In those six plays Pear endured a dozen different body blows while helping to hold Denver to three yards. Unlike the end, who may get a breather when a sweep goes away from him, the noseguard seldom is far removed from any play or its blockers and—a cause of much frustration—he is always the defender closest to the quarterback, whom he so seldom even touches.
"A lot of the time it's very difficult," says Culp, "because as defensive linemen we want to get to the quarterback but we have to be team-oriented first. Psychologically, it affects you if you let it, because you get off one blocker and there's another one waiting for you, and it's like that the whole game. So you just got to try and try and try and try."
Culp has won All-Pro honors five times during his career, and much of his success springs from the ability to make the good play no matter how much he may have been bumped around before-hand. Culp gave a classic demonstration of his resiliency last month when the Oilers opened the 1979 season at Washington. With 6� minutes left to play, Houston trailed by five points. Culp crouched lower over the center, steeling himself for another charge at a Redskin offense that had handled him through much of the game with the usual double-teaming and by running to the outside. As the ball was snapped, Culp fired into the left shoulder of Center Bob Kuziel, caromed off and immediately took an explosive block from Ron Saul, the left guard. Moving to his left, Culp slipped off Saul's block and again collided with Kuziel, whom he grabbed and threw aside like a grizzly swatting a salmon. Culp then lunged toward the ruck of bodies converging at the right-tackle hole in time to hit John Riggins, the Redskin ballcarrier, who fumbled under the force of Culp's tackle. Houston recovered at the Washington 29-yard line, scored a touchdown eight plays later and hung on for a 29-27 victory.
Culp had survived three solid collisions before he made Riggins the victim of another, thus saving the Oilers from defeat—and all in less than 20 seconds' time.
Quickness, strength and agility are obvious requirements for the kind of explosive All-Pro play that Culp showed the Redskins, but a noseguard must have technique as well as talent. Size doesn't hurt, either.
Culp is 6'1", 265; Hamilton 6'1", 245; Carter 6', 256; and Pear 6'2", 250. None is Too Tall, as in Jones. Height is a boon to a conventional defender but a detriment to a noseguard, who must get underneath the center's block and apply leverage.
"If I were 6'5" or taller," Pear says, "I'd be too awkward to play the position. It's also easier to keep blockers off my legs at this height."
For Joe Collier, the Bronco defensive coordinator, noseguards also should be blessed with an Oliver Hardy-model gluteus maximus. "They've got to be pretty wide," he says. "They can't be narrow-hipped because they take so many of those angle blocks that the guy with a skinny rump will just get wiped out."
As for technique, Culp and Pear are effective even though their styles are radically different. Pear is exceedingly mobile and as often as he shoves, rips, grabs and pushes his way through blockers, he will race by or pirouette off them, with moves vaguely akin to those of a vintage single-wing tailback. Pear beats many blockers because he probably has more speed than any other noseguard in the league, as well as a playing philosophy to match his reckless style. Convinced that the punishment of his position will shorten his career by games, if not seasons, Pear says, "My theory is I want to go for the gusto. I would rather play fewer years and do a good job than play a long time and do an average job." A wrestler in college, Culp uses his arms and upper body in a Greco-Roman approach to his art and, while he has won grudging respect from every blocker in the NFL, his highest praise comes from teammates who are trying to copy his work.
"You gotta realize how Curley uses his shoulders," says James Young, a third-year defensive end. "That's what he does better than anyone else. He looks like he's stepping right toward you, but he rocks and swings his shoulder to you and as he does that, he rips up and grabs and pulls you off balance."