"Mike Curtis thrives on the body contact that is so essential for a good football player," Roy Lester, his high-school coach at Richard Montgomery in Rockville, said that 18 years ago. The statement still holds for the former all-pro linebacker and newest Redskin.
"I enjoy that contact and I'm afraid when I was in Seattle. I held back on that a bit," Curtis said. "I was depressed: I didn't know what they wanted me to do. Last year was the first year I was ashamed for some of my actions."
In a lengthy interview yesterday, Curtis said the Redskins are planning to start him at right linebacker in Sunday's NFL regular-season opener against the New York Giants. He will replace Chris Hanburger, who underwent an apprendectomy and will not be available for at least another week. Curtis, 34, was signed as a free agent Thursday after clearing waivers.
"I'd been trying to get to the Redskins for four years," he said. "The Colts tried to trade me to the Redskins before I went to Seattle in the expansion draft. But I had a flareup with Joe Thomas (then Colt general manager) over some things I don't want to discuss. He stopped talking to them."
Tim Temerario, the Redskin director of player personnel, acknowledged yesterday the club talked to Baltimore about a possible Curtis trade. But Temerario said those conversations never reached the negotiating stage. So Curtis, with many business interests in the Washington-Baltimore area, was off to the Pacific Northwest.
Three weeks ago Curtis, Seattle's captain and oldest player, said he asked the expansion team to trade him.
"I felt they were on a no-win effort this year, that they were building. And that's an understandable effort with an expansion team," Curtis said. "I felt good; I felt quick. I didn't want to waste it on a no-win effort. Even though I was captain of the team, there were some things I couldn't accept."
Curtis, who was All-Atlantic Coast Conference in both football and academics while majoring in history at Duke University, signed a one-year contract with the Redskins, taking a 45 per cent cut from his reported salary of $150,000. He said he expects to play three more seasons.
"I won't get back what I was making," he said, "because what I was making was more than I was worth. If I have a good year, maybe I'll get a little raise. I'm happy with what I'm getting. I'm closer to my business interests; I'm with a playoff team. You have to consider those things.
"It becomes more fun. The years I made that big money, I invested my money. Now I can pick and choose where I want to work."
Where Curtis is now working is on the strongest pro-union team in the National Footabll League. Curtis was the only league veteran to report to training camp when the NFL Players' Association went on strike in 1970.
"We will try to keep a low profile on this," Curtis said with a smile.
There is no immediate problem about Curtis' union views, safety Ken Houston, one of the team's strongest leaders, said.
"Our whole team is like that. We've got a team, but it's a 45 individuals," Houston said. "Every guy goes his own way. That's what makes us so unique and different. Yeh, he's already been accepted. Everybody knows Mike and all the things he's done. But he's apart of the ball club. A veteran player is always welcome on a veteran team, because everybody knows he's going to help you win. I'm glad he's here."
Curtis' first task upon arrival at Redskin Park Thursday was running the 40-yard dash. He was timed in 4.7 seconds.
"I'd like to play as long as I can," he said. "I physically know I can play three more years. If I'm 34 1/2 years old and can run a 4.7, I have the same speed I had at 24. I only have to learn the position. My philosophy is that you can play physically a lot longer than you can play mentally as long as you avoid the Mickey Mouse stuff."
"Mickey Mouse stuff," in Curtis' view, includes coaches who are only concerned about playing the position by the book and who berate players infront of their teammates.
"At Seattle," he said, "I wanted to play hard. But every time I did, they'd say I was pursuing too hard, or that I was hitting with the wrong shoulder. What difference does it make which shoulder you use as long as you make the tackle?"
Curtis hits hard with either shoulder and with his mouth.
"I'm going to keep my mouth shut more now," he said, "because what I feel is what other people feel, too, and they won't say it. So I take the brunt. A lot of people think a lot of things, but they don't say it. A lot of things should be changed. But I'm not going to do it through the press."
But, regardless, he will say what he thinks. Curtis' latest dip in hot water involved a story in the current issue of Sport Magazine in which he is quoted as calling former Colt teammate John Mackey "a nigger" because of his stand that the zone defense came in "because it keeps more white guys in the game."
"Yes, I said it," Curtis acknowledged. "It's as bigoted a statement as anything I've heard. Sometimes it's necessary to speak back. It's just an out-and-out racist remark. You can't say that, it's unfair. Some people are getting more racist than ever on both sides of the spectrum.
"Why get silly? You're always going to have bigots and racists. My friends are just people and because they're racists, that doesn't mean I'm one. I have friends on both sides of the spectrum. I don't have the least leaning towards being a racist. I'm for equality, fairness and common sense."
The same Sport Magazine article quotes Curtis as saying violence in the NFL today is no worse than it ever was, that the players used to take violence for granted until the media sensationalized it.
"I've seen guys who broke people's jaws on a tackle out of bounds," Curtis said. "And broken rib cages. They didn't call penalties. Those are hellacious things. With (Oakland corner-back George) Atkinson, you're talking about a mild concussion (he gave Pittsburgh's Lynn Swan last season), which is brain bruise.
"Now they're playing it up more. I thought a decade ago that was the name of the game."