Oct. 3, 2013
This is the fifth and final installment of a five part series featuring the 2013 Tulane Athletics Hall of Fame Class. The 2013 induction ceremonies will take place on Thursday, Oct. 3 from 6-9 p.m. at the Lavin-Bernick Center on the Tulane University Uptown campus.
One simple telephone call. That's all it took. A simple answer to a phone call was enough to shape Bill Curl's life and send him on a journey of a lifetime to New Orleans and Tulane University. But the journey has not ended. It has made several ceremonial pit stops along life's highway over the last 50 years, and on Oct. 3, 2013 there will be another stop-- the Tulane Athletics Hall of Fame.
The caller on the other end that day was Tulane Director of Athletics Rix Yard. Yard, who was in his second year with the Green Wave, was in the market for a sports information director and he knew of a young, aspiring candidate in Curl.
Curl grew up in Ohio and attended Denison University in Granville, Ohio. An avid sports fan, Curl played high school sports, but knew his abilities were not going to get him on a varsity sports team in college. So, he followed his true ambition and that was to become a sports writer.
"I worked on the student paper and yearbook in high school," Curl said. "I loved sports and I was smart enough at an early age to realize my future was not through my athletic ability. I went to college, a liberal arts school, and I chose to major in English. I showed up for class occasionally. I was sports editor of the yearbook for a couple of years and the sports editor of the student newspaper for three years."
A combination of a strong writing ability and a passion for sports led Curl to his first job in college, which in turn laid the ground work for a promising future.
"My student job starting my freshman year was in the information office on campus. I worked specifically with the guy in that office who handled sports information. Through that, I was writing articles about our teams for the daily newspapers and also reporting to the Columbus Dispatch. In my senior year, I took on the full responsibilities of maintaining records and statistics and getting the stories out. When I graduated, the administration moved me into the job as a sports publicist for a couple of years," Curl said.
While at Denison, Curl worked under the watchful eye of Yard, who was the athletic director for the Big Red from 1953-63, and it was during this brief time that Curl caught Yard's attention. Yard eventually departed Denison and became the eighth Director of Athletics in Tulane University history on Feb. 4, 1963. However, the two would soon cross paths again.
"Two years after he took the job at Tulane, he called me and told me the SID job was open and asked if I would like to come down for an interview. My first thought was to tell him `Rix, you're wasting a plane fare' but I came down and did the interview. I had never been to New Orleans. Dr. Yard was a terrific guy and his wife was a very sophisticated lady. They took me to Brennan's for dinner and then to Bourbon Street and Pat O'Brien's. Needless to say, I took the job," Curl said.
In 1966, Curl, and his wife Carolyn, moved to New Orleans and Curl began an eight-year career as Tulane's SID, where he oversaw publicity and marketing efforts on behalf of the Green Wave. Along with his daily duties, Curl also helped out with team travel and was the official tour guide for all visiting media coming to New Orleans to cover a Tulane football game.
"My first year, one of my responsibilities was to entertain the visiting media and Rix would take the official travel party. So, of course everyone wanted to see Bourbon Street. So, I asked Rix `what are the parameters.' And he said `there aren't any.' We played six home games in 1966 and on five of those Friday nights I saw the sun rise on Bourbon Street," Curl said. "I felt that I had to go into every establishment, including the dives, because the media would be gone after the game the next day. We would all be at one place having a good time and I would duck out and go to another place and make sure we had a table ready. Several of the media came back for personal visits and we became great friends. Out of the eight years, there were two occasions where a writer didn't make it to the game, and we played all our games on Saturday night back then," Curl added.
Curl began his stint at Tulane in the post-Southeastern Conference years playing as an independent, but he did have the fortune to work with a trio of future Tulane Athletics Hall of Fame coaches and a student who showed great promise as well.
"I was fortunate that my first football coach was Jim Pittman, my first basketball coach was Ralph Pederson and my first baseball coach as Milt Retif, so I had three eventual hall of fame coaches that were media savvy and very cooperative. Pittman wouldn't tell you anything about his football team, but he always had a colorful quote. It was a fun job," Curl said.
"When I started at Tulane, the work was a pretty heavy load and I had one student-assistant who worked 10 hours a week and did a lot of my typing. Gayle Letulle then came along and set the all-time NCAA record for an intern. He started with me my first year, and his freshman year, and was there for eight years, all the way through law school. He stayed right with me and was a rock. He was great," he added.
Curl was off and running and had made a seamless transition to New Orleans. After all, according to Curl, his biggest adventure up to that point was visiting Niagara Falls.
"I knew New Orleans was a fun place and interesting city, but I really had no idea. I walked in wide-eyed," Curl said.
Among Curl's early accomplishments was working with the Associated Press to help initiate the All-South and All-America Independent Football Teams to help Tulane players gain notoriety since the Green Wave was competing as an independent. He also assisted with the department's marketing efforts and also became an instant hit among his counterparts around the state of Louisiana.
"About a week after I arrived at Tulane in July 1966, there was a Louisiana Sports Writers Association meeting in Lafayette. So, I went to the meeting and the other SIDs in the state immediately welcomed me and made me feel so much at home. A lot of those guys became life-long friends. Here was this Yankee coming into Louisiana and they made the transition so easy for me. It was a piece of cake," Curl recalled.
In 1970, Tulane football was on the verge of what would be a special season. In an effort to capitalize on the potential of a winning season, Yard charged Curl with putting together a marketing plan for the Green Wave.
"Back then we really didn't have a marketing director, so if there were ideas for promotion we would take on the task of putting them on. Rix thought it would be a good idea to pull together some of the top marketing minds in the city. We had one meeting and brainstormed ideas of what we could do. It was a terrific group of people from all over the city and we came up with the `Year of the Green' slogan," Curl said.
The 1970 football season began with billboards and bumper stickers proclaiming 1970 as "The Year of the Green" and the Green Wave did not disappoint. Tulane posted a 7-4 record during the regular season and received the school's first bowl invitation since 1939 with a spot in the Liberty Bowl. The Wave dispatched heavily-favored Colorado, 17-3, sending Tulane fans into a frenzy. But the biggest win during the Curl era was in 1973.
"The Liberty Bowl season was an amazing experience in 1970. But, the most emotional time was the win over LSU in 1973. The crowd was pretty even that night at Tulane Stadium. I would say it was 50-50, around 40,000 apiece. After the game, I ended up at a party back at Milt Retif's house, of all places, and that went all night. I had a responsibility at 6 a.m. the next morning to go to a television station and do a show that was edited highlights of the game," Curl said.
"When I came back to the office around 7:30 a.m., a stadium guard flagged me down and asked me to go look inside the stadium. When I walked into the stands I saw small pockets of people dotted around the stadium. I asked the guard what was going on and he said the fans came back and wanted to sit in their same seats and just think about the win over LSU. That's how emotional that game was. At the end of the game, the 40,000 Tulane fans stood and yelled for about a half hour. They weren't going to let up."
The 1973 campaign proved to be Curl's last on the Uptown campus. An opportunity at the University of Arkansas soon came his way and he uprooted his family and made his way to Fayetteville to work for the Razorbacks.
"Tulane was a great experience. I then had the opportunity to go to Arkansas and work in the Southwest Conference, which at that time was a great conference, and was filled with good people. When I accepted the Arkansas job, I did it on fairly short notice. What made me feel less guilty was the fact M.L. LaGarde was ready to step in and he knew the football team as well as I did," Curl said.
But Curl soon realized what famous New Orleans jazz singer Louis Armstrong meant when he sang "Do You Know What It Means to Miss New Orleans." The Curl family missed the Crescent City greatly and soon realized they had a deep love and a strong passion for their adopted city and its unique customs and rituals.
"That first year in February, a friend of mine in New Orleans sent us beads and a King Cake during Mardi Gras season, and my wife and I cried because we missed the city so much. We wanted to come back. So, I left Arkansas and came back to New Orleans and worked for the tourism bureau. It was a great job because I was able to promote the city. Shortly after that, I was able to get on at the Superdome after the bid for the 1982 Final Four and it lasted for 33 years," Curl said.
Curl returned to New Orleans and has never left. He began his tenure at the then Louisiana Superdome and that public relations storybook career included, concerts, republican conventions, visits by the Pope and many celebrities, hundreds of Tulane and New Orleans Saints football games, six Super Bowls, five Final Fours and the rebuilding and reopening of the Superdome after Hurricane Katrina struck the iconic facility in 2005.
Curl also helped develop the former Winn-Dixie Showdown, a three-day, nine-game college baseball event that matched Tulane, LSU and UNO against three standout teams from another state.
For all his hard work and dedication to the public relations profession, Curl received the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame's distinguished service award in sports journalism in 2003, and is the only person to receive the award whose primary job was not for a media outlet or university. He was the first president of the Louisiana Sports Information Directors Association and received Sports Information awards from the Louisiana Sports Writers Association seven times.
Curl is now retired, but can still be found in the New Orleans public relations circles. He assisted the New Orleans Local Organizing Committee for the 2012 NCAA Men's Final Four, which was hosted by Tulane, he was part of the 2013 New Orleans Media and Public Relations Committee for Super Bowl XLVII and he played a role in helping turn the undefeated 2012 John Curtis football team into the consensus national champion through his PR efforts. Yet, when asked about his fondest memories of New Orleans, Curl quickly reverts back to the success of his days at Tulane.
"As with most SID jobs, there were overtures into public relations and our fan base was so loyal and so strong. I walk down the streets today and even people I don't remember come up to me and say `I remember when.' And that is more rewarding than salaries and awards because it really sticks for a lifetime. Just the fact people associate me with Tulane University makes me very proud. I graduated from Denison and have a great love for Denison but Tulane feels more like my alma mater," Curl said.
Nearly a half century later, Curl vividly remembers the stories, the events and the people that have come and gone, but he has not forgotten for one second where it all started for him in New Orleans.
"The Tulane Athletics Hall of Fame is probably the most humbling thing that has ever happened to me. I feel that I don't deserve it, but that doesn't mean that I don't appreciate it. The notion that there will be something on a wall in some place with my name on it and will be around for some time really blows me away," Curl said.
"The place where this exudes the greatest pride is with my family because they stuck with me. They had opportunities to come to events and eventually became big Tulane fans. But, I was on the road a lot. An SID does not have a 40-hour a week job, so Carolyn did a great job in raising our kids. I really enjoyed my job and never really considered doing anything else. The Tulane Athletics Hall of Fame is a tremendous award for all the hard work and time commitment associated with the position. This is truly a special honor," he added.
As Curl takes his place among Tulane's great administrators in its athletics hall of fame this week, he said he never seriously considered not taking Yard up on his offer to come down for an interview. After all, the phone call that day was more than just a casual conversation about a job. It was an invitation to a life's worth of memories and experiences.
The 2013 Tulane Athletics Hall of Fame Class Profiles:
Part I: Belanger Closes Out Tulane Career with Induction into Hall of Fame