“He had a certain route he had to take from Murphy to Ladd. We had no escort. Those buses went down to the Loop and then Government and then went to Virginia Street but they got down there almost to the stadium and took a wrong turn and he said, ‘We’re going to turn these buses around and go back to Murphy and start over.’”
Assistant Eddie Roberts on a Terry Curtis superstition
By JIMMY WIGFIELD
As scrupulous as he is, UMS-Wright coach Terry Curtis believes in insurance and not just life, automobile and homeowner’s coverage.
He plans for all contingencies to guard against losing a football game and his policy to avoid it includes some unorthodox riders:
- A seat in assistant coach Eddie Roberts’ truck behind the team bus.
- Hot peanuts from A&M Peanut Shop downtown.
- Assorted meats, including grilled fish and black-and-white chicken.
- Field peas.
- Brown rice.
- A banana milk shake.
- Rocks found at or near Cooper Stadium.
- Coins found heads up.
- Twenty-five-year-old shoes.
- Twenty-one-year-old boxer shorts with footballs on them.
“I don’t call them superstitions,” Curtis said. “I just don’t want to take a chance.”
The Lucky CHARM strategy (Curtis Helps Avoid a Real Mess) has obviously worked well enough for Curtis to have won 348 games and eight state championships. He isn’t against taking calculated risks on the field but off it? Don’t tell him about the deductible or, in this case, the delectable.
He and his wife, Jeanie, have a longstanding tradition (Shhhh! superstition) of selecting a restaurant just before the season opener. She calls it their date night, every Wednesday before a Friday game.
“As long as we are winning, we have to keep going back to the same place every Wednesday and he has to eat the same meal every time,” she said. “If we lose, we’ve got to go somewhere else. I know this last season, we went to Baumhower’s 13 straight Wednesdays. They knew to bring over my tea. Terry always got the black-and-white chicken with broccoli and brown rice.”
Mrs. Curtis made a supreme sacrifice during one of the Bulldogs’ four perfect seasons.
“We went 15-0 and went to P.F. Chang’s at the mall and nothing against P.F. Chang’s — they are the finest people — but that’s not my favorite kind of food,” she said. “I’d just eat a little bit off Terry’s plate for 15 straight weeks.”
Another sacrifice was made in the 15-0 state championship season of 2005 by Billy Dial, the father of UMS-Wright star tight end Preston Dial. The Dials joined the Curtises at Big Time Diner and proceeded on another 15-week gastronomic tour.
“They went with us to eat the first week at Big Time Diner and we won, so they had to come every week too,” Curtis said. “I always got the grilled fish, field peas and a banana milkshake. One time I put in my regular order and they said they couldn’t make me a banana milkshake because they were out of bananas. Billy got up and went to the grocery store and got some bananas so they could make it.”
Dressing for success
During the walkthrough the day before a game, Curtis and trainer Stacy Harrelson must roll footballs with precision, according to former assistant coach Keith Powell.
“It’s this little game, like they’re rolling pennies or nickels,” Powell said. “The closest football to the line wins.”
When dressing for a game, Curtis insists on wearing the same pair of boxer shorts he has owned for 21 years, the same pair of shoes he has laced up for 25 years and the same socks, although those are bought new before every season.
“Those old shoes he wears, I think he had them at Murphy,” Roberts said. “The soles are coming off. We tell him we can order him some new ones but he wants to wear the old ones.”
The same is true of his boxer shorts.
“Probably 21 years ago, I gave him a pair with footballs on them and he just had to wear them every Friday night,” Jeanie Curtis said. “They’re in shreds now from all the washing and drying but he has to wear them the night of the game only. That’s 21 years. Even if I found him some new ones, he wouldn’t wear them.”
Curtis is holding out hope his old boxers won’t be brief.
“They’re more than raggedy,” he said. “The whole back end is torn out and the elastic is gone. Jeanie has to sew them up. I don’t know how much longer they’re going to last.”
Eat, plan, sleep
Curtis’ administrative assistant, Molly Nordmann, said he follows a methodical routine on game day, starting with breakfast with the players’ fathers, then moving on to the lower-school pep rally to talk with the children, including those who will one day play for him.
“After that, he’ll make out his play sheets and color them all different ways — some plays are green, some are pink, some blue, some yellow,” Nordmann said. “I close the door and tell people they can’t go in there. He’ll put the play sheet in his pocket and I’ve never seen him pull it out.”
At lunch with his former players, Curtis eats the same thing every Friday as long as the Bulldogs are winning. Fortunately for the current players, their pregame meal changes week to week at home.
But on the road, the menu stays the same — hamburger steak, mashed potatoes, string beans and a roll.
A few hours before a home game, Curtis always takes a nap.
“I get anxious, sure,” he said. “Sometimes I’ll sleep and sometimes I’ll go through the play sheet in my mind. It’s about an hour and a half to get my mind straight.”
But he must be awakened punctually at 5:20 p.m. so he can get ready.
‘We’re starting over’
Another Lucky CHARM measure is Curtis staying off the team bus on away games, instead staying behind the bus while being chauffeured in Roberts’ truck. And some audibles are acceptable on the field but not on the road, as Roberts discovered when driving Curtis to a Murphy game at Ladd-Peebles Stadium.
“He had a certain route he had to take from Murphy to Ladd,” Roberts said. “We had no escort. Those buses went down to the Loop and then Government and then went to Virginia Street but they got down there almost to the stadium and took a wrong turn and he said, ‘We’re going to turn these buses around and go back to Murphy and start over.’”
If UMS-Wright wins a road playoff game and Curtis attends the traditional coaches’ meeting the next morning in Montgomery, he keeps Roberts’ truck and Roberts rides the bus back.
“He’s got a big, ol’ Chevy,” Curtis said. “It’s a fine truck. Seems like he’s always got a new truck.”
But it doesn’t always look new. One year, after a playoff win at Dadeville, assistant coach Gerald “Bullit” Jones was driving Curtis in Roberts’ truck down a narrow curvy road to the coaches’ meeting in Montgomery and an 18-wheeler tore off a mirror.
And it doesn’t always smell new because Curtis loves to eat fried chicken on the way back from a road game.
“He’ll even ask me, ‘Eddie, you want your chicken?’” Roberts said. “The next day, he’s got that greasy chicken all over my truck. I have to get a towel.”
Curtis said he stopped riding the bus as a head coach because the players were too quiet contemplating the game ahead and he wanted them to relax.
“If I’d hear anything going on, I’d think they were not ready to play, so the coaches deterred me from riding the bus,” he said.
Peanuts, rocks and coins
Once he’s at a game, Curtis is easy to find since he eats more peanuts the bigger the Bulldogs’ lead grows and his pockets fill with shells to protect anyone who has an allergy.
“He has a peanut addiction,” former star wide receiver Brandon Gibson said. “When I played, if you followed the trail of shells, you’d find him.”
The trail began when a former sheriff’s deputy who escorted the team on away games brought Curtis some hot peanuts from A&M Peanut Shop downtown. After he retired, Ross Pritchard, whose son was a manager on the team, assumed the responsibility and continued after his son graduated until he suffered a sudden heart attack and died in August 2018.
At the funeral service, Pritchard’s brother-in-law handed Nordmann an envelope with a donation to continue buying the peanuts, which Nordmann’s husband, Rudy, now delivers.
“It’s sad when football season is over because we have no more peanuts,” she said.
During games, Curtis also carries a lucky rock found at or near Cooper Stadium just before the season starts, another Lucky CHARM provided by Rudy Nordmann.
“Rudy found a rock on the football field and gave it to Terry and he put it in his pocket,” Molly Nordmann said. “Every year, Rudy has to give him a rock before the first game. It has to come from or near the field. But our field is so well-kept, it’s getting hard to find rocks there.”
One time, his friends and aides panicked before a game because they couldn’t find a rock that fell from Curtis’ pocket and performed a painstaking search for it in the hour before kickoff.
Curtis also scoops up coins if they are found heads up; tails-up coins are treated like poison ivy and not touched.
All those rocks and coins from each year rest on a perch behind Curtis’ desk, silent sentinels to ward off anything that might obstruct success.