That's speaking of the whole crowd. As for individuals, there's only one man you could rank as No. 1—then, now and possibly forever. That's Curley Culp. His is a curious story. The Broncos drafted him in the second round in 1968, when everyone played the 4-3. "King-sized collegiate middle guard," the Denver press-book bio said, mentioning a position that didn't exist in the NFL, "who will bid for a defensive tackle post. NCAA heavyweight wrestling champion. Brilliant college defender who combines size (as high as 275 pounds) with speed (4.7 seconds in the 40).... Has 18½-inch neck and biceps to match.... Once busted three opponent helmets in a scrimmage session."
The Broncos loved him, all right. They loved him so much they tried to make an offensive guard out of him. When that didn't work, they traded him to Kansas City, where a year later he became part of history. Culp was the left tackle at 265 pounds in the Chiefs' 4-3 defense, but against the Vikings in the 1970 Super Bowl he played over 237-pound center Mick Tingelhoff, a six-time All-Pro. The overmatch helped Kansas City get its 23-7 win. Culp's domination of Tingelhoff was the beginning of the end for the quick, light center who made his living cutting off the middle linebacker. Pretty soon everyone was testing the league's greyhound centers by having bulky defensive tackles play them head-up.
A few years later, in probably the worst trade in Kansas City history, the Chiefs sent Culp, along with a No. 1 draft choice, to Houston for defensive end John Matuszak. The Oilers' defensive coordinator, Bum Phillips, had put in a 3-4 defense, and he needed a dominating noseguard to make it go. Culp was the man. When he went to Houston, in October '74, the Oilers had lost 31 of their last 34 games. With Culp at the nose, they went 6-2 for the rest of the year and 10-4 the following season.
What makes an ideal noseguard? High pain threshold, toughness, quick feet and great strength are high on the list. Buffalo defensive line coach Ted Cottrell says the perfect noseguard needs long arms to hold off long-armed centers like Stephenson, plus a good field of vision because he is always looking around a lot of bodies. Most of all he needs the right temperament. "He simply can't give a darn," says Indianapolis defensive line coach John Marshall.
"You can't just take a defensive end and put him at nosetackle," says Klecko. "You need more of a rough, tough guy."
"Part cat, part bull, part sick," says Maas.
"It's almost like you're lining up and trying to see how many people you can let hit you," Golic says. "The more people that hit you, the more successful you are. I know that almost sounds masochistic, but it's like you derive a lot of satisfaction from being beat up. Basically, we're there to be used and abused."
Golic faces Webster twice a year, which is bad enough, except that the Steelers also double-team him with the guards. "As if Mike Webster needs any help," says Golic. "I remember one time at Three Rivers they snapped the ball, and as Webster hit me, both the guards hit me on either side a split second later. We were on Astroturf, and my heels stuck in the turf. I literally somersaulted backward. [Linebacker] Tom Cousineau saw what was going on and jumped out of the way. As I was rolling backward I was yelling, 'Save yourself! Save yourself!' The next time I went up to the line I told Webster. 'That was a helluva blocking scheme you guys had there.' He says, 'Hey, I'm sorry, Bob. Only two of us were supposed to hit you.' It kind of makes you hope they don't mess up."
Seattle defensive line coach George Dyer says, "We see a lot of combination blocking where the center sets up the noseman to have the guard or tackle hit him. When the center comes straight out and hits him right in the mouth, we tell our guy to get ready, someone else will follow. Something very bad will happen very soon."
One of the most ferocious means of dealing with the noseman was San Francisco's notorious cripple block. This called for a tackle to peel back and crack down on the back of the noseguard's legs. "We saw one film where they were playing the Eagles," says Denver defensive line coach Stan Jones, "and the Eagles had to use three different nosetackles." Teams got revenge on the 49ers by going after their noseman, Carter, who hobbled through much of the '86 season on a bad ankle. When the cripple block was banned this year, the Niners raised no objection.