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Thursday, January 30, 2014
Wish you were here, Campbell and Phillips

By Tania Ganguli

The problem with defining a player's career by how many Super Bowls he won, or whether or not he played in one, is best illustrated by those who never got there.

At the start of this week, ESPN.com ran this package on some of the greats of the sport who never made it. No Texans, as the team's history is short. But I thought the segments on two Oilers would interest Houston fans.

An excerpt from Ashley Fox's piece about Bum Phillips:
Mike Renfro was in bounds. Everyone watching the AFC Championship Game on television in January 1980 knew it. Houston Oilers quarterback Dan Pastorini lofted a fade pass to Renfro in the back of the end zone. With Pittsburgh Steelers cornerback Ron Johnson covering him, Renfro made the catch with both feet in bounds as he fell out of the back of the end zone.

It should have been a touchdown. It was ruled incomplete.

The league eventually introduced instant replay as an officiating tool in 1986 -- seven seasons too late for the Oilers and head coach Bum Phillips. Renfro's catch should have allowed Houston to tie the score at 17-17 in the third quarter. Then maybe the Oilers would have won and taken their beloved coach to the Super Bowl.

But no. The Steelers went on to win 27-13 and subsequently captured their fourth Super Bowl title in six years. Phillips never got that close to reaching the Super Bowl again.

And an excerpt from Jeffri Chadiha's piece about Earl Campbell:
There was little Campbell didn't do. He ran for 9,407 yards and 74 touchdowns in eight NFL seasons. He won the Heisman Trophy at the University of Texas. He became the first overall pick in the 1978 draft. He also earned Offensive Rookie of the Year, Most Valuable Player (1979), three first-team All-Pro honors and five Pro Bowl nods. In 1991, the Pro Football Hall of Fame added Campbell in his first year of eligibility.

But he could never beat the Steelers when it counted. He gained just 77 total yards in those two conference championships.

The playoff defeat during Campbell's first season was especially difficult because he compared himself to Dallas Cowboys running back Tony Dorsett. Dorsett won the Heisman at Pittsburgh in 1976, entered the NFL in 1977 and won a Super Bowl as a rookie. On team flights, Campbell would ask a flight attendant to have the pilot find out what Dorsett had done during his games.

Oilers guard Conway Hayman once asked Campbell why he was so concerned with Dorsett. "I always wanted to be the man in Texas," Campbell said.