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Isaac Curtis' Icy Legend Frozen Into Bengals Ring of Honor

Isaac Curtis and one of his 53 touchdowns.
Isaac Curtis and one of his 53 touchdowns.

The man his teammates call "Ice," thawed a bit when the Bengals put him in the Ring of Honor.

Isaac Curtis, whose frosty grace defined the modern wide receiver position a half century before 21st century men like Ja'Marr Chase, A.J. Green and Chad Johnson seemed to perfect it, has an idea how he'll feel at the halftime induction ceremony in the Paul Brown Stadium Thursday night game on Sept. 29 against the Dolphins.

He's pretty sure it won't feel all that different from when he saw his quarterback, Ken Anderson, and his mentor, Ken Riley, go in last year.

"It will be very emotional. I look forward to it," Curtis said Wednesday, the day the Bengals went public with the season ticket holder vote. "I was so excited for them and I said it was such a great honor if it ever happened to me. My wife tells me I don't get excited about much of anything. But she says, 'You really seem to be excited about this.' It is really exciting. I'm really looking forward to it. I appreciate being elected by the fans."

If anyone knows how much it means to him, it is his best friend from his playing days, Louis Breeden, the crafty and clever cornerback second to his own mentor Riley on the club's all-time interceptions list. Curtis swore Breeden to secrecy a few days before the vote was announced and Breeden kidded him that the only thing he would do was try and get a bet down.

"Oh hell yeah it does," Breeden says when asked how much The Ring means to his friend. "It's hard pressed to know it because Isaac is always Isaac. He's so even keeled as anyone you'll ever want to meet. As Ken Riley was.

"I think one of the reasons Ken Riley, Isaac Curtis and I are so close is our personalities were so much the same. A certain kind of intensity you wouldn't know was there. Very few ups and downs."

Breeden calls the selection of Curtis "an automatic," much like their friendship that formed one of Greater Cincinnati's most powerful charities. For two decades their golf tournament dominated the spring landscape. And, it made so much money that because of wise investments they still give back a dozen years after the last shot was made to such institutions as the University of Cincinnati Performing Arts and UC's engineering school.

They give back with ancient Bengals stories, too, and help with the oral tradition of a time the team and the town began to become inseparable. The greatness of Curtis is always one of the leading tales

and the evidence is enormous.

From old teammates such as Pro Football Hall of Fame wide receiver Charlie Joiner to Hall of Fame opponents such as Steelers cornerback Mel Blount to Ken Anderson, the man who threw him 51 of his 53 career touchdown passes that all came with the Bengals during a dozen years in the '70s and '80s.

"I could not be more excited," Ken Anderson says. "He not only deserves being in the Ring of Honor, but he deserves serious consideration for the Hall of Fame. In my opinion he's the best the Bengals ever had. Now that may change with a couple of guys they have now. But the game was different then. What he brought to the game with speed, route-running ability, great hands, change of direction. He was special."

A good 49 years before Chase had the greatest season a rookie wide receiver ever had, the rookie Curtis put the NFL on its ear in 1973 with his deadly brew of Olympic sprinter speed and world-class hands with a then mind-boggling nine touchdowns on 18.7 yards per catch. (That's in 14 games, kids.)

But forget the stats. Try this Paul Brown story that Anderson has dined out on for 50 years:

"He's the only guy I know that could make the comment, 'I think, I don't know, but I think my hamstring is tight,' and Paul Brown would say, 'Take the day off. As long as you think its tight, we're good to go.'"

Curtis is a bit surprised he got the nod of the voters 48 years after the last hookup. Of course, it came against the Dolphins. And, of course, it came on a vintage 80-yarder from Anderson. But the man who threw it isn't.

"His highlight reels are still unbelievable," Anderson says.

And reels are what they had. Earlier this year, Blount explained to what Pittsburgh's famed Steel Curtain defense unveiled during a week of preparation for Curtis.

"Oh my God. He scared Bud Carson, our defensive coordinator, to death," Blount said. "We had the reels of film and he would speed them up to make him look even faster."

Pittsburgh also had to prepare for Joiner, on his second team since coming over in a trade from Houston in 1972, the year before Paul Brown drafted Curtis in the first round. Along with the emergence of Anderson, the Bengals passing game took off.

But Curtis was so good, Brown was able to trade Joiner a few months after he became the first Bengal to get 200 yards in a 1975 game against Cleveland. Joiner says the trade that brought Chargers sack ace Coy Bacon to the Bengals put him in the Hall of Fame since he retired with a then all-time record of 750 catches in 18 seasons after a decade in Don Coryell's futuristic passing game.

"He was the fastest person in the league. Isaac Curtis didn't drop many balls. The guy had some great hands and great speed and he could run pass routes," says Joiner, who stacked 26 years of NFL coaching on top of all those catches. "The guy was a receiver, now. An all-around receiver.

"If we're putting in guys in the Hall of Fame just on natural skills, he'd be in there. But we don't do that. We go by catches. You can't do that, either. Defenses were scared of him. If you played Cincinnati and didn't have a defense for Isaac Curtis, there was something wrong with you. The guy should be seen as a Hall of Fame player I think."

Joiner doesn't blame Brown for trading him. Even then, it was "hard to keep two," No. 1 receivers and "we both made the Pro Bowl the next year," after Bacon came up big for Cincy with 22 sacks.

"My stats were better because I played more (six) years than he did," Joiner says of Curtis. "He has the credentials to get in the Hall of Fame. He was very quiet. He was kind of humble. He didn't expound on everything. Everything was nice and easy and quiet. But he wasn't like Lemar Parrish, who talked all the time."

Curtis has plenty talking for him now. Guys like Breeden, who remembers how those ungodly practices against Curtis' uncommon elusiveness at the line of scrimmage prepared him for the bump-and-run around the rest of the league.

And how after running a route Curtis ran through the defensive coaches beckoning to Breeden and telling them, "You've got your two best corners on the same side," and how the next day Breeden was starting opposite Riley.

No question. The Ring has thawed the man they call "Ice."

"Oh hell yeah it does," Louis Breeden says.

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