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'83 fumble haunts UT-ex Curry
By BRAD TOWNSEND
The Dallas Morning News
Published: Oct. 30, 2005
HOUSTON – Twenty-one years later, the anguish on Craig Curry's face is
fresh. His emotions are raw. His recall is painfully vivid.
He hears the thump of the punt. He sees the football spinning in slow
motion, suspended against the chilly, overcast Dallas sky. He feels
three Georgia Bulldogs closing in and hears Texas teammate Jitter Fields
holler from behind.
"You, you, you!"
Every Longhorns fan older than 30 remembers what happened next, at
shortly before 4 p.m. on Jan. 2, 1984. Curry muffed the punt. Georgia
recovered, punched across a late touchdown and stunned No. 2 Texas,
10-9, in the Cotton Bowl.
Curry left the stadium sobbing in his mother's arms, not realizing that
his flub was about to magnify into a life-altering nightmare. That
night, No. 5 Miami toppled No. 1 Nebraska in the Orange Bowl, stealing a
national championship that could have been Texas' first since 1970.
The Longhorns' title drought now has stretched to 35 years, and as it
happens, this year's team is the first to start a season 7-0 since the
1983 squad did it.
"I am hoping and praying that they win the national championship this
year," Curry, 43, says. "Please, because I am just dying."
"I don't even go to games at this point. I'm afraid that my presence
will be like a taboo. Somebody will see me there and throw rocks or
something like that."
Through the years, Curry had declined all media queries, but he agreed
to sit down recently with The Dallas Morning News in his Houston
office, where he is senior vice president of a financial planning firm.
Revisiting "that thing" remains painful, he says. Until a few years ago,
he avoided alumni functions, despite invitations from concerned
teammates, former coach Fred Akers and ex-defensive coordinator David
McWilliams, who oversees the T-Association.
It troubles Akers that Curry still is "tied up in knots," adding, "I'm
really pleased that he talked to you about it. That will help."
Seven years ago, Curry and Akers crossed paths at an airport. As they
exchanged pleasantries, Curry's eyes welled. "Coach, I'm so sorry," he
Akers told Curry he was being too hard on himself. Former coaches and
teammates make it a point to remind Curry of at least half a dozen
what-ifs from that day.
What if Texas had scrounged a touchdown out of its seven penetrations
inside the Georgia 33? What if Jeff Ward, 15-of-16 on field goal
attempts entering the game, had not missed from 40 and 43 yards that day?
What if Akers had gone with nine-game starter Rob Moerschell at
quarterback rather than Rick McIvor?
"I know it and I feel it and I love 'em for it," Curry says of the
consoling efforts. "But the bottom line is that [expletive] happened.
I'm not psychotic or suicidal or anything like that. It's just the pain
and hurt of letting the Longhorn family down."
The '84 Cotton Bowl was Curry's last game at Texas. That spring, the
defensive back was one of 17 Longhorns selected in the NFL draft.
He played five seasons for Tampa Bay and Atlanta, not bad for a 6-foot,
190-pounder who never aspired to play college football.
LOUIS DeLUCA / DMN
Craig Curry's muff of a punt in the 1984 Cotton Bowl contributed to No. 2 Texas losing the game and – when No. 1 Nebraska lost – a national title. Curry says he still lives with 'the pain and hurt of letting the Longhorn family down.'
Growing up in inner-city Houston, all he wanted was to become a
businessman, wear a suit and carry a briefcase.
His father, Melvin Curry Sr., worked for Cook's Paint on weekdays and
was a handyman on weekends.
Craig often accompanied Melvin Sr., whom he calls "my buddy, heart and
soul." Melvin and Craig's mother, Eddie C. Casimere, divorced when Craig
was 5. Craig split time between homes, with Mom stressing education and
Dad supplying a spiritual base.
Curry intercepted 10 passes and made All-State as a Houston Kashmere
senior while also earning a 4.2 grade-point average and graduating
eighth in a class of 500.
At Texas, he stepped into a starting role as a sophomore and played all
four secondary positions. But what teammate Jerry Gray most remembers is
Curry "living" in the library, often returning to Jester dormitory at 2
Curry earned a BBA in engineering management, a five-year program,
taking courses such as physics, thermodynamics and advanced calculus. By
all accounts, he was a model teammate.
Yet most Texas fans solely remember him for one infamous play, in the
waning five minutes of his career.
Curry and Gray, the Buffalo Bills' defensive coordinator, were best men
in one another's weddings. To this day, Gray tries "to get him to
understand, that's one play. We had numerous other plays where we should
have blown the University of Georgia out of the water."
Other miscues forgotten
Fans and reporters, however, rarely focus on Texas' three other
turnovers that day. Or the end zone pass that Terry Orr dropped late in
the third quarter, forcing Texas to settle for a 27-yard field goal and
a more tenuous 9-3 lead.
In 1999, Curry's drop topped the Austin American-Statesman's list
of 25 most heart-wrenching moments in a century of Texas sports, ahead
of Houston's loss to North Carolina State in the 1983 NCAA basketball
final and the Cowboys' 1967 Ice Bowl loss to Green Bay.
Ward, a sports talk host on Austin's KLBJ radio, told The Miami
Herald six years ago that fan sentiment toward Curry bordered on
hate, adding, "I don't know what it's like to be Craig Curry over the
years. I wouldn't want to know."
Ward, who has always maintained that too much blame was heaped on Curry,
says that these days fewer fans harp on the '84 Cotton Bowl. He senses a
"whet appetite" among fans that a national title this year would erase
"Well, it would make it go away for everybody who wasn't in that game,"
Texas' offense sputtered often, but the Longhorns maintained a No. 2
ranking all season with exceptional special teams and one of the most
dominant defenses in college history.
In the regular-season finale at Texas A&M, rifle-armed McIvor came off
the bench to spark a 45-13 comeback win.
DMN file photo
Texas' Jitter Fields (far right) tries to recover a punt fumbled by teammate Craig Curry.
Still, it was a surprise to many when McIvor started the Cotton Bowl,
amid swirling wind and a kickoff temperature of 38 degrees.
Despite an afternoon of blown scoring chances, Texas' 9-3 lead entering
the final five minutes seemed ironclad.
When the Bulldogs lined up to punt on fourth-and-17 from their 34 with
4:44 left, they had 66 yards passing and had only twice crossed midfield.
"We did not think they were going to punt," Akers recalls. "So we called
an 'unsure punt.' "
Texas kept its first-team defense on the field, inserting only Jitter
Fields, the regular punt returner.
Why Curry remained on the field, in what coaches called the searchlight,
or center field, position, is somewhat of a mystery.
Michael Feldt typically filled the role. Unlike Curry, he practiced
fielding punts every week. McWilliams recalls that Feldt may have been
hurt on the previous play.
Akers says he simply wanted his best defenders in the game to guard
against a fake. "We didn't care if the ball hit the ground, but just in
case it was a clean punt, Jitter Fields was there to catch it."
Curry remembers thinking that it might be the last play of his college
"What I really wanted to do was go hit somebody. I figured it would be
my last hit.
"And I'll be doggone, the ball came to me."
The punt is muffed
McWilliams says the searchlight player typically lines up 18 yards from
the line of scrimmage. Curry, however, lined up deeper, about 10 yards
in front of Fields.
The punt was poor, traveling only 35 yards beyond the line of scrimmage.
Curry backed up a few steps, but at the last moment realized the ball
was dropping to his right. By then, Georgia's Clarence Kay was two yards
Curry reached out but the ball dropped through his arms.
"I've played this a million times in my mind," Curry says. "Honestly, as
I see this ball, I don't know if the wind shifted ... I have no earthly
Before Texas fans could let out a gasp, it seemed Curry would be spared
goat status. The ball bounced at the Texas 29 and straight to Fields. He
fell on it, but it squirted out to Georgia's Gary Moss, who recovered it
at the 23.
"We still had an opportunity to do what we did best with that team, and
that's play defense," Akers says.
Two plays later, Georgia faced third-and-4 from the 17. At that point,
it had converted one of 13 third-down opportunities. Quarterback John
Lastinger ran an option to the right. Bulldogs blockers sealed off two
Texas linebackers, leaving Curry in a one-on-two against Lastinger and
Lastinger ran untouched until Gray hit him as he dived for the pylon and
the winning touchdown with 3:22 left.
Minutes later, Georgia players carried coach Vince Dooley off the field
while the Longhorns and their fans stared in shock.
Too distraught to talk
Reporters searched the Texas locker room for Curry, but he was hidden
away in the equipment room, crying. UT officials ushered in his mother
to comfort him.
"I knew Craig had pretty much had a meltdown," Ward says. "But the thing
is, at the time, we didn't know what was going to happen that night."
Texas sports information director Bill Little gathered a couple of
quotes from Curry – "I just don't know why I did it. ... I have no
excuses" – and distributed them to the media.
Little and Akers regret that they did not persuade Curry to address the
media. "Stand up and do it," Akers recalls telling him. "Because if you
don't, you're liable to carry this around with you the rest of your
Curry says he was far too distraught. "I just wanted to disappear." He
continued to cry as his mother drove him to the airport that evening, so
he could fly to Palo Alto, Calif., to play in the East-West Shrine Game.
He did not learn of Miami's 31-30 victory over Nebraska until the
following day. "That was the nail in the coffin," he says.
Putting play behind him
Coping, Curry says, has gradually become easier.
He always had the ability to focus on the present, the task at hand.
These days, he and wife Regina focus on the hectic school and athletic
schedules of 9-year-old Craig Jr. and 7-year-old Chelsea.
Occasionally, he meets people who blurt, "You're the one!" Reporters
leave messages a couple of times a year, especially those seasons when
Texas starts strong.
It didn't help when Curry made news in 1996. An Austin grand jury
indicted him on a bank fraud charge stemming from a sports-agent scandal
at Florida State.
The following January, jurors concluded that Curry, without proper
authorization, used the credit line of Cincinnati Bengals defensive end
John Copeland to obtain a $29,000 loan for Seminoles player Corey Sawyer
Curry was sentenced to three months in a halfway house and three months
of home detention. He also was fined $4,000 and ordered to perform 150
hours of community service.
Curry declines to comment on that period, but notes that "I've got wide
shoulders," in part because of the Cotton Bowl muff.
Two years ago, his father died, sending him into a 24-hour tailspin. The
spiritual foundation laid by Melvin Sr. had helped Craig endure the
Cotton Bowl nightmare. Now ...
"If it wasn't for me dropping this punt, there's no telling what I might
have done. I literally went back to that place and said, 'Man, you
remember that night? You thought the world had come to an end.' "
Today, he still wears Longhorns pajamas. He watches Texas on TV whenever
he can. But he recalls attending only two UT games in the last 21 years,
neither in Austin.
The most recent occasion was in 1995, when Texas came to town to play
Houston. Curry went to the game alone, and got caught up in the
excitement of the game and the crowd. A calmness settled over him.
That is, until Texas quarterback James Brown entered the game, wearing
No. 5. Curry's jersey number.
"Shew, I lost it," he says, eyes watering, his voice trailing to a
whisper. "I got up. Left."
First look at replay
Perhaps talking about that day and that play will bring Curry closure.
Two hours into the often emotional sit-down, the reporter mentions that
he brought a videotape of the 1984 Cotton Bowl's final five minutes.
Curry says he has never seen a replay of his drop.
"Damn you," he laughs, reaching for the tape and inserting it into his
office VCR. "Are you kidding me? I've got to see it."
He watches intently, rewinding the punt and Lastinger's touchdown run
several times. He says he is surprised at how close he is to Fields on
the punt play.
"I should have let Jitter catch that [expletive]," he mutters.
Curry asks for a copy of the tape. He wants to show it to Craig Jr., who
takes soccer losses too hard.
Curry says he'll root hard for the Longhorns, from afar, the rest of the
season. Not that he wants to put undue pressure on those kids.
"If that national championship happens, I'm pretty positive that I'll
just be a distant memory. God knows I pray for it all the time."
Family: Wife Regina is the assistant superintendent for Spring
ISD. Craig Jr. is 9, Chelsea is 7. Curry also has a son, Stevin, who is
a freshman basketball player at Huston-Tillotson University. Stevin's
mother is mid-80's UT track star Mary Bolden.
What's he doing now? When he isn't running Craig Jr. and Chelsea
to soccer and gymnastics practice, Curry is vice president of a Houston
financial management firm. A board-certified financial planner since
1994, he organizes the estates of clients, including several
professional athletes. "Maybe 30 percent of my clients are pro players,"
"The bulk of them are corporate America people."
• • •
You can reach Brad Townsend via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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