Black History Month: The Roy Curry Story by Seth Schwartz

Before James Harris became the first black quarterback to start in the National Football League with the Buffalo Bills in 1969, there were several great college quarterbacks who didn’t get the opportunity.

 Who was the best among them can be left for debate, but a strong case can be made for Roy Curry.

 For two years [1961-62], Jackson State assembled a squad on par with any team in the country.

The Tigers, who were 9-2 and 10-1, lost to Florida A&M 14-8 in 1961 for the championship. In a rematch the following season, they beat the Rattlers 22-6 before 50,000 at the Orange Blossom Classic in Miami , Fla.  

A lethal threat running and passing, Curry was the trigger for a high-powered offense that averaged over 30 points a game. For two years, Curry averaged over 200 yards passing and 100 rushing as the Tigers threw 75 percent of the time. There was no shortage of weapons with receivers Willie Richardson [1,227 yards receiving his senior year, two-time pro bowler, 1963-71], Glouster Richardson [eight years, 67-74], Thomas Richardson (1969-70), tight end Al Greer [one season, 1963] and cornerback-running back-return specialist Speedy Duncan [four-time pro bowler, special teams ace 1964-74], offensive tackle Pappa Hayes [1965-66].

A stifling defense was anchored by: defensive ends Verlon Biggs [three-time pro bowler, 1965-74], Coy Bacon [three-time pro bowler, 1968-1983], defensive tackle Ben McGee [two-time pro bowler 1964-72], linebacker Roy Hilton [1965-75, defensive tackle Frank Molden [1965, 68, 69] and defensive back Taft Reed [1967] all of whom played professionally.

The University of Mississippi and USC both went undefeated and were voted national champions in 1962. It’s hard to figure how Jackson State would stack up against them.

Coming in to assist head coach John Merritt in 1961, Joe Gilliam Sr. was instrumental in Curry’s development. Installing a series of plays that were a precursor to the west coast offense, opposing defenses were outmatched mentally and physically.

“I really enjoyed coaching at Jackson State ,” said Gilliam, now 87, and working on his fifth book. “The kids had a thirst for knowledge and were a joy to work with.

“We used the option, drop back, play-action and rollout. Our plays looked the same when they started, but ended up having a number of options. Our offense was all over the field. Richardson was as good an athlete as you’ll find and could go up and get it. Speedy Duncan was a great player; we moved him around as a flanker and third down guy.

“Curry was a great runner and very tough; he was never hurt. We used him with a naked bootleg, power sweeps and a series of rollouts. He was very accurate and knew where to go with the ball.”

“At that time, the NFL was not ready for a black quarterback, period. Coaches wanted a pocket quarterback. If he had gone to Canada , he would’ve had a long career.”

Gilliam was quite familiar with the NFL’s approach toward black quarterbacks. A star quarterback from Steubenville Big Red High School , Ohio , Gilliam started as freshman at free safety and punt returner while George Taliaferro [the first black to be drafted in the NFL by the Bears in 1949] powered the offense as a running back helping Indiana University to a share of the national championship with Army.

Married with a child on the way, Gilliam received a monthly stipend from a Steubenville businessman-bookie who America came to know as Jimmy The Greek. After a year in the army, Gilliam finished his career as a two-time All-American quarterback-free safety [1948-49] at West Virginia State College in Institute, West Virginia . In 1950, he received a contract from Green Bay Packers owner Curly Lambeau to play safety for $7,000. Convinced he could be a quarterback, Gilliam called Lambeau and asked if he could have a shot at the position.

“I said I’d like a chance to play quarterback,” said Gilliam. “He said, ‘There are no colored quarterbacks in the NFL.’

“I was sure I could play. We threw the ball a lot in college and I said I’d like an opportunity to play quarterback. He said the contract is for free safety and then added, ‘I’ll tell you again. There are no colored boys playing quarterback in the league.”

“I talked it over with my wife and decided if I can’t play quarterback, I didn’t want to play.”

By the early 1970s, the possibility of a black quarterbacking in the National Football League wasn’t a complete misnomer.

For years, star college quarterbacks were forced to change positions for a shot at playing professional football. Harris began his career with the Buffalo Bills in 1969 and had a few successful seasons [including a pro bowl in 1974] as a Rams starter during his 10 years in the league. Joe Gilliam Jr. [1972-75] had a brief run with the Steelers and Doug Williams had a nine-year tenure, beginning in 1978 which included a Super Bowl MVP in 1987 with the Washington Redskins. Warren Moon was not drafted out of the University of Washington and played with the Edmonton Eskimos in Canada for five years before embarking on a 17-year career, [in 1984] which included nine pro bowls and induction as the only black quarterback in the Hall of Fame.

In the last few years, a number of articles and documentaries have discussed the plight of the black quarterback, but Curry’s name never came up. Unfortunately, he was a decade too early. At this point, one can only speculate what type of career he would have had.  

After nine years in the NFL which included pro bowls in 1967 and 68, with the Colts legend Johnny Unitas and the 1970 season with Bob Griese in Miami , Richardson is well aware of what it took to excel.

“ Roy had all the tools to be a professional quarterback,” he said. “He was better than a lot of quarterbacks I played with. He was better than Griese [at the time], Earl Morrall and Gary Cuozzo. Roy could throw, run and had a great feel for the game. He was an accurate passer who had touch and was dangerous running the ball.”

After the 1962 season, a scout from the Canadian Football League told Curry, “You should come to Canada . You’ll never play quarterback in the NFL.”

“I wish I would’ve listened to him; I would’ve played there a long time,” he said.                                   

   Drafted in the 12th round by the Steelers, Curry’s 4.4-40 speed was contributing factor in making the squad. Coach Buddy Parker told Curry they wanted to use him similar to Paul Hornung as a runner-thrower, but his difficulty picking up the blocking schemes translated into a move as receiver.

Pro Bowl linebacker Andy Russell, who played on the Steelers 1974, 75 Super Bowls, was a rookie in 1963.

“ Roy was a gifted athlete who was very fast and could catch anything,” said Russell. “I had no idea he was a quarterback in college. It wasn’t easy [then]. There were very few blacks [Brady Keyes, John Baker, Bob Ferguson, Joe Womack and John Henry Johnson] and coach Parker hated rookies.”  

By mid-season, Curry was finding a comfort zone on special teams and at receiver.

Playing in six games, he made an impression when the Steelers hosted the Chicago Bears at Forbes Field three days after President Kennedy was assassinated. Beating cornerback Rosey Taylor on a corner route, Curry caught a 31-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Ed Brown as the Steelers tied the Bears 17-17. Just over a month later, the Bears beat the Giants 14-10 for the championship at Wrigley Field.

Against Philadelphia the following week with a chilly below 32 degree temperature, Curry was summoned from the bench. Accelerating for an overthrown pass, he pulled a hamstring. In practice the next week he aggravated the injury further.

The following season, his hamstring was on the mend, but not 100 percent and he was released at the end of training camp.

In 1965, Curry tried out with the Bears. Keeping pace in practice, Curry survived a couple bone-rattling hits by rookie middle linebacker Dick Butkus. A strained hamstring at the end of training camp moved coach George Halas to put him on the taxi squad. Curry opted to retire, a decision he still regrets.

“Biggest mistake of my life,” Curry stated. “Halas was doing me a favor; I just wasn’t thinking.”

A few weeks later, receiver Jimmy Jones broke his collarbone during warmups and Jim Hill was activated. Curry came back in 1966, but his hamstring wouldn’t hold up and he moved into coaching.

James Harris was in high school at nearby Monroe , La. , when he saw the aerial show Jackson State put on against Grambling in Ruston .

“You could see they were running NFL routes and the Richardson was a pro prospect,” said Harris, a senior personal executive with the Detroit Lions. “The kind of throws Curry made, you knew he was a special talent and a student of the game. From what I saw he had everything you needed to play in the league.

“You felt bad that you couldn’t find out how good he could be, but Curry was one of many. There was a guy from my hometown, [Grambling quarterback] Mike Howell, who had to play defensive back for the Cleveland Browns [1965-72]. I think there were several guys who were denied an opportunity by the time and the system. I think there was a progression before me and a progression after me. Things really had to be perfect. There was an expression that you needed to have an ooh-wee arm [to make it].”

“You had Matthew Reed [Grambling, drafted by the Bills in 1973, played a year in the WFL and three years in Canada], Jim Kearney [Prairie View, who played 12 seasons at safety], David Mays [Texas Southern, made the Cleveland Browns as a free agent and played 1976, 77 and then one season for the Bills], Jimmy Jones [1973 USC graduate who played seven years in Canada] that might not have been stars, but could’ve back up.”  

Now 71, Curry enjoys retirement with his wife Carolyn of xx years. He lives in the Jeffery Manor neighborhood on the south side. His easy gait and amiable southern demeanor radiates a sense of warmth to friends and strangers. Always meticulously dressed, at 6-0 and still solid 195, Curry looks like he could still get behind center or model for men’s clothes.

It’s a feel-good story for Curry, who made his way out of a dead end. Growing up in Clarksdale , his dad, Lawrence , was a sharecropper and mother, River Lee, taught in a one room school. From age five–fifteen, Curry spent the summer and early part of the fall chopping and picking cotton on plantations in the area which included Hopson, Stovall and the 17,000 acre King & Anderson. The intensive labor helped chisel a physique that held up through many gridiron battles.

The youngest of four sisters and one brother who moved to Chicago before him, at 15, Curry began spending the summer working as a bus boy in Rogers Park on Chicago ’s north side. It was a significant pay increase and a respite from the stifling Mississippi heat.

A four-year starter at quarterback for Higgins High School, served Curry well as he excelled against very competitive schools at Tupelo, Corinth, Avery, Oxford, Columbus, Starkville and Aberdeen.

“The games were very competitive,” said Curry, who lettered in basketball and track. “You had teams with guys who had served in Korea and then came back and were playing at age 18 and 19. There were a lot of tough kids.”   

An assistant for two years at Dunbar Vocational and head coach for Robeson High School from 1969-2000, one of the highlights was his 1982 squad that went to the state championship with only 26 players. Winning 240 games of the 313 games he coached at Robeson [he retired in 2000], Curry was inducted into the Illinois Coaches Association Hall of Fame. A passionate teacher whose affection for the game was palpable, he left an indelible mark on his players and many coaches that he mentored in the Chicago Public League.

“Coach was a stickler for us knowing what to do,” said Mickey Pruitt, who was a running back and free safety on the 1980 group that lost to Mt. Carmel in the Prep Bowl and the 1982 team that had 14 of the 25 players going both ways. Pruitt played three seasons with the Bears and two with Dallas Cowboys which included the 1992 Super Bowl. “In practice we went over play after play so the game was more like a dress rehearsal. We always felt prepared; we knew everything he put together would work well.

“Coach loved to teach and he was always willing to help a lot of the other coaches. Going from what he taught made it easier for me in college [at Colorado ] and at the pro level to pick things up.”

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Huddle Up Week 1: The Ravens and Texans make an Opening Week Statement By Jason King

There were some intriguing games in Week one of this new NFL season.  Packers/Saints, Lions/Buccaneers, and Cowboys/Jets were all exciting non-divisional games.  The two divisional games of importance were the Colts/Texans and of course Ravens/Steelers.  Neither was close as the Ravens and Texans both handled business respectively.

The Ravens/Steelers rivalry has been one of the NFL’s best over the last four years.  In that time frame no Ravens/Steelers regular season game was decided by more than 4 points.  Yesterday afternoon that changed.  It was clear from the very beginning of the game that the Ravens wanted to make a statement.  They demolished the Steelers 35-7.  Baltimore put their stamp on this win by forcing seven Pittsburgh turnovers.  They also ran all over the “vaunted” Steelers defense piling up 170 yards rushing yards (5.5 YPC).  Joe Flacco was 17-29 with 224 yards passing and 3 touchdowns.  He beat Ben Roethlisberger for the first time in his NFL career.  Flacco needs to thank his defense for that.  Baltimore’s blitzkrieg pressured Big Ben all day long forcing him into five turnovers (3 INT and 2 fumbles lost).  They never letPittsburghget into any rhythm offensively. Baltimoremade a statement loud and clear that the collapse in last season’s playoffs is behind them.  It’s only the first week of the season, but this was a big game psychologically for the Ravens.  Roethlisberger had won seven straight starts against the Ravens, but that run is now over.  The Ravens have to be feeling confident about themselves.  It is still early, but this was a great win for the Ravens.  On the other side, you can bet Mike Tomlin will have his team prepared for next week’s game against the Seahawks. Continue reading

AFC East and AFC North Preview by Jason King

The AFC North and East have sent six of the last eight conference representatives to the Super Bowl. This year figures to be no different as the Patriots, Jets, Steelers and Ravens are all emergent favorites to play for the Lombardi Trophy.  

AFC East

 The AFC East has been dominated by the Patriots over the last 10 years.  Are the Jets ready to win their first AFC East crown since 2002? Will the Bills or Dolphins be competitive or just easy outs?  All of these questions and more will be answered in the next 5 months.

Continue reading

A Glimpse At The 2011 NFL Season According To A So-Called Expert: Lloyd Vance

 

NFL Insider Lloyd Vance believes that the 2011 NFL season will be a big year for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and their up-and-coming quarterback Josh Freeman

Once again it is time for me to get out my crystal ball and see if I can prognosticate the upcoming NFL season. However as all of my friends can attest, I have never been totally right or wrong in my predictions.

I can already tell you now that I have never gotten the Super Bowl match-up or champion completely right. Because in the NFL, nothing has ever been won on paper and you always need to remember former NFL Commissioner Bert Bell’s famous line, “On Any Given Sunday”.  Our usual game keys of injuries, luck, preparation and pure want-to will all be huge factors as to who ends up playing at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, IN on Super Bowl Sunday (February 5, 2012).

And please tell me who could have predicted in the 2010 NFL Season that the “Favre-less” Green Bay Packers would finally shake off almost 15 seasons without a Lombardi Trophy to winning an NFL record 12th championship.  Maybe this is my year to be the envy of my doubters (Big V, I am specifically talking to you).  However you know I will have to eat some crow later this NFL season for some of these predictions.

Of course, my NFL tea-leaf reading is all in good fun, so with the season ready to kickoff – Thursday September 8th with the defending Super Bowl Champion Green Bay Packers hosting the New Orleans Saints in a match-up of the last two Super Bowl Champions…. We can all rejoice and say “Hallelujah” as the 2011 NFL Season is finally here. Continue reading

A Glimpse At The 2011 NFL Season According To A So-Called Expert: Matt Lombardo

The temperatures have plummeted suddenly into the sixties, leaves are beginning to turn and there’s a certain crispness in the air that can only be broken by the perfect spiral of soaring pigskin. That’s right, the greatest time of the year, football season, is upon us again. Despite a 136-day lockout, the excitement around the NFL is at perhaps its highest levels ever.

As the opener draws closer by the minute, the time for me to sit idly by in hopes of avoiding making a Super Bowl prediction is rapidly drawing to a close. Preseason predictions are rarely worth the paper they’re printed on, but in this upside down world of teams sprinting through a nonexistent offseason, the Lombardi Trophy is truly anyone’s game this season.

Some teams have positioned themselves better than others with free agent acquisitions to finish their journey with confetti falling for Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis. Meanwhile, some teams stood pat in an effort to draw on existing team chemistry to propel them to glory once again. All of these stories, subplots and themes for the upcoming season make for a wild ride for the next six months. Continue reading

Terrelle Pryor Holds His Pro Day by Lloyd Vance

With the 2011 NFL Supplemental Draft right around the corner on Monday August 22nd at 1 PM ET, the number one prospect for the event, former Ohio State QB Terrelle Pryor held his “Pro Day” in Greensburg, PA.

With 17 NFL teams in attendance, Pryor dazzled with his speed — some are reporting that he ran a Vick-like 4.36 time in the forty at 6-5, 232 lbs.  But he also reportedly did have some difficulty with accuracy (a concern of some scouts going into Monday’s Supplemental Draft). 

In fairness to Pryor, who just learned days ago that indeed he was declared eligible for the Supplemental Draft, he didn’t have much time to work with his receivers on routes and timing before the quickly put together workout.  However even though Pryor may have not had his best day throwing the ball, the former Pennsylvania HS phenom finally seemed to make some inroads with NFL personnel evaluator by exhibiting some much-needed humility.

Pryor finally accepted full responsibility for his misgivings at OSU and thanked NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell for giving the opportunity of fulfilling his dream of playing quarterback in the National Football League.  Also former All-Big Ten second teamer showed maturity by saying that he would not appeal Goodell’s ruling that he will be suspended for the first 5 games of his NFL career.

Some of the teams in attendance at the workout were the Cowboys, Browns, Bills, Eagles, Steelers, and surprisingly the Colts.  Pittsburgh was going to help send the footage to other teams who couldn’t attend.  We also learned that recently that Indy had Pryor in for a physical, which definitely raised intrigued. The Colts, who are worried about the recovery of veteran Peyton Manning returning from an off-season neck surgery, may very well “shock” the world by taking a flier on the developmental prospect.

Right now in looking at Pryor, I see more Buffalo Bills “Slash” Brad Smith (QB/WR/KR) than 2011 NFL Draft first overall pick Carolina Panthers QB Cam Newton.  Clearly Pryor has work to do to become an NFL quarterback and he seems to have embraced it.  He even re-affirmed his willingness to “help-out” anywhere possible for the team that selects him, while learning to be a more complete quarterback.

Monday’s precedings are going be real interesting, but I have no doubt that Pryor will be given his chance at redemption.  And I expect his cell phone to ring somewhere after the 3rd round of the Supplemental Draft.

What we did learn from Pryor’s workout on Saturday was that he indeed does have the “talent” to help an NFL team.  But he also seems to be a little more humble as he moves towards playing with the Big Boys.

— Lloyd Vance

Steelers-Eagles: Pre-Season Game Preview and What to Watch For by Jason King

The defending AFC Champion Pittsburgh Steelers will be looking to bounce back from a lackluster effort when they host the Philadelphia Eagles in a preseason showdown at the ketchup factory.

Date/Time: August 18, 2011 at 8:00pm

Place: Pittsburgh, PA

Venue: Heinz Field

Playing Surface: Grass

Television: FOX (national broadcast)

The first weekend of meaningless football is in the books, we now head into week two.  The Steelers and Eagles square off in their annual Keystone State battle.

The Steelers starters played only one series against the Redskins last week.  The only positives Pittsburgh can take away from their 16-7 loss to the Washington Redskins was they suffered no significant injuries, they held the Redskins to just one touchdown in five red zone trips, and they only committed two penalties for 10 yards.  They had 186 yards of total offense.  The defense gave up 452 yards.  They were a pitiful 2 of 11 on third downs.

“That’s not the kind of performance we were looking for,” Mike Tomlin said after the game.  “Quite frankly, we got outplayed in just about all areas: blocking, tackling, running, throwing, kicking. That team was better prepared tonight than us. They showed it. We accept that, and I look forward to this group responding to what we put out there tonight. We’ve got a lot of ground to cover.”

Just having Ben Roethlisberger play for more than one series will help the offense.  The offensive line in front of Roethlisberger is a concern, but those issues won’t be solved in one preseason game.  The Steelers hope to gain their usual continuity and rhythm on offense that was missing last week against Washington.  That starts with establishing the run, which opens the field up for Roethlisberger to improvise in a way only he can.

The Steelers defense isn’t an issue.  Last year they led the NFL in eight statistical categories. They were especially stingy against the run, only giving up 62.8 rushing yards per game.  Pittsburgh’s defense should be even better with the return of Aaron Smith at left defensive end.  James Harrison anchors the linebackers, while Troy Polamalu anchors the secondary.  Hall of Famer Dick LeBeau calls the signals.  The Steelers first team offense and defense should play a quarter, maybe a little more.

The Eagles are coming off a 13-6 win over the Baltimore Ravens last week.  The first team offense and defense played one series each so we didn’t get to see much from them.  They should play more in this game.

The Eagles have a few intriguing storylines as they approach this game.  They have a few position battles going on, the main ones being at center and middle linebacker.  The offensive line could have as many as three new starters.  DeSean Jackson makes his 2011 debut.  These are things to watch in this game.

Jason Kelce and Jamaal Jackson are battling to see who wins the starting center spot.  Since David Akers was let go, Jackson is the longest tenured Eagle.  This game will be a key spot for the rookie Kelce.  This Pittsburgh defense was the best in the business last year.  If he performs well it could go a long way in him eventually winning this job.  If he doesn’t, expect Jackson to start the season at center.

Casey Matthews only played two series against the Ravens.  Expect him to play the entire first half.  Matthews, the Eagles fourth round pick out of Oregon, looked solid in his NFL debut last week.  The two series he played, the defense only allowed 3 points and 59 yards rushing.

Ryan Harris isn’t playing because of a back injury.  King Dunlap is expected to start at right tackle.  According to Andy Reid, rookie right guard Danny Watkins “is progressing every day.”  If Ryan Harris’ injury is more serious than anticipated the Eagles need to see what they have in King Dunlap.  It sounds like you can pencil in Watkins as the starting right guard.  Right tackle, Mike Vick’s blindside, is more troublesome.  If King Dunlap doesn’t perform well, the anxiety for Howard Mudd and Andy Reid will begin.

DeSean Jackson and Michael Vick were a feared force last season.  They will be reunited at Heinz field Thursday night.  Jackson will most likely play a few series as the Eagles try and ease him back into things after his 11 day holdout.  He won’t be fielding any punts but that’s fine for now. The biggest objective is for Vick and Jackson to build that chemistry that made them so dangerous last year.

The Eagles and Steelers both have areas they want to improve on this week. Not all questions will be answered Thursday night, but it will be a good indicator for both teams.

 

Jason King is a contributing writer at Taking It to the House and can be reached at jdk2032@yahoo.com