He was one of the team’s very first ticket holder when they came to Atlanta in 1966 and until his health failed him, Colonel Joseph R. Curtis was the Falcons’ biggest supporter, even going so far as to travel with the team to Japan for a pre-season contest.
The Indiana native attended 376 consecutive home games before finally missing a game earlier in the 2014 season. He had witnessed more Falcons games in person, 48 seasons (of which 30 of them were losing seasons) and attended 376 games in a row before his failing health forced him to stay home and listen to the games on radio.
Col. Curtis passed away last Tuesday at the assisted living center where he had been residing, according to Falcons center and long-time friend Jeff Van Note.
During a recent Falcons losing skid, according to the Macon Telegraph, Curtis told one of his caregivers, “I want you to call (Falcons head coach) Mike Smith and find out what’s wrong.”
The request wasn’t far-fetched for Curtis.
After all, Smith’s number may have still been in his cellphone.
Early this season when Curtis’ attendance streak ended, the coach called and left him a get-well message. Team owner Arthur Blank sent Curtis an autographed Matt Ryan jersey.
Over the years, Curtis befriended players and schmoozed front-office types, flying on team charters to road games as late as the 1990s and included a preseason trip across the Pacific to Tokyo. His friendship with players included an arm-wrestling match with a young quarterback named Farve. Yes. THAT FARVE and also chatted up a brash cornerback named Deion Sanders before he became “Prime Time.”
While the Falcons were his big passion, it wasn’t his only passion. He also loved Indy car racing and horse racing, never missing a Kentucky Derby or an Indy 500 and attended the Masters for 49 years.
Curtis attended the Masters for 49 years.
Champion golfer Arnold Palmer first met the Valparaiso, Indiana native at the Masters in 1956 and Curtis became one of the original members of “Arnie’s Army” and in later years, he visited Palmer as a guest at his Orlando-area home.
“He was a great friend, a good buddy. I knew him very well,” Palmer said in a phone interview with the Telegraph. “I always enjoyed him very much. … I spoke to him a couple of weeks ago. He wasn’t well. He told me he didn’t think he was gonna last long.”
He played college football and basketball at Indiana State. Larry Bird broke a free-throw-shooting record he set.
Curtis, a fighter pilot, served in Europe in World War II and also saw action with the Air Force in the Korean War and in Vietnam. After the military, he went into business working for aerospace companies. Soon after Curtis moved to the Southeast after stops in Colorado and Texas, the Falcons opened up shop in Atlanta, becoming the 33rd person to sign up for season tickets. When the team moved to the Georgia Dome from Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium in the early 1990s, his seat was on the visiting side, 32 rows up on the 50-yard line. Win or lose, there he’d be, yelling, “Go Falcons!”
As dismal seasons came and went and while most Falcons fans gave up on the team, with more than 420 losses in the franchise’s
765-game history, he remained faithful. “My hopes,” he once said, “have been up and down so many times that everybody
says to me, ‘How in the hell have you stayed with them this long?’”
He stood up for the team when no one else would do so when some Saints fans had spoken ill of the team and former coach Dan Reeves. “I walked into the wrong bar down there, and there were these three Saints guys in there. … The guy in the middle said Dan Reeves wasn’t worth a toot,” Curtis was quoted as saying in the recent paperback, “100 Things Falcons Fans Should Know & Do Before They Die.” (Curtis, by the way, is listed in the book as thing No. 100.)
“I was thinking how I was going to get out of this,” Curtis went on. “I had had a few drinks, I suppose, so I head-butted this one guy in the mouth and then they were all over me.” Stubborn and ornery to the end, right or wrong, the Falcons were his team, especially when the team lost. Yet they’re in first place in their division, tied with the hated Saints.
Van Note said Curtis was the ultimate sportsman and his outgoing personality allowed him to cross the barrier between players and fans.
“He was bold and upfront. He was just, ‘Hey, I want to meet these people,’” Van Note said. “He knew people. … He was gregarious, and sports meant an awful lot to him.”
Reeves, a former Falcons coach who led the team to its only Super Bowl — one of a couple dozen that Curtis attended — said Curtis “was one of those guys that was with you whatever the situation was. … We’ll miss Col. Joe.”
No funeral is planned, but there may be a memorial gathering this month, according to the Telegraph.