“I guess if I had thought about it, or if somebody had warned me, I would have maybe protected myself,” Curry said. “But you begin to think of certain people, like Forrest Gregg or Bart Starr or Willie Davis, as indestructible. So when they die, it’s not like a regular death. It’s like a punch to the sternum. I mean, it drops you to your knees. No, no, he can’t be dead. Well, he is.”
The Packers’ president, Mark Murphy, added: “It’s like your parents. You never expect them to die.”
The immortals live on in video clips and in photographs, but what endures for their teammates is what makes their absences so much harder to bear: the intimate moments they shared, the ones that unfolded away from public view. From Wood, Robinson gleaned the importance of learning everyone’s assignment on defense, not just his own. Long still can’t fathom that Hornung once told him he’d be a superstar. Curry credits Davis with transforming his life.
Curry, who called himself a “snot-nosed white kid” from outside Atlanta, had never played on an integrated team before joining the Packers, he said. Insecure, he worried how the team’s Black players would react to his Georgia accent. Instead, he was humbled by Wood’s kindness and how Davis, the defensive captain, promised to help Curry — the next to last pick in the 20-round draft — make the team.
Whenever he felt like capitulating, his confidence frayed by Lombardi’s withering words, Curry ran to the defensive side to find Davis, whom he called Dr. Feelgood. With a smile, Davis told Curry to feel good, that he could do it.
“It was an unexpected, undeserved, unrewarded act of kindness from a great leader, and those moments change lives,” said Curry, who would go on to coach 26 years in college football and the N.F.L. “I had no choice but to respond to that. I never looked at human beings, any human being, in the same way again that I had previously. And when I began to coach, it was my primary mission to be sure that nobody on our team ever felt the sting of racism in our locker room.”