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The football great that became a legend - Earl Campbell Tags: football great legend earl campbell word life production new quality entertainment feature blog sports

Earl Campbell is one of the most prolific running backs to ever play college or professional football. Graduating from the University of Texas in 1977 after winning the Heisman Trophy, he was the number 1 draft pick by the Houston Oilers and was voted Rookie of the Year as well as Most Valuable Player in his first year in the NFL. By the end of his professional football career he had amassed 9,407 yards rushing, 806 yards receiving, 74 total touchdowns, and 10,213 total yards. He ranks tenth on the all-time rushing yards in the NFL and has appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated six times.

Since retiring from football, Earl is now a prominent businessman 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 proudly manufactures and sells Earl Campbell's ® Smoked Sausage and other wonderful food products and barbeque sauce.

To learn more about Earl’s history, select from the options on the right.

Like most wide-eyed freshmen, Earl Campbell arrived at the University of Texas with mixed emotions. He was excited about his decision to become a Longhorn, his academic and athletic future at UT and the growing opportunity to meet new people. After all, Earl had rarely traveled beyond the outskirts of Tyler, the small East Texas town he had grown up in his entire life. Thus, Earl was also apprehensive as he walked across the beautiful yet extremely large and overwhelming campus. Earl arrived on the 357-acre campus with only one pair of jeans, a couple of T-shirts, one suit that his high school sweetheart and future wife, Reuna, had sewn for him and only forty dollars in his pocket.

Little did he or the rest of the world know, Earl Campbell, the young, fresh-faced kid from humble beginnings, was about to change the face of Texas Football and The University of Texas was about to change Earl's life forever.

The freshman recruiting class of 1974 was considered to be one of the best crops of athletes Darrell K Royal ever recruited.  The class included future stars like Campbell, Rick Ingraham, Alfred Jackson and the future Outland Trophy Winner, Brad Shearer. They were led by an outstanding team of veterans, including Earl's player host on his official visit, Raymond Clayborn, and his new friend, Roosevelt Leaks. These young men were looked upon to be the future of Texas Football and restore the dynasty back to greatness. After all, in the eleven years prior to Earl's arrival, Texas had won three national championships - in 1963, 1969 and 1970. The expectations were high for the entire team - on the football field and in the classroom.

Academics were very important to Earl.  Not only did he attend every class on his schedule, but he also sat in the front row, directly in front of the teacher. He felt it was a privilege to be granted the opportunity to walk away from Texas with a degree in hand.

The 1974 football season provided a year of firsts for Earl: his first home game, touchdown, loss, OU rivalry, hundred-yard game and battle against Texas A&M. His first collegiate game was at Boston College on September 14, 1974. Although Earl was understandably nervous, he didn't show it on the field, rushing for 85 yards on 13 carries and leading his Horns to a 42-19 victory over their host from Massachusetts.

The Boston College game was an important ice-breaker for Earl, but nothing could have prepared him for the experience of his first home game at Memorial Stadium in front of over 75,000 screaming fans sporting burnt orange and white. His team mentors, Clayborn and Leaks, tried to prepare him for the dazed excitement they knew he would feel, but as Earl rushed out to take the field, he couldn't believe his eyes. He never imagined the Texas fans would ever fill the large stadium and couldn't believe how loud they were screaming. His nervous energy quickly turned to on-field domination, however, as the young freshman rushed for 85 yards and his first collegiate touchdown, leading his team to a 34-7 victory over Wyoming. His first home game in a Longhorn uniform was a complete athletic success.

With his impressive freshman year performance, racking up 928 yards rushing in the regular season, Earl received the Southwest Conference Newcomer of the Year Award. More importantly, however, Earl successfully passed all of his classes that year and declared Speech Communications as his major.

However, during his freshman year, he found himself becoming extremely homesick, missing his family and friends back home in Tyler.

Thankfully, the next year brought the addition of his twin brothers, Tim and Steve, to the Longhorn football family at the beginning of the 1975 season.  Earl was excited about having family close to him in Austin. He also established a familial relationship with his coach and mentor, Darrell Royal. He often visited Royal and his wife, Edith, at home and also became very close with their personal friends, especially Ernest and Joyce Owens who owned a customized Longhorn Trailways bus that provided a great place for their friends to tailgate in before and after football games. The importance of friends and family, which was a value instilled in Earl at a young age by his mother and best friend, Ann Campbell, was always so important to Earl. Ann extended that family bond to the Royal family as well. She would often write Coach Royal letters of encouragement during the season, promising that she would always keep Royal in her prayers.

The Horns finished the 1975 season with an impressive 11-2 record, including a win over Colorado in the Bluebonnet Bowl. Earl was voted the Bluebonnet Offensive Player of the Game Award, while his freshman brother, Tim, was named the Defensive Player of the Game. Earl was also named to the All-Southwest Conference and All-American teams, and he achieved his goal of rushing for over 1,000 yards in a single season.

While the 1975 season brought an extreme amount of personal and athletic success to Earl's life, his junior year was quite a different story. During summer practice, Earl took a pitchout from the quarterback, cut outside and began running up the field. He was stopped short of his destination but not by his tough defensive teammates. Earl heard a pop in his leg that sent him crashing to the grass. In his many years of playing football, he had never felt the kind of pain he was experiencing during that moment. The unstoppable Tyler Rose had torn a hamstring. Unfortunately, there are no immediate remedies for this injury. Earl had to accept this and begin to prepare for a long season of recovery. Although he was advised by the team doctors to rest and recover his leg for the first game, Earl was determined not to disappoint his team, the fans or himself.  However, with the injury, Earl rushed for only 23 yards on five carries, and the Horns suffered a tough defeat, 14-13, at the hands of a lesser Boston College team. The following week, Earl and the Longhorns experienced one of their most embarrassing losses ever when they let North Texas State defeat them, 17-14. Although still in severe pain from his hamstring tear, Earl reeled out one of his best games against North Texas State, racking up 208 yards on 32 carries and even scoring one touchdown. But it would not be enough on this day.

The remainder of the season continued to be a series of ups and downs. The Horns finished the season 5-5-1 and in fifth place in the Southwest Conference. This included a hard-fought battle against Oklahoma that ended in a 6-6 tie, a tough loss against arch-rival Texas A&M at home in Memorial Stadium and a rewarding victory against Arkansas, 29-12, a game in which Earl gave an unyielding effort, amassing 131 yards and two touchdowns. But that final, satisfying victory proved bittersweet, as the Horns finished their worst season since 1956, the year before Darrell Royal become head coach of the Texas Longhorns.

Throughout the season, Coach Royal suffered severe criticism at the hands of a fickle media. Only one year prior, they were singing his praises, but this year was a different story. The members of the media began to doubt Royal's decision-making capabilities and questioned his age and ability to relate to his young players. This constant abuse prompted Earl to respond, "I don't pay attention to what ya'll are saying, 'cause I was always taught by my parents to respect my elders, and I'm gonna do just that. My job is to do what I'm told and play football. That's the least I can do for Coach Royal, since he's the one responsible for me being where I'm at today." But despite the support and respect Coach Royal received from his players and fans, including Earl, Royal knew it was time to step down as Head Coach at the University of Texas.

After the Arkansas win, Earl stood in the back of the locker room on a folding chair, listening as his mentor, friend and beloved coach addressed the "changing times" in the sport and admitted that the hardest part about leaving the program would be saying goodbye to all his players and assistant coaches, including "Earl Campbell, who is definitely in a league of his own." To this day, Royal reflects on that day, fondly recalling that Earl was the only player who stayed during his entire retirement announcement. Earl was devastated by the thought of playing for any other coach than the one he considered to be the best coach in the history of the game, Coach Darrell Royal. That night, as he was leaving the stadium, he saw two men who he had never met before, hugging each other goodbye and saying, "I love you." Earl had never witnessed two males openly expressing their feelings for one another. This prompted Earl to find the Owens' Trailways bus. He knew he would find Coach Royal there with his friends. He entered the bus, walked over to Royal, explained what he had just witnessed and said, "This touched me 'cause I didn't know what I was gonna say to you tonight, in the event I saw you. Anyway, I just want you to know that no matter what happens, I'll always love you."

To this day, Royal describes Earl as, "a loyal, caring friend. When Earl Campbell takes someone as a friend, there's nothing he wouldn't do for them."

Earl's senior year, the 1977 football season would test his determination, strength, willpower and faith in God. After being hired as Royal's successor, Fred Akers, decided to meet with every football player on the team, including Earl. One day, after the two men had finished taking pictures for the media guide, Akers asked Earl to step into his office.

He asked Earl if he "wanted to run the ball at this university." Earl, of course, answered that he did. Akers went on to explain that he wanted to change the offense from a wishbone attack to a straight back formation and desired Earl to be the focal point, carrying the ball 35 to 40 times during each game. Earl was familiar with the offense from his years at John Tyler High School and told Akers that he could handle the formation.

Akers said, "Good, Mr. Campbell. You're going to have to prove it to me, and it's going to take an awful lot of hard work on your part. I want you down to 220 pounds by the time the season begins. That's a key ingredient if this is going to work."

Earl was stunned. He'd weighed almost 245 pounds for several years and had no idea if he could shed that much weight in such a short period of time. But determined to make his team successful and respect Coach Akers' wishes, Earl decided to visit Frank Medina, the Longhorns' infamous trainer. Medina had served with two different Olympic teams and was nationally respected as one of the best athletic trainers in the world. Earl began to train with Medina every morning at 6:30 AM, pounding the heavy bag in a rubber sweat suit, running track for an hour, lifting weights and doing 400 sit-ups while wearing a weighted vest. Then it was off to the sauna for over a half-hour. He would attend his classes for a few hours and then participate in practice for the remainder of the evening. Although he thought it would be virtually impossible, Earl Campbell reported for the first home game at 220 pounds. With his hard work and determination throughout the pre-season, Earl inspired his teammates to step up their game as well. He also began to think more and more about winning the Heisman Trophy, awarded to the best collegiate athlete in the country.

After opening the season with a 44-0 thrashing of Boston College at home, the Horns went on to defeat their next two opponents, Virginia and Rice, with a combined score of 140-15. Although they were clearly on a roll, the sportswriters continued to doubt the Horns because they had not beaten any tough teams. The first real test would be the annual Texas vs. Oklahoma rivalry. After two starting Texas quarterbacks went down in the first half, Randy McEachern, who had always worked out mainly with the practice squad, was forced to step in at signal caller. This opened the door for Earl, in a way, as the team was now dependent on their running game. One of the most exciting plays of the game would also be the infamous run that would thrust Earl into the national "Heisman Hype." After the handoff, Earl cut right and saw a dead end. He then reversed, hurdled an Oklahoma defensive player and exploded down the field for a 25-yard touchdown score.

After that run and Earl's first ever win against arch-rival Oklahoma, Earl found himself at the top of his game and truly in a position to bring the first-ever Heisman Trophy home to Texas. The next week, Earl rushed for 188 yards on 354 carries, as the nation watched the Horns defeat the Arkansas Razorbacks. But, that week, Earl also displayed his receiving abilities. Taking a pass from quarterback McEachern, Earl dashed down the sideline, dodged Razorback defenders and bulldozed a defensive back in the process. The referee called Earl down at the one-yard line, but that play convinced sports fans all across the country that Earl Campbell was one of the most outstanding all-around athletes in the country.

The Longhorns won their next two games against SMU and Texas Tech. Ranked number one in the country, they were determined to prove to everyone that they were the team to beat. Earl, too, was not about to let anything stand in his way…not even the flu! The night before their next match-up against the Houston Cougars, Earl complained of a stomach ache and a fever. With a 104-degree fever, Earl was put to bed, where he spent the night shivering and sweating. The next morning, although his fever had lowered to 101, the team doctor insisted that he not play in the afternoon game. But Earl had come so far in his life and beaten the odds before. He had overcome poverty at a young age, hatred and racism in his schools, the heartache of losing his father when he was only eleven and, of course, his hamstring injury the previous year. He wasn't about to let a little flu bug stop him from playing in this game. Earl ran for 173 yards on 24 carries that day, scoring three touchdowns in the process. On his second touchdown run, as many longtime UT fans will remember, Earl barreled through the back of the end zone, knocking a standing Longhorn named Bevo, the team mascot, completely off his feet. His performance in the Houston game prompted Akers to say, "Earl Campbell is the greatest football player I have ever seen, and Ann Campbell is the best coach there ever was!"

With the next two games, wins over TCU and Baylor, under their belts, it was now time to turn focus to the annual Thanksgiving Day battle between A&M and Texas. With the game being televised nationally, Earl knew he had to have a solid game against the Aggies vicious defense if he wanted to have a shot at winning the Heisman. Akers pulled him over before the game and said, "You get out there and get me anything over 150 yards rushing…if you do this, I feel certain that the award will be yours." Akers, of course, could not guarantee his promise, but Earl respected the coach and did not want to disappoint him. And so Earl rushed for over 220 yards that day and led his Horns in defeating their most hated rivals, the Aggies, 57-28.

Earl Campbell and the University of Texas had made promises to each other four years prior to this win. Earl had promised to give Texas his heart, soul and best athletic and academic efforts while in Austin. And that he did. He brought the University of Texas back to the level of athletic dominance it had enjoyed for so many years.  At  a time when cheating and dishonesty were running rampant in the collegiate ranks, Earl represented the type of integrity that Texas had worked so hard to achieve. Texas had also made promises to Earl, and they, too, had come through on their word. Royal, Coach Ken Dabbs, the man who had recruited Earl so persistently during his senior year, his long-time friend Murillo, Akers and many others had promised Earl and his mother, Ann, that they would take care of him and look out for his well-being. They had done that successfully. Earl had grown from a young, naïve boy who had never ventured beyond the outskirts of East Texas into a well-respected man who had traveled across the country, learned to relate to many different types of people and most importantly, he was now in a position to further his football career in the National Football League. He had also become part of a new family…the Texas Longhorn Football family.

But with all that Earl had accomplished personally and athletically in the past four years, there was still one major goal that had eluded him…winning the Heisman Trophy.

Each year, the Downtown Athletic Club of New York presents one award to the nation's most outstanding college football player. The winner of the award is chosen from all college football players that year and is voted on by sports writers and former winners of the trophy after the season is over. This award is the most coveted award in college football and is known as the Heisman Trophy.

With 4,443 NCAA yards and 41 touchdowns in his career as a Longhorn, it was inevitable that Earl Campell was the top contender for the prestigious Heisman award. Campbell received many awards such as All SWC for three years and was named to the Bob Hope All-American team for two consecutive years. But he never even dreamed that he would be named 1977's Heisman Trophy winner. Even with several titles under his belt, Earl still remained humble throughout his successes.

During the 1977 season, Earl rushed for an impressive 1,744 yards, 800 of those being yards after contact. Despite these statistics Earl was still not confident that he would be named as the Heisman trophy winner. It was the first week of December 1977 when Earl, his mother Ann, close friends Henry and Nell Bell, Louis Murillo, Darrell Royal, Brad Shearer, and Rick Ingraham all traveled to New York for the presentation of the Heisman Trophy Award. That year was the first year the Heisman Trophy Award was presented in the style of the Academy Awards.

There were several sports awards given that night with various appearances made by famous sports athletes such as Reggie Jackson and O.J. Simpson. The event was incredibly flashy and was televised nationwide.

It seemed as if the moment would never come. But finally Reggie Jackson took the stage to announce the winner or "The Best Running Back in the Nation." Earl hoped that his name would not be called for this award, as he thought it would take him out of the running for the Heisman.

Reggie then opened up the envelope and said, "And…the winner is….from The University of Texas, Earl Campbell!" The audience roared in cheer and applause, but Earl stammered to the stage in shock. This wasn't what he had come to New York for. He muttered words of thanks into the microphone after he accepted the award. Broken hearted, Earl headed back stage and attempted to find his way back to his seat. While backstage, a voice hurried him to his seat saying, "You better get back to your seat; there's still another important award to be given out." At that time Earl did not realize that that voice belonged to O.J. Simpson. As Earl slowly walked back to his seat in disappointment, Brad Shearer and Rick Ingraham began encouraging Earl.

Earl was not paying attention when Jay Berwanger said over the loud speaker, "And now, the moment we've been waiting for: The award for the most outstanding college football player in America goes to Earl Campbell." Before Earl knew it, he was being slapped on the back by his friends and was being hugged. He began to make his way up to the podium as the orchestra began playing the Eyes of Texas. He was at a loss for words as he looked out over the audience and felt a chill go through his body as he clutched the bronze statue. He concluded his acceptance speech by saying, "I will represent what a Heisman Trophy winner should be. Thank you very much." With those words, Coach Royal instantly knew that all of Earl's hard work and dedication was because of one person, Ann Campbell, Earl's mother.

fter completing a successful career at the University of Texas and bringing home the school's first Heisman trophy, Earl found himself preparing for his NFL future. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers had the first pick in the 1978 draft. But days before the Tuesday draft Tampa Bay unexpectedly traded their first draft pick to the Houston Oilers. And so on a hot, sunny Texas afternoon, while he was sitting in a University of Texas classroom, Earl Campbell was chosen by Coach Bum Phillips, owner Bud Adams and the Houston Oilers as the number one draft pick in 1978. Earl was about to embark on a whole new experience, unaware of the profound impact he would continue to have on the game of football in the state of Texas and beyond. A Texas native, a UT alumni and a Heisman trophy winner was about to bring pride and excitement back to the city of Houston.

Earl had never even heard of Bum Phillips, the Oilers' charismatic coach, until the day of the draft. So when he received a call from the infamous coach that night, he was pleasantly surprised at what he heard.

Phillips reassured Earl that he would be a perfect fit within the Oilers organization and that he would personally look after his well-being.  After all, Bum was long-time friends with Darrell Royal, Earl's college coach, and had promised the Royal family that he would watch over Earl. But it was not what he told him that made Earl feel so readily welcomed into the Oilers family, but it was how he told him.

Bum Phillips, the popular coach Earl's friends had spent all day telling him about, talked with a deep country accent that made Earl feel like he was back home again, deep in the heart of Tyler, Texas. Earl hung up the phone that night anxious and excited. He made himself two promises that night. First, he decided he was going to build a new home for his mother, Ann, who had been Earl's long-time mentor, provider, friend and biggest fan. A year later, Earl presented that new home to his mother. It stands today proudly on the land where Earl's old house stood. The second promise he made to himself was that he would always strive to be the best running back in the NFL. Many would argue that he came through on that promise, as well.

Earl's first year as a Houston Oiler began on the day he flew to Houston to sign his contract. It was then that he finally met Bum Phillips, the man who would become yet another one of Earl's guardian angels that would protect and guide him throughout different stages of his life. Earl reported to training camp a few weeks later and moved into a new apartment with a fellow rookie teammate named J.C. Wilson. The two newcomers became very good friends, spending many afternoons studying upcoming opponents' game film.

By the time the veterans reported a few days later, Earl and the entire team had adopted Bum's infectious personality and attitude. Bum did all he could to make his players feel welcome and happy to be an Oiler. He would host pizza parties for his athletes and even invite their families to watch occasional practices. Soon, many of the players, including Earl, were even dressing like Bum, complete with cowboy boots, western clothes and ten gallon hats.

The excitement surrounding the "new and improved" Oiler team spilled over into their first season. After a pre-season win against their state rivals, the Dallas Cowboys, the Oilers carried a 5-2 record entering into a Monday Night Football match-up against the Pittsburgh Steelers. This game gave the Oilers a big opportunity to prove themselves in front of a national audience. Rushing for 89 yards against the ferocious Steel Curtain defense, Earl led the Oilers to a 24-17 victory. A new spirit suddenly permeated the entire city of Houston.

Later in the season, in another Monday night game, that spirit was given a new name. Carrying an 8-3 record into the battle against the Miami Dolphins, Earl remembers the mania surrounding that game. He recalls that every fan who was given a blue and white pom-pom prior to the game was shaking it in an effort to support and excite their home team. The crowd was truly the 12th Man in this game, in which the Oilers walked away with a 35-30 victory in front of their adoring fans and a national television audience. In a game that ABC Monday Night Football commentator Howard Cossell called, "the greatest football game I have ever broadcast," the rookie from the University of Texas, Earl Campbell, rushed for 199 yards and four touchdowns. During the game, Coach Phillips asked Earl if he would like to gain that extra yard. Earl modestly declined stating, "When I arrived here in Houston, I took the place of Ronnie Coleman. Let him play for the rest of this one."

That night, the "Luv Ya Blue" era was born. Many fans even referred to their team as the Houston "Earlers." But Earl, as he has always been, remained modest. Later, he would say, "The display of 'LuvYa Blue' was a chance for people of all races and backgrounds to come together as a city. More than that, it was a feeling that the players and fans shared without even talkin'. We owed it all to one man: Bum Phillips."

The Oilers finished their regular season at 10-6, earning a wild card invitation to the playoffs. But after two playoff wins against Miami and New England, the Oilers fell to a Steeler team they had already beaten once in the regular season. In a game now known as the "Ice Bowl" in which Pittsburgh temperatures dropped well below freezing, two teams fought their hearts out for the rights to continue in the playoffs and have a chance at the Super Bowl title. After that win, the Steelers were the ones who went on to win another Super Bowl. The long flight home that night was difficult for Earl and the rest of his teammates and coaches. But as they arrived in Houston that night, they noticed numerous cars and fans surrounding the Astrodome, their home stadium where the players park their vehicles during away games. Over 50,000 fans had gathered inside the Astrodome for an impromptu pep rally to honor their team. The spirit and pride of "Luv Ya Blue" rang loud and proud that night deep in the heart of Texas.

As a rookie, Earl finished the season with an unprecedented 1,450 yards and was named Rookie of the Year and Most Valuable Player in the NFL. He also received his first invitation to the Pro Bowl. But one accomplishment had continued to elude him. Earl had yet to graduate from UT. He was only nine credits short of completing his degree. Because he had promised his mother and himself that he would, Earl returned to Austin that spring and graduated in May with a Bachelor's Degree in Speech Communications from the University of Texas.

After strenuous summer workouts with a personal trainer, Earl returned for his second season in the best shape of his life. The hard work that Earl, his teammates and Coach Phillips put into the 1979 season paid off. The Oilers finished the regular season at 12-4. Unfortunately, however, for the "Luv Ya Blue" fans, the team would not be so successful in the post season. Although they won their first two playoff games against Denver and San Diego, they once again faced the daunting challenge of battling the Steelers in their home stadium. Many believe they lost this game due to an unfair official's call, but whatever the reason, the Oilers lost most of their momentum during the game and lost a tough battle, 27-13.

Now, like they had done years before to Earl's mentor, coach and friend, Darrell Royal, the media began to question Bum Phillips and his ability to successfully coach the Oilers. Earl was furious by these comments and "went to bat" for his friend. But Earl knew that the NFL was a business and there was nothing he could do to stop the fate of his beloved coach.

During the 1979 season, Earl also struggled through many tough personal times, even though he never let anything stop him on the field. During training camp of that year, his junior high and high school coach, Lawrence "Butch" La Croix, died from a massive heart attack. While Earl was coping with the death of his own father at the age of eleven, La Croix had become a "father figure" to him. Now he was gone, and Earl was left to understand why.

Happy times were in Earl's future, however. Months later, on Valentine's Day of 1980, Earl decided to drive to his hometown of Tyler unexpectedly. He knocked on his mother's door, sat down across from her and said, "I'm in love with Reuna and I'm gonna marry her. I just wanted you to know first before I go over to propose to her." Earl met Reuna when they were in junior high school and they had been in love ever since. On May 30, 1980, in front of 1,000 guests, including Coach Darrell Royal and Coach Bum Phillips, Earl married Reuna Smith. Later that week, she moved into Earl's home in Houston on Candle Lane.

The Oilers finished the 1980 season with an 11-5 record and even knocked their arch-rival Pittsburg out of the playoff picture late in the season with a 6-0 victory.

But the Oilers lost their first playoff game against the Raiders, 24-7. The front office of the Oiler organization was furious. So on December 31, 1980, a day known to Houston fans as "The New Year's Massacre," Bum Phillips was fired by Bud Adams as the head coach of the Houston Oilers. He had directed his team to two consecutive AFC Championship games and was now unemployed. Earl was considerably upset at the loss of another mentor, friend and father figure.

The Oilers spent the next three seasons falling far from the "Luv Ya Blue" era. After 31 games as the new head coach, Ed Biles, was fired by the same man who had promoted him from the defensive coordinator's position after Phillips accepted a job with the New Orleans Saints. Earl, on the other hand, continued to excel, both on and off the football field. In 1981, Ralph Wallace, a member of the Texas State Legislature, proclaimed Earl Campbell an Official State Hero of Texas. Earl was one of only four men bestowed with this honor, along with Stephen F. Austin, Davy Crockett and Sam Houston. The poor boy from a small East Texas town was now being honored as one of the most influential men in Texas history. On the field, Earl continued to achieve athletic success and recognition for his achievements, receiving six consecutive nominations to the Pro Bowl. Earl was also very happy in his personal life. His wife, Reuna, gave birth to their first son, Earl Christian Campbell II. The football and state hero was now a proud papa.

One day, after taking his young son to get a haircut, Earl tuned into his favorite country radio station on the way to grab a quick lunch. He was shocked when he heard the disc jockey announce that he had been traded to the New Orleans Saints. He was about to be reunited with his favorite NFL coach, Bum Phillips. But Earl was furious that the Oilers and Bud Adams had failed to warn him of the upcoming trade. He knew the business side of the NFL, but he was shocked and hurt that he had to hear about his trade over the radio. That night, Earl emptied his locker alone and thought about all the wonderful and exciting times he had as an Oiler, especially during the "Luv Ya Blue" years. He was grateful for the opportunity God had blessed him with. He knew it was time to look toward the future…and a long-awaited reunion with Bum Phillips.

After watching his two favorite coaches become the center of media firestorms, Earl now found himself in the middle of one. The Houston fans and media were angry to hear about his trade and the media in New Orleans felt Phillips shouldn't have traded a first round draft pick for an athlete they considered to be "past his prime." Amid the media criticisms, Earl finished his first season as a Saint with 468 yards on 168 attempts, while sharing playing time with a rookie. He was not disappointed by his efforts, but he knew that the fans and the media in his new home city were growing restless with their team and Coach Phillips. During the 1985 season, Bum Phillips, a dedicated hero to the game of football and to the numerous athletes he coached, decided to retire from the NFL, leaving the position to his son, Wade, who was an assistant under his father.

Earl knew, on that day, that his time in New Orleans would be difficult and most likely, short-lived. He prepared for the 1986 season with as much vigor and toughness as he did while preparing for a college season. He knew the new coaches were looking for a reason to cut him from the team. So he spent his summer with Tom Williams, a personal trainer that he had worked with years before. He reported to training camp weighing in at a lean 225 pounds.  To everyone around him in New Orleans, Earl seemed focused and physically ready for another season of Saints football. Little did anyone know, Earl was aching on the inside, and on August 18, 1986, he realized that his body couldn't take any more pain. After a tough pre-season scrimmage against the Patriots, Earl showered and slowly walked back to the dormitory room he was staying in during training camp. He was so physically sore that he barely made it to his bed.

He lay in bed for hours praying for some relief. As he crawled out of bed and across the floor to the restrooms, he realized it was time to leave the NFL…on his own terms. He knew the Saints were trying to get rid of him anyway. So before Earl could give them the satisfaction of doing so and after he called his dearest friends and family members, Earl Campbell announced that he was retiring from the NFL. After a short press conference, Earl boarded a plane to Houston, sat back in his seat and reflected on his life. He had come so far. This son of a rose field worker named B.C. and a housewife named Ann, this victim of so many prejudices and tragedies, this victor of so many battles…this boy had become a man in front of millions.

The toughest question any NFL athlete asks himself after he retires is, "What do I do now?" After eight great seasons as a star running back in the NFL, Earl Campbell was no different. He had left the sport that had brought him so many wonderful memories and that had given him a place to turn to when everything else seemed to fall apart. The game, along with the strength from God and his family, had given him a sense of guidance throughout his childhood.

Football had been a constant companion in Earl's life. What would he do every fall while football season was in full swing? How would he fill his time now that he was not required to report to training camp and spend countless hours working his body into shape? Earl accomplished things on the football field that some men only dream of, but what was next for the Tyler Rose?

His first order of business was to spend some long overdue time with his mother and siblings, his wife, Reuna, and his young son Christian. And on October 26, 1986, Reuna gave birth to their second son Tyler Christian. He was so grateful that he could finally spend quality time with his two boys. Earl also filled his time by enjoying his celebrity status in Houston, joining many powerful businessmen and politicians on golf outings and charity events.

Soon, realizing the prize recruiting possession they had living so close to Austin, officials from the University of Texas, Earl's alma mater, asked if he would consider working in a newly-created position for the school as an ambassador and mentor for incoming athletes. Earl decided to accept the position on a trial basis, unsure if he wanted to move his family from Houston.

One Friday afternoon, after spending a long week in Austin counseling young athletes and participating in various recruiting activities, Earl received the scare of his life, more frightening than any bone-jarring hits he received in the NFL. While sitting at a stoplight in a small town outside of Houston, Earl felt an intensely sharp pain in his chest. The pain got stronger and stronger, and soon, his heart felt like it was going to pound out of his chest. Drenched with sweat, Earl was sure he was having a heart attack. But after what seemed like hours of unbearable pain, just as fast as it had struck him, the pain suddenly disappeared.

Earl had never been so scared in his entire life. He drove the rest of the way to Houston, wondering if he should tell his family about the incident. After all, he didn't want to scare them. Falling asleep that night was difficult for Earl. He was afraid of the kind of pain he felt that afternoon. Although he had been hurt many times before on the football fields, this pain was more frightening because he was unsure of the cause. Just as he was falling asleep, Earl had another attack. The pain was so strong that it sat this 225-pound ex-football player straight up in his bed, leaving him gasping for air and drowning in a pool of sweat. After being rushed to the hospital and examined for an entire week, the doctors sent him home with a clean bill of health. Their final report? There was nothing physically wrong inside the body of Earl Campbell. Earl was mystified.

He knew something was wrong, but without any medicine to ease his fears, Earl secluded himself into his bedroom for an entire month, ashamed that another attack might strike at any moment. He did not want his family, especially his two young sons, to see him in that condition. Finally, one day Earl decided to call the new head trainer at the University of Texas for advice. He urged Earl to see a doctor and made him an appointment with one of his friends, Dr. Lockett. The doctor confirmed what the other doctors had told him before: there was nothing wrong with him. Earl visited one more doctor. After consulting with Earl and Reuna, the doctor diagnosed Earl with panic disorder. The doctor explained the illness to Earl, assuring him that it was part of a chemical brain imbalance, he was not "crazy" and the illness could be treated with medication. Although still hesitant, Earl began the medicinal treatments and within months, he was exercising and socializing again, without the intense fear of another anxiety attack. Earl overcame the frightening image of a disease that had no face. It could not be seen on an X-Ray and it could not be detected with a microscope. But Earl knew the disease was there and with help from his family, friends and doctors, Earl Campbell triumphed over the disease, just like he had so many other roadblocks in his life.

In 1990, while eating dinner at Scholz's Beergarten, a popular Austin restaurant, Earl experienced a chance meeting with two businessmen who proposed a business idea.

They had heard that Earl was a wonderful cook, especially over the open grill. Earl loved sausage and knew a lot about making barbecue, ribs and sausage. The three men decided to cook up some of Earl's tasty sausage and try it out on some of Austin's toughest food critics: Longhorn tailgaters! They set up their grill at various Texas home football games and watched as the masses devoured Earl's spicy sausage. They also served the food through Scholz's. While dining at the local restaurant,a young man tasted Earl's barbecue and sauce. He would eventually give Earl and his partners one of their biggest breaks in the sausage business. His father-in-law was the senior buyer for Appletree Food Stores. After Earl cooked up some of his famous spicy sausage for the buyer and his wife, Appletree Foods began distributing Earl's meats and sauces. Earl Campbell Foods went from packaging 600 pounds of meat per month to over 600,000 pounds. The barbecue items became so successful that Earl and his partners even opened up their very own restaurant located in downtown Austin, Earl Campbell's on Sixth.

But with all Earl's accomplishments, one of the greatest days in his life was yet to come. While visiting the Flamingo Hilton in Las Vegas during Super Bowl weekend, a reporter called Earl to request an interview. The young man said, "Earl, you've been voted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame!"

On July 27, 1991, all five of the inductees, including Earl, Jan Stenerud, John Hannah, Stan Jones and "Tex" Schramm, stood proudly on stage in Canton, Ohio, the home of the Hall of Fame. Earl asked one of his mentors and favorite coaches, Bum Phillips, to introduce him at the ceremony. Bum praised the people that raised him, especially his mother Ann, for raising a man who "knew how to live on the field and off the field."

When the time came for Earl to give his acceptance speech, he was very emotional. He thanked his mother who raised him and mentored him, he praised his father who was in heaven that day looking over him and he honored his wife and children who had been his companions along the way. After the speech, he raised his hand to the sky and gave the fans a Hook 'em Horns.

The little black boy from a poor family in East Texas had come so far. From the rose fields in Tyler, Texas, to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. And a lot of exciting and memorable places in between. He touched the lives of so many people, even before he started breaking records and beating defenders on the football field. Long before the game of football began to change, Earl Campbell was already a hero. Truly, a rose among a bed of thorns.

Source: Official Website of Tyler Rose

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