Mike Curtis, a 14-year NFL veteran who was one of the hardest-hitting linebackers of the ‘60s and ‘70s — and also the first defensive captain of the Seahawks in 1976 — has died.
The Baltimore Sun reported that Curtis died Monday morning at the age of 77. His family said that the cause of death was complications of CTE, or chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a neurodegenerative disease caused by repeated head injuries, according to reports.
Curtis played 11 years with the Colts and made a key interception in the final minutes that led to Baltimore’s victory over Dallas in Super Bowl V, capping a season in which he had been named the AFC Defensive Player of the Year. He was named to the Pro Bowl four times and named first-team All-Pro twice.
Curtis was known as one of the most ferocious players of what was a hard-hitting era of the NFL, once even laying into a fan who ran on the field in a game in 1970, a move that surprised even some of his teammates, according to an NFL Films documentary of that season.
Nearing the end of his career at the age of 33 and having dealt with a knee injury the season before that limited him to six games, he was left available by the Colts in the 1976 expansion draft and the Seahawks made Curtis one of the 39 veterans the team took in a two-day draft March 30-31, 1976 (the order of selection was never released).
Curtis was one of three team captains that year for the Seahawks, all veterans who had been taken in the expansion draft (the others were offensive lineman Norm Evans, who had a long career with the Dolphins, and special-teamer Ed Bradley, who had been with the Steelers).
Curtis expressed surprise the Colts had left him available, but also said he was ready to embrace coming to Seattle in a 1976 interview.
“I feel this team is a new opportunity for me,” he said then. “I’ll get to see a different part of the country and start all over again. I’ll play four years here before I retire.”
Curtis started all 14 games that season at right linebacker for the Seahawks — he had been a middle linebacker with the Colts — and was second in tackles with 107.
But his most famous play came on special teams as Curtis blocked a 35-yard field-goal attempt by Tampa Bay’s Dave Green with 40 seconds left to secure the first victory in Seahawks history. Green’s kick could have tied the game. Instead, Seattle held on for a 13-10 win in what would be a 2-12 season.
“I think Mike finally said, ‘OK, I’m tired of this crap and I’m going to go in there and block this field goal,’’’ Steve Raible, now the team’s longtime announcer but in 1976 a rookie receiver for the Seahawks, recalled in an interview with The Times in 1976 about that game (the two teams had combined for an NFL record 35 penalties).
That would be the only season Curtis would play for the Seahawks. Knowing he had only a few years left in his career and wanting to play closer to his home — he was born in Washington, D.C. — he signed with Washington and played two final seasons there.
Curtis played at Duke before being taken by the Colts in the first round of the 1965 draft.