One summer day a couple of years ago, Bill Curry, a former outstanding center in the National League, and writer George Plimpton climbed into Curry's car in Louisville and pointed it north toward Wisconsin and the training camp of the Green Bay Packers, where Curry intended to give pro football one last shot.
Along the way, Curry reminisced about the pain and pleasure of his years with the Packets, Los Angeles Rams, Houston Oilers and Baltimore Colts. Plimpton, with his friend's consent, taped it all and the result was a book ("One More July," Harper and Row 1977, 212 pp) .
At one point on the trip, Plimpton asks Curry who had been his roommate with the Colts, Curry had the following to say about that roommate. Mike Curtis, a former all-pro linebacker with the Colts and now a member of the Washington Redskin.
"Mike Curtis," Curry replied. "Metal Mike (was my roommate) for five years. We started out calling him lron Mile because he was so tough, and then he tore his knee up, so Don Shinnick demoted him to Metal Mike. Then when he lost a lot of weight and came around with a cast on his leg, Shinnick scaled him down to something like Fabric Mike or Cloth Mike - Paper Mike, I think. It ended up with Shinnick calling him Air Mike the last couple of months. He had withered in the cast during that time.
"Of course, that's not an impression opposing teams had. He was a devastating player. He drove his own players. He'd kick the linemen in front of him, or shove at them to move over, shouring at them.
"The one lineman he couldn't do that to was Billy Ray Smith. 'Don't you ever touch me, it distract me.' Billy Ray said - odd to think that in a sport with so much laying on of hands you'd ever hear a football player say such a thing - and Mike Curtis always avoided him.
"But that didn't stop him with the rest of us. He wasn't the team captain or even the defensive captain, but, in 1970, he stood up in front of the entire team and he said, 'I'll make sure that you go all out for the rest of the season because if I ever see anyone who's not giving 100 per cent, I'll beat his ass.' We had three games left in the regular season, three in the playoffs, including the Super Bowl, and we won all six.
"Mike had a very firm idea that you had that sort of thing to make a team work. In fact, he went to coach McCafferty when the team began to sag in 1972 and told him he wasn't handling the team properly and, in essence, suggested that he change his personality and start shouting at his players.
"Mac said, 'You're telling me, Mike, you want me to yell at you?'
"'Yeah." Mike said. If you think it's necessary.'
"A week later, we were playing in Buffalo and Mike missed a sidelines tackle and rolled right up under Mac's feet. Mac leaned down and he asked real quiet, 'Mike, what're you doing?'
"Mike jumped up and he said, 'I'm hustling.'
"Mac said, 'Well, then, would you hit someone when you get there, please?'
"(On the day of a game), we'd get up and drive over the Memorial Stadium in Mike's car. The superloyal fans were already there - 3 1/2 hours before game time - and they'd slap us on the back as we'd kind of strut down that ramp into the stadium. I remember the way Mike walked. I'd sign autographs but he wanted to push on. He already had his mind on what was coming. He might perfunctorily write something that looked like 'Mike Curtis.'
"That was an important part of my own preparation - to walk into the stadium with Mike. It was almost as if I could draw on his strength . . . Just the way he walked helped me get ready to play.
"Part of the thing in the Colt locker room was having friends down there before a game . . . But Mike didn't like it at all; it wasn't the way he thought things should be. So he would get there very early. I might wander around talking to people; I'd look back and Mike would be completely dressed . . . taped, his pads on, shoulder pads, everything. he'd go in the training room; he'd get a radio, turn it up real loud, and sit there with his ear against it and kind of rock back and forth. He'd do that for a couple of hours.
"I don't know if he went over his asssignments while he listened, or if he just let his mind wander, or if he meditated. I never talked to him about it; but by the time we were on the field for warmups, he was almost in a trance.
"He and I had a ritual that we followed precisely. We never talked about it but we always did the same thing. At a stage in the warmups, we'd stand and look at each other; he would point at one shoulder and I'd come off the ball full speed and we'd smash shoulders together. He'd explode.It would rock me right down to my toes. Then he'd point at the other shoulder and we'd hit again. That started the ignition.
"Then, after our pregame talk in the locker room, Mike and I would find each other again. You know how you lock arms and hit your shoulders together. Well, we would hit each other with absolutely all our might, just tremendous smashes. Many times I would see stars. And I knew I was ready to play, because nobody was going to hit me any harder than Mike just had . . .
" . . . When we'd score a touch-down, I'd come off and look for Mike. It was important to me that we win Mike's approval somehow. He'd look at me and he would nod. If I had made a good play - a good block on a screen pass or something - he might even say something. But never much . . .
" . . . He was apart. It was an interesting relationship. In the middle of the players' strike controversy, all of it so heated, where he and I had taken totally opposite positions, he told me he was going to break the strike and go to camp, the first veteran to do so.
He really knocked our philosophical position. I called him up to ask him about some of the things he'd said. We were just poles apart! But then he asked me if I could come to dinner to see their new baby.
"During those five years we roomed together, we differed on virtually everything of substance. Still, we had a good time together; we respected each other. We worked hard against each other in practice, and every now and then we'd have a little fistfight and knock each other around and I'd end up with tears in my eyes. . ."