Life in Ten-Yard Increments

Legendary football player/coach Bill Curry discusses life


Bill Curry speaks at the Georgia Writers Museum in Eatonton. Photo by Trevor Bowden

Last November, legendary football player and coach Bill Curry came to the Georgia Writers Museum to promote his book, “Ten Men You Meet in the Huddle,” which renowned author Pat Conroy described as “equal parts autobiography, character study, leadership manual, and profound philosophy… By far the best book about the NFL I have ever read.” However, those in attendance that night left the event having been blessed with hearing much more than just selling points about the book, but were instead enlightened by countless stories from Curry’s life that helped explain the events and interactions that shaped him into the man who played 10 seasons in the NFL, has two Super Bowl rings, snapped footballs to fellow legends Bart Starr and Johnny Unitas under the direction of giants Vince Lombardi, Don Shula, and Bobby Dodd, and coached at Georgia Tech, Alabama, and Kentucky before helping start the football program at Georgia State in 2008.

Admittedly, Curry was pressured into writing the book by his wife, fellow author Carolyn Newton Curry, and close friend George Plimpton, who was best known for attending the Detroit Lions’ 1963 training camp under the guise of trying out to be the team’s third-string quarterback, but instead turned his experiences into the best-selling novel, Paper Lion. It was Curry’s assistance with another of Plimpton’s books that led to his insistence that Curry had the gift of being able to “talk to the page,” which Curry explained was just a nice way of telling him what he already knew, that he was an excellent BS-er and talked too much. That night at the Georgia Writers Museum though, there was no one who would have told Curry he was talking too much, as the lessons he was passing on to his audience had everyone captivated.

One individual Curry spent much of his time praising was College Football Hall of Fame inductee, Bobby Dodd, who was his head coach during his playing days at Georgia Tech and instilled in him much of the ethics and beliefs that still guide him through life today. Some of the lessons he learned from Coach Dodd took a bit of tough love before they really rang true with Curry, such as when he thought attending every class was more of a suggestion than a requirement and paid the price by running stadium stairs until he collapsed, but he quickly learned the importance of education. In fact, Curry credits Coach Dodd with helping him “graduate from a school at which I did not belong only because my football coach loved me too much to allow me to self-destruct when I could not see my own potential, and that is what a coach should be, in my opinion.”

Coach Dodd was not the only legendary mentor Curry had the privilege of playing for during his career, as his 10 years in the NFL included playing for arguably two of the greatest coaches in football history, Vince Lombardi, coach of the Green Bay Packers, and Don Shula, coach of the Baltimore Colts. Curry told numerous riveting stories from when he played for the two powerhouses of football, including his recollection of the greatest halftime speech Curry ever heard. In 1965, Curry’s Packers were playing against the Detroit Lions, and were losing 21-3 at halftime. While going to their respective locker rooms for the half, one of the Lions players made a snarky, expletive-filled comment to Coach Lombardi. Curry explained how he fully expected his team to receive a butt-chewing of biblical proportions, but instead, Coach Lombardi walked into the locker room with 30 seconds left of the 12-minute break and told the team, “Men, we are the Green Bay Packers,” and walked back out to the field. The Packers held the Lions scoreless the entire second half and went on to win the game 31-21, showcasing the talent and culture that Coach Lombardi had instilled in his team.

Bill’s family – Front row: grandson Elliot, granddaughter Claire and granddaughter Evelyn; Second row: daughter-in-law Kelly, grandson Brett, grandson Alex and wife Carolyn; Back row: Bill, Jr., Bill, daughter Kristin and son-in-law Bob. Photo contributed.

After countless more stories, Curry explained that his book was an attempt to say thank you to the many individuals he met and helped him along his journey, or as many as he could fit into the pages anyway, and an apology to Coach Lombardi for the harsh words he spoke of him to the media following a game during the 1972 season. Curry went on to detail how he worked to repair his relationship with Coach Lombardi and was eventually forgiven at a time when he felt he “was least deserving of it,” showing just how much Lombardi cared for him and how football truly is the greatest sport when it comes to bonding and allowing people to grow as a family. Quoting his high school football coach, Curry left his listeners with an incredible analogy that expertly summarized his speech, saying “Football is just life marked off in 10-yard increments. You are going to get knocked down again and again and again, but you are going to have the choice of either lying there and wallowing in self-pity, or you can get up and fight again.”

Audience members had the chance to speak with Curry and have their books autographed. Photo by Trevor Bowden

Having had such a wonderful turn out last year, and with football season just around the corner, Coach Curry and his wife were scheduled to return to the Georgia Writers Museum on Tuesday, September 6, to promote Carolyn’s newest book, “Sudden Death,” which details a murder mystery set in the world of football.

Autographed copies of “Ten Men You Meet in the Huddle” and “Sudden Death” are both available for purchase at Georgia Writers Museum, 109 S. Jefferson Ave., Eatonton, Thursday through Saturday, 10 a.m. until 4 p.m. (706) 991-5119 or www.georgiawritersmuseum.org. The website also contains information about other Meet the Author events.

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Story and photos by Trevor Bowden, published in the Sept-Oct 2022 edition of Lakelife magazine.