Throughout the course of sports history, it can be said that a select few athletes have impacted their respective sports to the point of change. Wilt Chamberlin’s ability to score 100 points in a game caused opposing teams to rethink how to defend the big man. Jim Brown amassed 12,312 rushing yards in the NFL in only 9 seasons and caused teams to deliberately create defensive schemes designed to stop him. The great Babe Ruth, whose reputation as a power hitter, forced opposing teams to make infield adjustments when playing the New York Yankees. Such is the case of Isaac Curtis, a phenomenal wide receiver for the Cincinnati Bengals whose career spanned 12 seasons from 1973 to 1984.
Isaac Curtis was the number one draft pick for the Cincinnati Bengals in 1973 out of San Diego State University. As an athlete with world-class speed, Curtis elected to pass on a career in track and field and dedicated himself to football fulltime. Curtis amassed 416 receptions and 7101 receiving yards over the course of his playing career. He was selected to the Pro Bowl four times and was a second team All-Pro selection three consecutive years. A footnote in comparison to the 16 game seasons played today, the NFL played 14 games until the current change was made in 1977. The cumulative stat’s Isaac Curtis generated during his playing years exceed or are comparable to many of the top receivers of that time; including Pittsburg Steeler Hall of Famer Lynn Swann. The Bengals quarterback recently stated that, “Isaac Curtis was the Jerry Rice of his time”.
The notable impact Curtis had on the NFL can be observed in how the game is played today. The “Isaac Curtis Rule” was initiated by legendary coach Paul Brown and was implemented in 1974. The basis for the Isaac Curtis Rule stems from his rookie season in 1973. He was a highly touted wide receiver with blazing speed. His ability to accelerate off the line of scrimmage forced opposing teams to double and sometimes triple team him defensively. He was held constantly and grabbed and pulled up and down the field many times hindering his ability to catch the ball. A persistent Coach Brown successfully argued the point that players, like Curtis, were signed with the expectation of being able to perform without excessive hindrance from the opposing team. Any violation of the rule would result in a penalty. The following year, the ruling was adopted by the league. The rule states that a defender can block a receiver within five yards from the line of scrimmage and after those initial yards, any infraction would be deemed a violation. This ruling has benefitted so many players since 1974 from James Lofton to Jerry Rice; to Tim Brown and Larry Fitzgerald. Strategically, the ruling has opened the game of football offensively. Teams are now able to create a balanced attack between the running game and the ability to pass the ball.
As the NFL moves forward with its future Hall of Fame selections, the committee needs to take into consideration number 85. Isaac Curtis’s contribution exceeds the field of play as a player who literally changed how the game is governed. So, as the league reviews those players whose contributions warrant consideration for the Hall, I encourage them to look at Curtis’s legacy. He set the bar high as a receiver by playing the game of football without complaint. Isaac Curtis deserves serious consideration for the Hall of Fame. Let’s make that happen.