Curtis Lofton retires from the NFL.
Curtis Lofton is officially announcing his retirement from the game of football, signaling the end of perhaps the greatest NFL career of any linebacker to have played at the University of Oklahoma.
Many of you remember Curtis Lofton for his stellar 2007 season at the University of Oklahoma; a season where he recorded more tackles than any Sooner since 1978, earning All-American and Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year honors.
Some of you may remember him as just a kid from Kingfisher, Oklahoma.
I’m here to explain why you should remember him for all of those things, and much, much more.
Lofton’s 2007 season at the University of Oklahoma was one of the most prolific performances by any single player in the school’s tradition-rich history. In addition to being Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year and a consensus All-American, Lofton’s 157 tackles were the most of any player to wear a Sooner jersey in nearly 40 years. He recorded double-digit tackles in eight contests; a school records that still stands. He left his mark on every game – and every player – he faced during that season.
“The guy has just been amazing at causing turnovers and making plays. He’s the most productive linebacker we’ve ever had.”
– Former Oklahoma Coach Bob Stoops discussing Lofton’s play in 2007
Lofton needed just one season as the full-time starter to overtake names like Brian Bosworth and Rocky Calmus in the all-time history books at one of nation’s premier football powerhouses. He completely wrecked shop from start-to-finish the entire 2007 season. There was nothing left for him to prove at the collegiate level, so Lofton bypassed his senior season, and declared himself eligible for the NFL draft.
Lofton was selected by the Atlanta Falcons with the 37th overall pick in the 2008 NFL draft. By the time his playing days were over, Lofton had recorded more NFL starts than 34 of the 36 players picked ahead of him. Hands-down the biggest steal of the draft.
The NFL combine scouts said Lofton “lacks the ideal size to play strong-side linebacker.” Other analysts said Lofton lacked the necessary “athleticism and long range speed,” and that he was “a little short for the linebacker position.”
They were wrong. Those may be valid concerns when analyzing most linebackers…but he’s not most linebackers. He’s Curtis Lofton.
As was the case throughout much of his career, news of Lofton’s arrival in Atlanta flew mostly under the radar. But almost overnight, Lofton’s status transformed from an unknown rookie to a perennial starter and leader of the defense. A fan-favorite in Atlanta, Lofton was nicknamed “The Police,” because of his ability to chase down anyone trying to outrun him. He led the team in tackles in 2009 (133), 2010 (118), and ranked fifth among all NFL players with 147 tackles in 2011. Following the 2011 season, Lofton signed with the New Orleans Saints.
Lofton led the Saints in tackles each of his three seasons in New Orleans. His teammates selected him as a defensive captain in just his second year with the Saints. In 2014, he recorded 144 total tackles – a whopping 61 more tackles than any other player on the roster, and third-most among all NFL players. He was the clear-cut leader and most dominant force on the defensive side of the ball.
“There are times you say, ‘He really shouldn’t have made that tackle,’ but he does make the tackle…I don’t know how he does it but he’s always around the ball. When you watch film, you definitely notice Curtis.”
– Sam Bradford, former teammate and Oklahoma Quarterback, commenting on Lofton’s play in a 2012 interview.
He was a leader, a professional. Level-headed, smart, and his composure was impeccable – he possessed every desirable leadership characteristic, and with time, everyone could see it.He speaks about the game like an intellectual; like a guy who has clearly done his homework and was prepared to ace whatever test was put in front of him. Lofton was the type of guy coaches could trust to give an intelligent post-game interview with 20 microphones in his face, or to light a fire under his teammates when the timing was right (check out this interview and skip to the 1:00 mark…you’ll see what I mean).
Overlooked and underestimated at every stage of his career, the criticism never bothered Lofton. If life had taught him anything, it was that certain things were simply beyond his control.
Being six-feet tall and 235 pounds may be considered a big dude in the real world, but in the NFL, that’s called being normal.
If you want to know what made him special – if you want to know the “secret sauce” that vaulted Lofton from mayonnaise sandwiches to filet mignon with a side of fresh lobster – he made it to the top by recognizing the variables in life that were within his control, and micromanaging each and every one with surgical precision. He possessed an unparalleled dedication to mastering his craft, mental and physical toughness 20 years in the making, a relentless fixation on achieving greatness, and he was mature enough to accept the hand he’d been dealt in life, and pushed his chips all-in from day one.
Lofton’s mission in life has been crystal clear since the very beginning – his goal was to be the best, and he really didn’t give a damn what anyone else thought about it.
That’s how a guy with “subpar measurables” solidifies a starting spot in the NFL for eight consecutive seasons.
That’s how a guy who “lacks height and speed” racks up more cumulative tackles than any player in the NFL over a span of six seasons (2009-2014).
That, ladies and gentlemen, was a man on a mission.
You’ve heard the saying, “the best ability is availability.” Lofton was always available. To this day Lofton has never missed a game. Ever. In his entire life. Dating back to fifth grade, that’s 20 consecutive years of playing football without ever sitting out.
That doesn’t mean he was never injured. Try slipping blocks from 6’6” 340 pound offensive tackles for a living. Newsflash, you get injured. He’s 31-years old and has been under the knife on 12 separate occasions. He’s undergone surgery on his knee, shoulder, ankle, foot, finger – you name it, he’s had surgery on it.
He earned in excess of $30 million from his NFL salary – not including endorsements, appearance fees, video game rights, among other things.
The boy got paid. He earned every dime too.
Here’s the story of how he made it happen.
The Early Years
Before you can appreciate Lofton’s career success, you first need to understand the events that unfolded before the fame and fortune.
Lofton grew up in Kingfisher, Oklahoma; a quiet rural community with fewer than 5,000 residents. If you pass through Kingfisher, you’ll notice the abundance of churches, banks, and wholesome two-parent families living in neatly decorated homes with freshly manicured lawns. A wonderful little Oklahoma town; exactly the type of place you’d expect someone with Lofton’s work-ethic, resolve, and personable nature to have been raised.
But Lofton didn’t live in one of those picturesque houses, and he didn’t come from a two-parent home. Neither of his parents were around much during childhood. The few memories he has with them are memories he’d rather forget; some of which he describes in this video from 2010.
Lofton’s upbringing was certainly unconventional, but that doesn’t mean he lacked a supporting cast. Kingfisher was good to Lofton. People in the community were showering Lofton with love, long before his accomplishments warranted a “Home of Curtis Lofton” sign on the outskirts of town. His Uncle Delbert lived in California, but has maintained close contact with Lofton throughout his life. His Uncle Bill became somewhat of a father figure around junior high, and remains an integral part of his life to this day.
And of course, his Grandma Delora. Lofton would be the first to tell you – without her, none of this would’ve been possible.
Lofton’s grandmother raised he and his two older brothers by herself, working two full-time jobs as a nursing-home attendant. She worked to put food on the table and clothes on the back of three growing boys; there was never any leftover income for things like video games or cable television. He grew up poor, not like most of the kids in town. His house was run-down, on the outskirts of town; no washer or dryer, no dishwasher, just the necessities.
In elementary school, kids would come to school on Monday with weekend tales of adventure and carefree adolescent fun; the types of things Lofton could only imagine. While his friends spent weekends riding four-wheelers and playing laser tag, many of Lofton’s weekends were spent visiting his mother at the Mabel Bassett Correctional Facility, a maximum security prison at the time.
And it wasn’t just down the road – it was a two-hour drive each way. Not exactly an ideal way to spend a day off, particularly when your work schedule allows just one or two days off per month, as was the case with Lofton’s grandmother. His grandmother wanted the boys to maintain a relationship with their mother, but also wanted them to recognize the enormous consequences associated with making poor decisions.
His grandmother could’ve taken the easy way out. She could’ve pretended everything was normal and ignored the ugly truth, but she wanted them to face reality. She wanted them to learn. She wanted the boys to know they controlled their own destiny. Even at such a young age, walking through those prison doors, you simply cannot ignore the sadness within those walls. I can only surmise she hoped to find good in a bad situation, and turn it into something positive; maybe leave a lasting impression to help guide the boys in the right direction.
And that’s exactly what she did.
I’ve been friends with Curtis since elementary school, so I’ve known his grandma Delora for quite some time. I called her to discuss this article. We laughed and exchanged old stories about Curtis. She said above all else, she wants people to know Curtis is “honest, hard-working, loves God,” and he always made good decisions and stayed out of trouble. She asked if I remembered the time Curtis got his first speeding ticket. She recalled using it as a life lesson for her teenage grandson, telling him, “well you never know, that’s why you follow the rules,” followed by the world’s sweetest chuckle. We shared a good laugh at his expense (which, to this day is still one of my favorite past-times).
I asked her to share a story about Curtis that even I hadn’t heard. She said, “Oh goodness…well, that boy… ever since he was little, he’s always been determined.” He wasn’t interested in having his brothers help out with his chores or doing him any favors – “Curtis wouldn’t even let his brothers help him cut the grass. He always wanted to do it himself.”
She’s an amazing person. Everyone who knows her, loves and adores her…especially Curtis.
His grandmother served as his mother, father, and guardian angel. Simply put, she’s the greatest woman I’ve ever met.
Make no mistake… This isn’t a story of sadness. This is a story of transcendent success – insight into what it means to be given nothing and to earn everything; to overcome all odds, and emerge more victoriously than anyone on earth could’ve ever possibly predicted. This is a story of triumph.
When we were kids, I never knew the details of his situation, because he never complained about his circumstances…ever. I never found it unusual that his parents weren’t in attendance at our sporting events, because he never mentioned it. After all those years it just seemed normal. Even at the more “monumental” events along the way – proms, graduations, state playoff games – he never had parents in the stands, and he never said a word about it. The kid had serious pride. No one could take that from him.
He was just a kid, man. Trying to grow up while carrying the weight of the world on his shoulders.
And somehow, never a single moment of weakness.
To this day, I don’t know how he did it.
Lofton joined the basketball team in fourth grade. He had never played sports, and hadn’t developed any of the athletic gifts or physical prowess that you see today. He was never abnormally large as a child; even now he stands just six-feet tall. As a kid he was short, scrawny, and clumsy. Just a normal-sized kid with a giant personality.
He immediately fell in love with basketball, and began spending his summer afternoons at the park. Always the youngest and one of the smallest at the park, it didn’t take long for him to learn that he was never getting the ball unless he took it from somebody.
Going to the park for a game of twenty-one was more than just a hobby. It was an escape. Being the youngest of three brothers wasn’t easy, particularly in a home where supervision was scarce. His brothers had been through the same rough childhood, and saw no reason to let him off easy. Fighting for what he wanted was a part of Lofton’s life, long before sports.
Outside of sports, there was no kid in town with a more happy-go-lucky personality than Curtis Lofton. But on the playing field…he flipped a switch.
One minute, a kid with an infectious smile. Next minute, a blood-thirsty assassin.
“Curtis was a different kinda kid. Special. Destined for greatness.”
-Jeff Myers, Kingfisher High School’s head football coach
Lofton’s skills became more refined over the years. He grew six inches and gained 30 pounds during the summer prior to ninth grade, developing into a bigger, faster, more skilled version of himself. He morphed into the man described by Kingfisher football coach Jeff Myers as,
“The most dominant force I’ve ever seen play football.”
However, Kingfisher is a small town; not exactly a hotbed for Division-1 football recruiting. Nobody from Kingfisher really ever played big-time college football, and there was no reason to believe Lofton would be the exception. Freshman and sophomore year passed without ever hearing a peep from any collegiate program.
And then one day it happened – completely out of nowhere. Oklahoma State University called to offer Lofton a full-ride scholarship.
Lofton was giddy. This was nothing short of a dream come true. He called his uncle to share the good news, and minutes later, made the decision to accept OSU’s offer.
Even he couldn’t believe he was about to pick up the phone and accept a football scholarship to OSU. So Lofton made the call. No answer. He tried again. No answer.
He waited until after lunch and tried again. No answer. Lofton made that call four separate times on that day, and no one picked up on the other end.
Lofton went back to class. As he was sitting in his chair, anxiously awaiting a return phone call from OSU, one of his high school coaches came into the classroom with a bit of news that no one could’ve predicted.
“OU’s on the line. They want to offer you a full scholarship.”
Prior to that moment, there had been exactly zero communication between Lofton and OU. No letters, no phone calls – zero. Yet out of the blue, the Sooners offered Lofton a full-ride scholarship to play football at OU…on the exact same day that OSU had made the exact same offer.
It was surreal. Within a few weeks, Rivals.com listed Curtis Lofton as the number-one overall recruit in the state of Oklahoma. A star was born.
Lofton’s mailbox was instantly flooded with recruiting letters from the most prestigious football programs in the country. Notre Dame, USC, Texas, LSU – everyone wanted Lofton.
He’d spent his whole life fighting battles on his own – no mother’s shoulder to cry on, and a father who flat out wanted nothing to do with him.
Now everybody wanted him. And they wanted him desperately. Finally.
What a feeling.
Between his sophomore and junior years in 2007, Bob Stoops called on Lofton to take over the starting duties at middle linebacker. His impact was immediate. Through the first four games of the season, Lofton recorded 42 tackles and a 45-yard interception return for a touchdown.
There was a buzz in the air.
“Who is Curtis Lofton? If he’s this good, why hasn’t he been on the field before now?”
“It’s a fluke, anyone can rack up stats against weaker non-conference opponents.”
“There’s no way he keeps this up.”
Please. He was just getting started. He kicked off Big 12 conference play with 16 tackles against Colorado. The next week…Texas.
This Red River Rivalry was a battle like so many others. The teams went into halftime tied at 14. Texas had the ball early in the third quarter, and they were driving. Inside the Sooners’ 15-yard line, Colt McCoy handed the ball to Jamaal Charles. Charles broke free with no one in between him and the end zone. He was a split-second from waltzing in for the easy touchdown, when Lofton came out of nowhere and stripped Charles from behind, causing a fumble that was recovered by OU on the 4-yard line.
No wonder Brent Venables – defensive coordinator at OU during Lofton’s tenure – described Lofton’s arms as “meat cleavers.”
At the time, that play was probably considered the defining moment of his career. But you see, Lofton’s career was never defined by any specific play, but instead by his uncanny ability to create the most critically important game-changing plays, on the biggest stages, at moments of paramount importance.
That’s what defined his career. That’s what he did better than anyone at OU.
Lofton was a freakin’ gamer. If his team needed a spark, he gave ’em a spark. If they needed sizzle, he gave ‘em sizzle. He was dynamite in the clutch.
The following week the eleventh-ranked Missouri Tigers came to Norman to face the sixth-ranked Sooners. With the Sooners leading by five points with 11:40 remaining in the game, Lofton scooped up a fumble and took it straight to the #house for a Sooner touchdown. OU won the game 41-31.
And, oh by the way…Lofton had 18 tackles in the contest and was named Big 12 Defensive Player of the Week. #meatcleavers
BEDLAM AND BEYOND
Then came Bedlam.
The Bedlam game finished with a final score of 49-17, but the score doesn’t give justice to the incredible intensity that hovered over the Sooners late in the third quarter. The Cowboys had scored ten straight points and cut the Sooner-lead to 28-17. OSU regained possession and quickly moved the ball down to the OU 1-yard line, ready to punch it in for another score. You could cut the tension in the stadium with a knife; the Cowboys were one yard away from making this a one-score game.
OSU quarterback Zac Robinson kept the ball on a sweep around the right side and came face-to-face with Lofton. It didn’t end well for Robinson, as he fumbled the ball and was nearly decapitated. That was the momentum shift OU needed, and the blowout was underway.
If you follow Lofton on Facebook, you’ll notice every time Bedlam comes around, he changes his profile picture to the one shown above. Just a friendly reminder, I guess you could say.
That win propelled OU to the Big 12 championship game where they faced the Missouri Tigers for the second time. This time Mizzou was the number-one ranked team in the country. Like to so many games during the 2007 season, this was one that would be broken wide open by a huge defensive play from the Sooners’ star middle linebacker. With a 21-14 lead midway through the third quarter, Lofton picked off a Chase Daniel pass and rumbled all the way to the Missouri seven-yard line.
Daniel tried to tackle Lofton, but Lofton shrugged him off like a leaf being blown away by a speeding 18-wheeler.
The more you learn about Lofton’s formative years, you begin to understand the framework and foundation rooted in his lifelong success. In many ways, Lofton lives his personal life much like he did on the football field – by mastering the fundamentals. Call it cliche, but it’s the truth. Money and fame never changed the fundamentals of how he lived life. He was never in trouble, on or off the field. He never followed the pack, and never took the easy way out.
And before you pose the question, “has Curtis been smart with his money,” let me stop you. People ask me this all the time, as if being his friend means I’m also his accountant. He’s built an empire rooted upon always making smart decisions. This is a man who came from nothing and should’ve been nothing. Statistically, the chances of him making tens of millions of dollars in his lifetime were astronomical. But it happened, because he made it happen.
So…may I kindly suggest you take a good hard look at yourself in the mirror before questioning that man’s decision-making.
He lives life the right way; just like his Grandma taught him. He goes out of his way to mentor troubled kids; to share his story, give them hope, and let them know they’re not alone. And when he talks, they listen. Why? Because he knows their pain.
Lofton’s former roommate and Sooner teammate Auston English said it best:
“Knowing what he’s been through and seeing the man he’s become, I can’t put into words how much respect I have for Curtis. I’m not even talking about football. I’m talking about life. Football is just icing on the cake. He’s absolutely as good of a human being you’ll ever meet.”
Curtis always knew he wanted to play in the NFL. The world could only wait and watch.
“This is what he’s always wanted. This was his dream.”
-Former roommate and Oklahoma Sooner teammate Brody Eldridge
In its storied history, the University of Oklahoma football program has produced more unanimous All-Americans than any school in the country, and more consensus All-Americans than any school since World War II. A longstanding traditional powerhouse for more than a century.
For me to suggest Curtis Lofton had the most successful NFL career of any linebacker to have played at OU may seem like a stretch. Because I’m admittedly bias, I asked the opinion of Berry Tramel; sports columnist for the Oklahoman, considered by many to be the most knowledgeable living source on the subject of OU football history. Tramel mentioned a few potential candidates from 35+ years ago, but ultimately agreed, saying, “It’s probably Lofton.”
To be the “best all-time” anything in OU football history is a huge freaking deal. He was the best.
And now, he’s hanging up the pads; not because he has to, but because he can. Lofton’s agent fielded offers from more than handful of teams during the 2016 NFL season, but Lofton was ready to move on to the next chapter in his life – the family man chapter.
Lofton began dating his now wife Jenny as a freshman at OU in 2005. They married in 2015, and gave birth to a beautiful baby girl 18 months later. He loves being a daddy to her more than any of us will probably ever know. When he talks about his baby girl, the look in his eyes and tone of his voice tell the whole story.
Therefore, ladies and gentlemen…after 20 years of being perhaps the most “available” man in all of football, Curtis Lofton is officially no longer available.
But it was one helluva ride.
C-Lo…on behalf of all your friends, family, and fans… thanks for the memories.
The retired life has come with many opportunities (shown above, working as a TV analyst for the New Orleans Saints). Something tells me you haven’t seen the last of Curtis Lofton. Follow Curtis Lofton on Twitter.
*Curtis Lofton is in no way affiliated with or liable for any of the content found on www.hobhsports.com