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Former Teammates Remember Culver’s Faith, Warm Personality

May 25, 1996

SOUTH BEND, Ind. (AP) _ Rodney Culver could always bring his Notre Dame teammates together, and not even his death can change that.

About 50 friends, former coaches and teammates gathered Friday for a memorial Mass for Culver at Notre Dame. Culver and his wife, Karen, were killed May 11 when ValuJet Flight 592 plunged into the Florida Everglades shortly after takeoff from Miami International Airport.

All 110 people aboard the plane were killed. The Culvers’ two young daughters were with Rodney Culver’s mother at their home in suburban Atlanta at the time of the crash.

``Some of us haven’t seen each other in quite awhile,″ former quarterback Tony Rice said. ``I’m sorry it had to take something tragic for us to get together. It’s a loss, but it’s going to get better. We’re going to look at this in a positive way, that he’s in heaven now.″

That was the way Culver would have wanted it. He had a deep faith, one that never wavered during the rough times. Culver grew up without a father in a rough area of Detroit, and many of his childhood friends ruined their lives with drugs and gangs.

But Culver concentrated on academics and football, playing all four years at Notre Dame. He was a member of the 1988 national championship team as a freshman, and was captain his senior season.

The Indianapolis Colts picked Culver in the fourth round of the 1992 draft, and the Chargers signed him off waivers just before the start of their 1994 Super Bowl season.

``He was so mature when he came here, he knew what he wanted to do and that he would be able to do it,″ said Joe Moore, the Irish offensive line coach. ``He was just a lot different than many of the other kids I’ve been around.″

Though Culver was only a freshman when the Irish won the national championship, it was mainly the players from that team who returned for the memorial service. Rice, Todd Lyght, Derek Brown, Pat Terrell and Rod Smith were there, as were Anthony Johnson and Braxton Banks, Culver’s fellow running backs.

Many were already in town for Terrell’s wedding Saturday, but Culver’s teammates would have come back anyway, said Djuan Francisco, director of Alumni Clubs and another 1988 teammate.

``What Rodney meant to the Notre Dame community, we just wanted to share that with everyone else and show what he meant to us,″ said Francisco, who helped organize the service.

There was something special about Culver, Lyght said. He always had a smile on his face and was friendly to everyone. He was the kind of person you hoped your own child would become someday, Lyght said.

Johnson, who also played with Culver on the Indianapolis Colts, agreed. That so many friends and teammates came to the memorial service was a tribute to the type of person he was, Johnson said.

``He always left something positive, no matter how casual the relationship was,″ he said. ``Guys like that don’t come around very often.″

Culver is the third player from the 1988 team to die. Defensive back Bob Satterfield died Jan. 19, 1989 of cardiac arrest and defensive lineman Jeff Alm, then with the Houston Oilers, committed suicide following a car accident Dec. 14, 1993.

The Rev. James Riehle said he is at a loss to explain the deaths. But the death of someone so young and so good should be a lesson to live life to the fullest and have no regrets, Riehle said.

Culver’s loved ones didn’t get the chance to say good-bye to him, and Riehle urged those at the service to make sure that doesn’t happen again.

``Everything happens for a reason,″ Riehle said. ``Maybe the important thing is for each of us to look inside ourselves and say, `We can do more.′ Don’t wait till the moment and death and say, `If I’d only done this.‴

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