Bill Curl, a New Orleans sports fixture for more than 50 years, died Friday at Ochsner Medical Center. He was 77.
Curl, who lived in Kenner with his wife of 51 years, Carolyn, was best known as the spokesman for the Mercedes-Benz Superdome from 1977 until his retirement in 2010.
The exterior lights of both the Mercedes-Benz Superdome and Smoothie King Center were not illuminated Friday in Curl's remembrance.
He was also the sports information director at Tulane from 1966-74 and the public relations director for John Curtis athletics following his retirement from the Superdome.
“Family came first for Bill,” Carolyn Curl said Friday, "but Bill also loved his work.
“That was his life.”
John Curtis football coach and headmaster J.T. Curtis called Curl, “a prince of man.
“The sports community has lost a strong, wonderful person.”
Curl was a member of the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame and the Tulane Sports Hall of Fame. He served on the selection committees for both the state hall of fame and the Greater New Orleans Sports Hall of Fame.
“A great man and a greater friend,” Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame chairman Doug Ireland said. “I really can’t express how much Bill did for the Hall of Fame with his creativity and influence in marketing.”
In 2011, Curl received the Contributor to Amateur Football award from the Allstate Sugar Bowl and the National Football Foundation.
Doug Thornton, executive vice-president of SMG, the parent company which manages the ‘Dome and the Smoothie King Center, said Curl was at his best during the rebuilding of the facility following Hurricane Katrina.
“Bill was a class act,” Thornton said. “He knew so many people in the community and they all respected him.
“During that post-Katrina period we needed someone to be visible to public, the media and our stakeholders to present the message of where we were. Bill managed that in a straightforward, skillful way.”
In a 2015 interview, Curl recalled the night in 2006 when the Superdome reopened with the Saints’ game against Atlanta as one of his fondest memories.
“If you were a season ticket holder, you were probably seeing the folks who were your football neighbors for the first time since the storm,” he said. “So there’s a lot of hugging and exchanging of stories about what you’d been through.
“Then the game starts and there’s this uplifting event (Steve Gleason’s blocked punt) right off the bat. There was ultimate joy in the building that night that was an incredible thing to see.”
Curl, a native of Cleveland, came to Tulane to fill the same position he’d held at Dennison University in Granville, Ohio, under Rix Yard, who had just become athletic director at Tulane.
At Tulane, he memorably came up with the “Year of the Green” publicity campaign in 1970 for a football season that saw the Wave go 8-4 and make its first bowl appearance since 1940.
“In my mind, if you think of Bill Curl, you think of a great innovator,” said Lenny Vangilder, who would follow Curl at Tulane. “Colleges didn’t have marketing departments back then, so Bill took over conceiving and promoting things nobody else had thought of.”
Curl left Tulane in 1974 to become SID at Arkansas, but returned to New Orleans two years later. After a short stint with the tourism commission, he came to the Superdome.
It was there that his creativity hit full stride.
Curl was instrumental in persuading the LHSAA to move its football championship games to the ‘Dome, a practice followed today by most states and he championed regular-season games in the stadium, especially ones involving Orleans Parish public school teams.
Curl also was a driving force in securing the 1982 Men’s Final Four. The success of that event led to the Final Four being permanently being moved to domed stadiums.
Some of his ideas were more off the wall.
Curl once had the idea of flooding the ‘Dome floor with up to eight feet of water and having jet ski races and other competitions. He didn’t realize that the water would ruin the stadium’s underground electrical system.
In 1998 when real grass was installed for a Saints’ preseason game, Curl proposed bringing in a cow to demonstrate to the media that the grass was real.
“Bill would keep throwing up these ideas and maybe 25 percent of them were practical,” said Will Peneguy, who worked with Curl as assistant general manager of the ‘Dome from 1987-99. “But you always listened to him because there was a possibility it might work.”
Thornton said Curl’s upbeat attitude made him “a joy to be around” and that was he was a trusted confidant who would give an honest opinion with great insight, “in the middle of all of his wild ideas.”
Thornton also praised Curl’s ability to deal with people at all levels, from NFL and government leaders down to high school coaches and workers in the ‘Dome.
“Bill was a very unassuming man,” he said. “He was without ego and that made everyone consider him a friend.”
Along with his wife, Curl is survived by four children, sons Rocky (Jenny) and Scott and daughters Christy and Kathleen and two grandchildren, Andrew and Charlotte Curl.
A fifth child, James Joseph, died in 1970.
Carolyn Curl said there will be no funeral, but a celebration of her husband’s life will be held in the near future at Rock ‘n Bowl.
She also said that any memorials should be directed to John Curtis Christian School.