Three times during the Seahawks’ opener against the St. Louis Rams on Sunday, one of the officials came to the sideline and told coach Jim Mora to calm Curry down.
“But, he was calm,” Mora said through a smile. “I mean, he was calm. But he was playing with that energy and emotion and passion that you love to see.”
It’s the 100-yard by 55-yard grid that comprises a football field, and the Seahawks’ rookie linebacker becomes a different person when he steps inside those white lines.
It’s just a coincidence that Curry rhymes with fury (isn’t it?), but what the team’s first-round draft choice serves up during games is as piquant as the spiciest special at your favorite Thai restaurant.
But this phone booth-like transformation from mild-mannered to wild and maniacal is nothing new for Curry. He received the same official treatment at Wake Forest, where he was a Butkus Award-winning ‘backer who also could get under the skin of opponents.
“Yeah, I did. A lot,” Curry said when asked if he got the same kind of warnings when he was in college. “From being a freshman all the way to my senior year. It’s because I’m so passionate about the game and I like to play to the echo of the whistle.
“So that means that a lot of referees get on me for that. There were always jokes about, ‘I’ve got my eyes on you Curry. I’m watching you 59.’ ”
It comes with the territory. Curry was, after all, the fourth pick overall in the April draft and has gotten alot of pre- and early season mention as a candidate for NFL defensive rookie of the year. Add that to his won’t-back-down persona on the field and, well …
“I understand that,” Curry said. “Everybody is going to want to see why I was picked fourth overall. Am I a bust? Is it all hype? Or am I really the real deal? My job every Sunday is to not really prove that, but to play within the framework of the team and really show that I’m here to contribute to our defense.”
And play to the echo of the whistle.
Standing in front of his locker after a midweek practice, Curry certainly doesn’t come across as crazed. Instead, he’s articulate, engaging and funny.
“I’m a calm guy,” Curry said. “But when I step in between those lines, I’m full-speed, I’m passionate. I’m emotional when I’m playing football. Once I get to the sideline, I take a deep breath, I get my heart (rate) back and then I go back out and do it again.”
So just imagine how he’ll feel this Sunday, when the Seahawks play the 49ers in San Francisco. The coach on the other sideline will be a man Curry has been hearing about as long as he can remember from his father and his grandfather – Hall of Fame linebacker Mike Singletary.
“He was one of the guys my granddad would tell me about him, and my pops every now and then would tell me about him,” Curry said.
Those stories were from Singletary’s days as the middle linebacker in the Chicago Bears’ Monsters of the Midway defense – when just the sight of Singletary’s wider-than-wide-eyed gaze was enough to make the toughest quarterback quake.
Curry has his own Singletary story because they actually had a face-to-face meeting – or perhaps wide-open-eye-to-wide-open-eye is a more accurate description – at the NFL combine in February, when he interviewed with the 49ers.
“Even at the combine, he had that same stare that you see in those highlight films on NFL Network,” Curry said. “No smile from him. The word from all the guys I’ve met with the 49ers is that he never does smile.”
After the meeting, Curry called his grandfather, mother and brothers to tell them, as he put it, “How amazing it was to actually talk to Mike Singletary.”
Asked if it was going to be cool to see Singletary on the sideline Sunday, Curry offered, “It was cool to see Mike Singletary at the combine. It would be cool to see Mike Singletary at the grocery store.”
After the laughter subsided, Curry added, “It’s going to be amazing. It’s going to be hard to actually make eye contact with him because he has that stare.”
Curry opened enough eyes in his first regular-season game that even the national media noticed.
Dennis Dillon had this to say at Sporting News.com: “If there’s a rookie who could set the league on fire, it’s Seahawks LB Aaron Curry. He plays hard, he plays fast and a he plays with intensity. He’s physical, and he’s not intimidated by veteran players.”
Former Seahawks linebacker turned TV and radio analyst Dave Wyman also was impressed.
“I wrote down in my notes when I was watching him play, ‘I didn’t know he was that nasty,’ ” Wyman said. “And I mean that in a good way. I just think it’s amazing that not only did he go out there and play with a lot of confidence and play fast, but he had just a little bit of an edge – which I really appreciate.”
One play stuck out for Wyman: Curry’s tackle of Jackson after a 1-yard gain in the third quarter.
“It was impressive enough that he lifted him off the ground, but the thing that really got me was how he threw his arm over the top,” Wyman said. “It was like he was really trying to punish him.
“I was just blown away by that play. The moment I saw it, I just went, ‘Wow.’ ”
One aspect of Curry’s game also sticks out for Wyman: The speed with which the rookie is playing.
“The biggest challenge for any guy coming out of college is playing fast,” Wyman said. “That’s what every coach says to every rookie – play fast. But guess what? It never happens. But this guy has been able to do that.”
Exhibit A: A running play against the Chiefs in the third preseason game.
“The first running play against Kansas City, they ran a lead draw,” Wyman said. “The fullback comes up on Curry and he just splatters him. He took the wrong side on the guy, so he was wrong on that play. But the way he did it, you’re just going, ‘Yes.’ ”
The best thing about Curry? He can – and will – play even better. Remember, he is a rookie who missed the first eight days of training camp before signing his contract and then was sidelined for a week with a groin injury.
“Promising. It looks promising,” Mora said when asked how Curry graded out. “He’s not where he needs to be. He’s not even close. He hasn’t scratched the surface. But he’s scratching. He’s trying.
“If he continues to work the way he’s working, focus the way he’s focusing in meetings and on the practice field, then he’s going to just get better and better every week.”
Now that is saying something.