Earl Campbell
Earl Campbell Oilers Browns.jpg
Earl Campbell in 1981 game against the Cleveland Browns.
Personal Information
Running back
Jersey #(s)
20, 34, 35
Born March 29 1955 (1955-03-29) (age 66)
in Tyler, Texas
Career information
Year(s) 19781985
NFL Draft 1978 / Round: 1 / Pick: 1
College Texas
Professional teams
Career stats
Rushing yards 9,407
Rushing Average 4.3
Touchdowns 74
Stats at NFL.com
Career highlights and awards

Earl Christian Campbell (born March 29, 1955), nicknamed The Tyler Rose, is a former professional American Football running back. He, Paul Hornung and O.J. Simpson are the only people to have won the Heisman Trophy , were first overall National Football League draft picks and are in both the Pro Football Hall of Fame and College Football Hall of Fame.[1]

He was born in Tyler, Texas, the sixth of eleven children. His father died when he was 11 years old. He began playing football in fifth grade as a kicker, but moved to linebacker and then to running back in sixth grade. In 1973, he led the Corky Nelson-coached John Tyler High School to the Texas 4A State Championship (4A then was the largest classification in the state). Then-Oklahoma Sooners head coach Barry Switzer, who unsuccessfully recruited Campbell, said in his 1989 book that Campbell was the only player he ever saw who could have gone straight from high school to the NFL and immediately been a star.[2]

After his retirement, Campbell has suffered from debilitating injuries that resulted from his NFL career; he had surgery to remove three of his vertebrae, and he suffers from drop foot and persistent knee pain.

College and professional career

As a collegiate football player at the University of Texas at Austin, he won the Heisman Trophy in 1977 and led the nation in rushing with 1,744 yards. In 1977, he became the first recipient of the Davey O'Brien Memorial Trophy which was awarded to the most outstanding player in the now-defunct Southwest Conference. He was also a consensus All-America choice in 1977. Additionally, he was a First-team All-America selection by the AFCA in 1975. He was selected as the Southwest Conference running back of the year in each of his college seasons and finished with 4,444 career rushing yards.

Also while at the University of Texas, Earl Campbell was chosen as a New Man in the Texas Cowboys student service organization in the mid-70s. The Texas Cowboys are the student organization made up of campus leaders. They are also responsible for taking care of and firing 'Smokey' the Cannon at Texas football games.

Houston Oilers

Campbell was the first draft pick overall in the 1978 NFL Draft by the Houston Oilers, and in that year he was named the Offensive Rookie of the Year by the Associated Press as well as the NFL Offensive Player of the Year. The Luv Ya Blue era in Houston was due mostly to Campbell's running ability and Coach Bum Phillips' "good ole boy" personality.

Campbell possessed a rare combination of speed and power, and was a prolific running back from 1978 through 1985. His outstanding single-season performance in 1979 earned him All-Pro, Pro Bowl, and NFL Offensive Player of the Year honors. It was also the second of three consecutive seasons in which he led the league in rushing. Only Jim Brown had previously accomplished that feat. Campbell led the NFL in rushing in 1978, 1979, and 1980. He played in five Pro Bowls and finished his career with 9,407 yards and 74 touchdowns rushing along with 806 yards on 121 receptions. In 1980, Campbell's best year in the NFL, he ran for 1,934 yards including four 200-yard rushing games, including a personal best 206 yards against the Chicago Bears. Despite playing against stacked defenses Campbell managed to average 5.2 yards per carry and score 13 rushing touchdowns in 1980 alone.

New Orleans Saints

In 1984, he was traded to the New Orleans Saints, reuniting him with his former Oilers coach O.A. "Bum" Phillips. The trade was controversial in New Orleans, as it was widely believed that Campbell's skills had diminished, and the Saints already had the young George Rogers in the backfield. Campbell played in a diminished role in 1984 and 1985, and retired during the preseason of 1986, feeling that the beating he had taken during his career had taken too much of a toll, a toll which has become apparent in his life today (see below).

Hall of Fame

On July 27, 1991, he was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.


Campbell is widely acknowledged as one of the best power backs in NFL history. Described as a "one-man demolition team", Campbell was a punishing runner. His 34 inch thighs, 5-11, 244-pound frame, coupled with 4.5 speed, made him the most feared runner of his time. Pittsburgh Steelers Hall of Fame defensive tackle Mean Joe Greene claimed that Campbell could inflict more damage on a team than any other back he ever faced.

Former Heisman Trophy winner and Miami Dolphins player Ricky Williams was often compared to Campbell during Williams' days as a player with The University of Texas Longhorns. Even now, short running backs that use powerful legs to their advantage are occasionally nicknamed "Little Earl", for example Maurice Jones-Drew of the Jacksonville Jaguars, Ahmad Bradshaw of the New York Giants or most recently to some publicity with Gary Russell of the University of Minnesota.[3]

The pride that prodded Campbell to stretch out every run over eight grueling seasons for the Oilers and New Orleans Saints also might have been responsible for his relatively short career. All of the pounding he absorbed, all of the bone-jarring blows from second, third and fourth tacklers wore down his body and prompted a premature drop-off in performance. Debate still rages as to whether Coach Bum Phillips hastened the end of Campbell's career by overworking him; nevertheless, the consensus is clear that during Campbell's heyday, few running backs were as productive or imposing.


In 1999, he was ranked number 33 on The Sporting News' list of the 100 Greatest Football Players,[4] the highest-ranked player for the Houston Oilers franchise. In 2007, he was ranked #12 on ESPN's Top 25 Players In College Football History list.[5]

File:Earl Campbell Statue.JPG

The Statue of Earl Campbell at Royal-Memorial Stadium.

Campbell, The University of Texas’ first Heisman Trophy winner in 1977, was honored at halftime against Ohio State on September 9, 2006 including the unveiling of a 9 foot statue of Campbell in the southwest corner of Royal-Memorial Stadium. The same year, Campbell graced the cover of Dave Campbell's Texas Football, an honor that eluded him during his playing days.

In 1977, he became the first recipient of the Davey O'Brien Memorial Trophy which was named after the great TCU quarterback Davey O'Brien. The trophy was awarded to the most outstanding player in the Southwest Conference.

Personal life

Due to the many carries in his NFL career and numerous hits on his body, Campbell has great difficulty walking and sometimes requires the use of a wheelchair. In 2004, ESPN showed a segment about retired and current NFL players who deal with chronic injuries due to playing in the NFL over a number of years. The segment showed Earl Campbell at a farm using a wheelchair. Campbell has developed severe arthritis in his knees and has debilitating back pain. He attributes his back pain to a congenital back condition aggravated by his football career.

A profile in the Austin American-Statesman in December 2007 describes Campbell's daily struggle with his back pain, and states that he had surgery to remove three large bone spurs.[6]

Earl is now a prominent businessman residing in Austin, Texas and still actively participates in University of Texas Athletics. Earl Campbell currently serves as President of Earl Campbell Meat Products, Inc. which manufactures and sells Earl Campbell's Smoked Sausage and other food products and barbecue sauce.[7] Campbell and his associates also opened a restaurant on Sixth Street in Austin, Earl Campbell's Lone Star BBQ, but it closed in 2001.[8]

Career rushing statistics

Year Team Games Attempts Yards YPC TDs
1978 Houston Oilers 15 302 1,450 4.8 13
1979 Houston Oilers 16 368 1,697 4.6 19
1980 Houston Oilers 15 373 1,934 5.2 13
1981 Houston Oilers 16 361 1,376 3.8 10
1982 Houston Oilers 9 157 538 3.4 2
1983 Houston Oilers 14 322 1,301 4.0 12
1984 Houston Oilers 8 50 190 3.8 0
New Orleans Saints 6 96 278 2.9 4
1984 Total 14 146 468 3.4 4
1985 New Orleans Saints 16 158 643 4.1 1
Career 118 2,187 9,407 4.3 74


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