Former Baltimore Colts linebacker Mike Curtis died Monday morning at his home in St. Petersburg, surrounded by loved ones, according to his caretakers and family members. He was 77.
His family said the cause of death was complications of chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a neurodegenerative disease caused by repeated head injuries.
Known as “Mad Dog,” Curtis was born James Michael Curtis in Washington, D.C. He was an academic All-American at Duke. Drafted as a fullback, Curtis, 6 feet 3 and 232 pounds, played with Baltimore from 1965-75 before joining the Seahawks expansion team and then for two years with Washington.
Curtis inspired fear and awe on the field because of his size, speed and his agility. He was known for always playing with intensity and played in two Super Bowls with the Colts. Curtis set up the winning field goal in the Colts’ 16-13 Super Bowl 5 victory over the Cowboys with a final-minute interception of Craig Morton.
Packers quarterback Bart Starr once said, “If (Dick) Butkus was scary, Curtis was scarier.”
Curtis famously laid out a fan who ran onto the field, and as a rookie threatened to punch out star quarterback Johnny Unitas.
He made the Pro Bowl in 1968, 1970, 1971 and 1974, was named the AFC defensive player of the year in 1970 and was Baltimore’s MVP in 1974.
His caretakers, Vivian Wright and Victoria Gates, told the Baltimore Sun that a table in Curtis’ house was piled high with letters and gifts from fans. Gates said she and Wright would read them, and Curtis would autograph each one and mail the letters back.
Curtis also played on the Colts team that famously lost Super Bowl 3 to Joe Namath and the heavy underdog Jets. In 1972 Curtis wrote a book, Keep Off My Turf, in which he said the Jets “were lucky that day” and that the Colts were “twice as good as the Jets” that season.
“Rest In Peace, Mike Curtis,” Colts owner Jim Irsay tweeted. “One of the game’s most legendary non-Hall-of-Famers. Ferocious on the field, a gentleman off the field.”
The Colts moved to Indianapolis in 1984.
A memorial service planned for Baltimore.