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Campbell, Earl

Earl Campbell


American football player

Earl Campbell's professional career was marked by his ability to sustain a hit. He was known for his strength and the fearlessness of his play. He rose out of the ashes of poverty to become a force on the football field. He won the Heisman trophy and restored the hopes of Houston football fans when he joined the Oilers

in 1978. A small town hero in Tyler, Texas, Campbell had a very successful NFL career during which he amassed 9,407 rushing yards. Although he never played on a championship team or went to the Super Bowl, Campbell remains one of the best to ever play the game.

Born March 29, 1955 in Tyler, Texas, Campbell was the sixth of eleven children born to Bert and Ann Campbell. His father picked roses, worked in a convenience store and died when Earl was eleven years old. Raised by his mother, Earl was counted on, along with his siblings, to carry a greater responsibility within the family. He discovered a love of football in the fifth grade. He was bigger and faster than the kids that he played with and idolized linebacker Dick Butkus . It wasn't until high school that Campbell became a running back, a switch he was unhappy with at first. When his coach promised him he could play both sides of the ball, Campbell embraced his new position and led his team to an undefeated season and a state championship in 1973.

Campbell went on to the University of Texas in 1974. During his freshman season, he rushed for 928 yards and received the Southwest Conference Newcomer of the Year Award. He became close to his coach and mentor, Darrell Royal, and worked as hard academically as he was athletically. "He don't take no prisoners," said Royal of his star running back's style. In his sophomore season, he rushed for over 1,000 yards and was voted the Bluebonnet Offensive Player of the Game after Texas' win over Colorado in the annual Bluebonnet Bowl game. The following year was a disappointment to the university and Campbell. Campbell suffered a hamstring injury that affected his production and after a mediocre season coach Royal stepped down. The new coach, Fred Akers, challenged Campbell to lose weight and increase his production. In 1977, Campbell won the Heisman trophy after racking up an impressive 1,744 yards rushing.

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers had the first pick in the NFL draft in 1978 but traded the pick to Houston. Houston then chose Campbell as their number one pick. The Oilers at the time were a talented team that had never lived up to their expectations. Campbell soon made a name for himself in Houston and after a 199-yard night on Monday Night Football in 1978, his reputation was solidified. Although he enjoyed his reputation as one of the best in the game, Campbell's Oilers never had much success. Campbell spent most of his career in Houston until coach Bum Phillips was fired; Phillips traded for Campbell when he was hired by the New Orleans Saints in 1984. It was in New Orleans that Campbell would retire in 1985 after Phillips was fired.

After retiring Campbell went back to Texas and accepted a position with the University of Texas. He became president of Earl Campbell Meat Products and opened an Austin-based barbecue restaurant in 1999. The restaurant was closed down in 2001. "I don't know that business," Campbell said in a Texas Monthly article. "This was the first time in my life I ran up against a wall, that I ran up on something I just couldn't do." Known in football for being able to take a hit without going down, Campbell continued to push his brand of meat products while remaining an active presence at his alma mater.

Career Statistics

Rushing Receiving
Yr Team Att Yds Avg TD Rec Yds Avg TD
HOU: Houston Oilers; NO: New Orleans Saints.
1978 HOU 302 1450 4.8 13 12 48 4.0 0
1979 HOU 368 1697 4.6 19 16 94 5.9 0
1980 HOU 373 1934 5.2 13 11 47 4.3 0
1981 HOU 361 1376 3.8 10 36 156 4.3 0
1982 HOU 157 538 3.4 2 18 130 7.2 0
1983 HOU 322 1301 4.0 12 19 216 11.4 0
1984 HOU/NO 146 468 3.2 4 3 27 9.0 0
1985 NO 158 643 4.1 1 6 88 14.7 0
TOTAL 2187 9407 4.3 74 121 806 6.7 0


1955 Born March 29 in Tyler, Texas
1973 Leads high school team to a state championship
1974 Enrolls at the University of Texas
1977 Wins Heisman Trophy
1978 Drafted by the Houston Oilers
1984 Traded to the New Orleans Saints
1985 Retires from football
1990 Inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame
1991 Enshrined in Pro Football Hall of Fame

Awards and Accomplishments

1974-75, 1977 Named First Team All Southwestern Conference
1977 Wins Heisman Trophy
1978 Top pick in NFL draft
1978-81, 1983 Named All-Pro
1990 Inducted into College Football Hall of Fame
1991 Inducted into Pro Football Hall of Fame

Earl Campbell's rise out of the small Texas town of Tyler to the National Football League and beyond, was helped by his ability to keep moving forward despite the many obstacles that lay in his path. Whether on the football field or in the highly competitive food business, Campbell has had success based on his resilience. He remains married to a woman he met in the ninth grade and has two sons. Campbell's career landed him in the Pro Football Hall of Fame and in the hearts of many diehard Texas football fans.



"Football Star Seeks to Keep Creditors at Bay." Austin Business Journal (June 15, 2001).

"Where Are They Now?" Texas Monthly (September, 2001): 106.


"The College Years." Earl Campbell. (January 6, 2003).

"The Early Years." Earl Campbell. (January 6, 2003).

"The Oilers." Earl Campbell. (January 6, 2003). (January 6, 2003).

Sketch by Aric Karpinski

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