NEW ORLEANS — In the city where they won their only Super Bowl, the Chiefs could celebrate the elections of both an offensive and a defensive player to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Defensive tackle Curley Culp, who was the centerpiece of the Chiefs’ defense in their upset of heavily favored Minnesota in Super Bowl IV, and guard Will Shields, a 12-time Pro Bowler from 1993 to 2006, are finalists in the voting that will be conducted here Saturday.
Culp and former Green Bay linebacker Dave Robinson were nominated by the Senior Committee, and they’ll be voted on separately before 15 modern-era finalists are considered. Shields is a modern-era finalist for the second straight year, and up to five inductees will be selected from that group.
“It’s very difficult to keep my feet on the ground, I’m so excited,” said Culp, who lives in Austin, Texas. “I feel so blessed and humbled, and I’m looking forward to the decision. Either way it goes, I’ll have to deal with it. It’s a great, great honor to be nominated.
“Coupled with the fact this is the 50th-year anniversary (of the Chiefs in Kansas City), that’s really a special situation.”
Shields, 41, spent his entire career with the Chiefs. Shields, a third-round draft pick from Nebraska, entered the 1993 season opener due to an injury to starting left guard Dave Szott and never left the lineup. He went on to start a franchise-record consecutive 223 games, almost all at right guard, and played for some of the NFL’s most prolific offenses in the early 2000s.
“It’s a second opportunity, but there is a great list of guys, so it’s hard to tell what’s going to happen,” Shields said. “I’m not going to hold my breath, but I will cross my fingers.”
Shields’ most difficult competition will come from first-time nominees at his position, offensive tackle Jonathan Ogden and guard Larry Allen. Two other first-time nominees, defensive tackle Warren Sapp and defensive end Michael Strahan, could be elected, and selectors have been trying to break a logjam at wide receiver between Cris Carter, Andre Reed and Tim Brown. And that doesn’t include other finalists such as running back Jerome Bettis, rush ends Charles Haley and Kevin Greene, coach Bill Parcells and former San Francisco owner Ed DeBartolo Jr., who could be riding some momentum from the 49ers’ appearance in the Super Bowl.
“It gets harder and harder every year,” Shields said, “but when you have guys who come out (of college) right behind you, and then retire close to you, it’s pretty interesting. It’s a great class … me, Strahan and Bettis all came out the same year, 1993. It’s a pretty strong class … and that includes having (former Saints/Chiefs tackle) Willie Roaf go in last year.”
Shields, who was inducted into the Chiefs Hall of Fame in 2012, helped the club win four division titles and make six playoff appearances. His 12 Pro Bowl appearances are a league record, matched only by Minnesota guard Randall McDaniel, who was inducted in to the Hall of Fame in 2010.
“There was no weakness to his game when you compare him to other guards in his era, when you talk about guys like Larry Allen …” said former Chiefs left guard Brian Waters. “Those guys had strengths. They had one strength (pass blocking or run blocking) over the other. With Will Shields, he was good at everything, which made him great.”
Shields said he was proudest of his durability, dependability and consistency.
“You could count on me day in and day out,” said Shields, an owner of the 68 Inside Sports training facility in Lenexa. “When the ball was snapped, I was going to be there. You didn’t want anybody to ever be in your spot. That was considered your spot, your job, and your opportunity. It was a prideful thing to say, ‘This is my job, this is what I do, and also to be the best in the business at it year in and year out.”
Shields thrived in several offenses, including the West Coast attack that was implemented in 1993 when the Chiefs acquired Joe Montana and Marcus Allen; the wide-open attack installed by Dick Vermeil when Priest Holmes led the NFL in rushing in 2001 and scored a then-league record 27 touchdowns in 2003; and a power running game featuring Larry Johnson’s club-record 1,789 yards in 2006.
Shields, a member of the NFL’s all-Decade team of the 2000s and the College Football Hall of Fame, made his mark off the field as well when he was selected the NFL Man of the Year in 2003 in recognition of his accomplishments on the field as well as in the community with his philanthropic Will to Succeed Foundation.
“What sets him apart is his overall character as a person,” said Vermeil. “They just don’t make many Will Shields. He is the most complete package as a player-person that I’ve ever been around in coaching.”
Culp, a former NCAA wrestling champion at Arizona State, entered the NFL in 1968 as a second-round draft pick by the Denver Broncos, who tried to convert him to the offense line because he stood just 6-2 on his 265-pound frame. When that experiment failed, Denver traded him to Kansas City.
The Chiefs created the Triple Stack defense, a four-man front with Culp lined on the nose in front of future Hall of Fame linebackers Willie Lanier and Bobby Bell and next to Hall of Fame tackle Buck Buchanan. Culp dominated Minnesota’s undersized Mick Tingelhoff in Super Bowl IV, and the Vikings were unable to move the ball against the Chiefs in Kansas City’s 23-7 win at Tulane Stadium in New Orleans.
Culp, 66, was nominated not only for his play in Kansas City during 1968-74, but for his performance in Houston during 1974-80 when he became one of the NFL’s first prototypical 3-4 nose tackles for coach Bum Phillips’ Oilers teams.
Shortly after Culp signed a future contract with the Southern California Sun of the World Football League in 1974, the Chiefs traded him and a 1975 first-round pick to Houston for defensive lineman John Matuszak in what turned out to be one of the most lopsided trades in NFL history.
The Oilers, who went 1-13 in 1973, improved to 7-7 in 1974, and to 10-4 in Culp’s first full season in Houston in 1975 when he had 11.5 sacks. Culp, a six-time Pro Bowler, helped the Oilers to consecutive AFC Championship Games in 1978 and 1979.
“It was a difficult situation,” Culp said of leaving Kansas City. “I tried to negotiate a deal with them; it just didn’t work out, and they traded me. We had some great athletes in Houston … not to the caliber we had in Kansas City, but we played well as a group. And ‘Luv You Blue’ was good times.”