coach, Steve Spurrier who demanded more of his players on the practice field and on the football field. Spurrier's every word was law. And was followed without question.
On the opposing side of the field stood mild-mannered Bill Curry, who in his own right, knew how to play the game of football for he was a member of NFL Hall of Famer, head coach, Don Shula's then-Baltimore Colts at the center position. Curry in his playing days was pretty much like he was when he was the head coach of The Crimson Tide of Alabama and then head coach of The Kentucky Wildcats, mild spoken, quiet natured, but when he spoke people knew that his life was made up of more than just a football. There was something different in the way Curry carried himself in and out of the public eye. He sought the good in people even if it meant working to find it. He was no award-winner in any aspect of the game of football. But no matter where Curry was coaching, the players loved and respected him.
There were those obvious differences
in the meeting of Coaches Bill Curry and Steve Spurrier which was more easily-compared to "daylight and dark." Steve Spurrier was boisterous, self-confident, and loved to take charge of not only football games that his Gators played, but he backed up everything he said that he would do. Curry on the other hand just said, "we will do our best with God's help. That's all anyone can do." Sometimes Curry's teams won. But mostly they lost the games where their fans and press always tacked on that phrase, "they fought and lost like men." Bill Curry was always the one not mentioned in that sentence.
On the other hand, Spurrier's spring training could equal that of the United States Marines' punishing six-week boot camp in Parris Island, S.C. But as stern and gritty as Spurrier was, his teams always won and won big. Spurrier took over the failing Florida Gators program coached by embattled Charlie Pell and within three years, Spurrier's Gators had "that" swagger when running onto the field nick-named, The Swamp or any football field for that matter. To the Gators, facing a so-called "tough" opponent was liken to that of a vacation compared to the rough training that Spurrier put them through. Not everyone who was recruited by Spurrier or his staff made the team. These players were assigned to the Scout Team and accepted their destiny without complaint.
Steve Spurrier, briefly
Stephen Orr Spurrier (born April 20, 1945) is a former American football player and coach, having served as the head coach of three college and two professional teams. Spurrier was also noteworthy as a standout college football player, and he spent a decade playing professionally in the National Football League (NFL). Spurrier retired from coaching in 2015 and now serves as an ambassador and consultant for the University of Florida's athletic department.
Spurrier was born in Miami Beach, Florida and grew up in Tennessee, where he was a multi-sport all-state athlete at Science Hill High School in Johnson City. He is a graduate of the University of Florida, where he was the Florida Gators' starting quarterback for three seasons. Spurrier won the Heisman Trophy in his senior season of 1966, and was a consensus All-American in both 1965 and 1966. He was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame as a player in 1986. Spurrier was drafted in the first round (third overall) of the 1967 NFL draft by the San Francisco 49ers, for whom he played from 1967 to 1975, mainly as a backup quarterback and punter. In 1976, the expansion Tampa Bay Buccaneers traded for Spurrier, and he was again in a section of football's limelight.
I was secretly pulling for The Wildcats
while I reclined on my couch and silently prayed for Curry and his team as the night started off badly for The Kentucky Wildcats and did not get any better as the night wore on. I mean playing The Florida Gators (at this time) in a daytime game was bad enough, but having to face them in a night game on their home turf, Gainesville, was beyond dreadful and painful to Curry and his team as well as the Wildcat fans who made the trip to watch them play Florida. I should give these brave souls, the fans of The Kentucky Wildcats, a pat on the back for their faith in making this trip to Gainesville which can easily be compared to a convict walking the "last mile" toward his execution.
I know. I have heard the phrase, "it's only a ballgame," so many times that I cringe each time I hear it in 2016. I have to be honest with you. I firmly believe that Wildcats head coach, Bill Curry, truly believed that his team could go toe-to-toe with Spurrier's Gators in this clash of college football icons. Although Curry did not make excuses for losing by such a lop-sided score of 73 to 7, he stood and faced the sportswriters after this game of blood, guts, and tears like the man of integrity that made him so respected off of the gridiron. Not many football coaches high school, college or pro would have been this brave and honest with the press when he knew full well in his heart that although his team had given their all, it wasn't near enough. But Bill Curry stood so much taller in my eyes for standing up with no shame about his team's performance whatsoever.
Florida head coach, Steve Spurrier glowed with this victory. Why not? Gloating was his style. His players followed every aspect of coach Spurrier's tough-as-nails training to the letter. And to Spurrier, defeating the Wildcats was just another game on their slate of games to be played in this season. I could take this further by saying that Steve Spurrier did not know the meaning of the word "lose."
My argument has been
and have maintained for years, and no offense to the now-Mark Stoops coached football team, that Kentucky is not your regular football school, but rather a "formidable power" on the hardwood in basketball. But for some reason, Kentucky's powers-that-was, thought it prudent for this school to compete in the SEC in the football arena. Bad choice? Good choice? The argument rages on. And this same argument can be made for Indiana being more of a basketball-oriented school than football for I have never seen a "Hoosiers" movie filmed about the Indiana football team. Have you?
But if you should name the iconic, power-crazed basketball architect, Bobby Knight, your thoughts instantly go to Indiana basketball. See my point?
At game's end
and I use term, "game" loosely, it was like Kentucky head coach, Bill Curry, had not only endured the sight of his Wildcats falling like flies in front of his own eyes, but never reacting in a negative way each time The Gators only ran up the score by easily scoring another seven easy points.
Frankly it looked as if The Gators really didn't want to score on The Wildcats again, but facing the wrath of Spurrier the next practice session was fuel enough to drive them to make as many points as possible. To Spurrier, college football was not just a game. It was a business and he knew how to make his players believe what he was saying no matter how outlandish his thinking was. Thus, the nick-name, "The Evil Genius."
Sportswriters as well as sportscasters from ESPN to FOX Sports all said that Spurrier's offensive schemes were so complex that opposing defensive coordinators were baffled at how The Gators would line up to do one thing and then with the snap, put another play into action and score an easy touchdown. Spurrier was just that good.
I believe in my heart that Bill Curry was at his best while standing still like a majestic Oak gazing intently at his team being torn to shreds on the field. But yet in the toughest and bloodiest hitting given to his team by the Gators, Curry remained stationary, arms crossed, face glazed with intense concentration and not once did he fling or hurl a sun visor, helmet or clip board to the ground or at any innocent bystander.
SEC and college football fans will agree that Steve Spurrier blazed the trail of throwing his clip board and sun visor to the ground in anger or frustration or both at times when his Gators or Gamecocks were not "knocking their opponents" silly as they were taught in his Marine boot camp-like training tactics.
Spurrier ignites sports director's ire
In the sports news that very Saturday night in 1994, Mike Raita, the sports director for WBRC-TV, Birmingham, Alabama, gave the scores and played the highlights of that day's college football action. But it was at his sports segment's last few minutes that impressed me the most. Reita let Steve Spurrier have it with both barrels in his fiery-but-honest style as his fans had come to expect of him.
But on this occasion, Raita talked directly to Florida Gators head coach, Steve Spurrier as he said, "Coach Spurrier, I ask you, was running up the score against the sadly-inferior Kentucky Wildcats necessary? Or was it a matter of personal ego? It had to be one of the two, for your team had the Wildcats well past defeated before the first half came to an end." "I hope that in the future that you, coach, Spurrier, may show some of Kentucky head coach, Bill Curry's personal discipline as your team is getting its butt kicked up and down the field. And Steve, it's coming. You can bank on that. Some team on some date in the future will do you the same way. You can count on it."
To be fair, Steve Spurrier reacted as only he could, "I used every player on the roster," he said sternly to the crowd of sportswriters after the 1994 "massacre" of the Kentucky Wildcats. "I mean, what did you expect me to say to the players, don't score?" and with that remark, Spurrier had made his case for coaching his team to a 73-7 score.
I almost shed tears when Raita had finished his sports segment. In fact, Raita who was not known for his outward display of emotions, was visibly angry at how The Florida Gators head coach had ran up the score and for what reason no one will ever know but now-football ambassador, Steve Spurrier, now working in this capacity at his alma mater: Florida in 2017.
Do I like to lose?
Are you nuts? Is there anyone on the planet now in 2017 or has ever been on this planet been happy for being defeated and humiliated? If there is or was, please get me their name so I can publish it in one of my future hubs.
No. I hate losing. Although I am older and sicker in body now than I was when this "game" with The Kentucky Wildcats only scoring seven points to The Florida Gators 73 in 1994. But even as a boy, I hated losing.
And I admit that this is just one of my character flaws, I guess. I can now attest to what Andy "Taylor" told "Opie" when he lost the 40-yard dash, "winning's no problem. We can do that. But it's the losing that we have to work on. The getting up and showing the winners that we are good losers."
I am sad to say that I am far from being a good loser. But too, I am still working on it.
Unseen lessons learned
I learned something about unseen life lessons while I watched Bill Curry simply standing with his arms crossed and did not move a muscle as his Kentucky Wildcats did do their best, but came up way short to The Florida Gators. But it was what most people did not see out of Curry and his players who were on the bench ready to go into battle if needed that stuck with me until this time in my life in 2016.
You can bet that one, maybe two of Curry's players stared in awe at coach Curry not cursing, throwing a tantrum or cursing the referees for his team being "beaten like a bass drum" on this sad night in Gainesville. Yes, these players on the bench who did not get one reception or kick one field goal, came away with something far more important than a mere victory over a powerful team coached by Steve Spurrier.
These players saw in Bill Curry what a real man is like. Curry wore no masks or flashy disguises. They saw a real man, an honest man who had trained them as well as any football coach could train, and still, with all of the training and life lectures by Coach Curry, they lost an important game. They did not see Curry shed one tear of self-pity, but they felt his compassion and appreciation for them sticking it out and supporting their team mates who did play.
And long after this one game was in the books and lodged securely in the memories of both the Wildcats and Gators fans, it was the Wildcat players on the bench who put the principles that made Bill Curry such a man in their eyes work for them in their workplaces, church and family lives.
My point here? Sure, The Wilcats got stomped. But the few Wildcat players who saw beyond the reality of a sad defeat were the winners of one area of life where we all are competing. And these Wildcat players using coach Curry's mastery of his own self, to me were the real winners.
Good night, Lexington, Kentucky. (this was a random choice).
© 2017 Kenneth Avery