Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Earl Campbell: American Badass

I lived in Houston for a couple of years when Earl Campbell was in his prime, moving there in the summer of '79.

Earl Campbell was amazing. I regret never seeing an Oilers game, though I caught quite a few Baseball games at the Astrodome. (I Saw JR Richard and Nolan Ryan pitch a few times, which was pretty cool too)

Earl Campbell had a relatively short career (as do most running backs), and is in poor health these days.

Campbell 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 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.

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 and being gang-tackled nearly every time he carried the ball (a then-record 373 times), Campbell managed to average 5.2 yards per carry and score 13 rushing touchdowns in 1980 alone.

In 1980, Campbell married his high school girlfriend Reuchalle Reuna Smith. They have two sons: Christian, who ran track at the University of Houston, and Tyler, who currently plays football for San Diego State University.

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.

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.


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