Thursday, March 8, 2001
Classic catches up with Earl Campbell
By Phillip Lee
Special to ESPN Classic
Earl Campbell, nicknamed "The Tyler Rose," was one of the most powerful running backs in NFL history. Few could match his combination of speed and power, especially the power. Campbell attended the University of Texas and finished his career with 4,443 yards and 41 touchdowns. He won the Heisman Trophy his senior year in 1977. Campbell was selected by the Houston Oilers with the first pick overall in the 1978 NFL draft and made an immediate impact. In his rookie season, he was named league MVP, All-Pro and Rookie of the Year. During his eight-year career with the Oilers and the New Orleans Saints, Campbell ran for 9,407 yards and 74 TDs rushing. He had 121 receptions for 806 yards. Phillip Lee recently spoke with former University of Texas and NFL star and found out what he's doing these days.
Phillip Lee: What have you been up to these days?
Earl Campbell: I have a company called Earl Campbell Foods. I got into the meat business in 1991. Our company sells about five to six million pounds of sausage a year. We sell it retail and to restaurants. We've got all kinds of products. We've got barbeque sauce, brisket and fajitas. I do a lot of business for a restaurant chain called, "Red Hot and Blue." They have restaurants nationwide.
PL: How did you get into the sausage business?
EC: Myself and two other business partners came up with the idea. Now it's just myself as far as Earl Campbell products goes. I always knew that I wanted to do something in business and I prepared myself for that.
PL: So is the sausage your own recipe? Did you always like to cook?
EC: It's my recipe. It really started cooking when I moved to Houston. I bought a house and got my own barbeque pit.
PL: Talk about your memories of the Houston Oilers.
EC: First of all, I'm so glad that the city of Houston has a football team again. They have such great fans. I'm really happy for the people of Houston because they deserve a football team. They really are great fans. I think (Houston Texans owner Robert McNair) is going to have a chance to see that because they really like their football in Texas.
PL: Talk about the rivalry between the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Houston Oilers.
EC: Pittsburgh was a great team. Coach Noll, Joe Greene, Jack Lambert, L.C. Greenwood and all those guys did a great job. That's the team that kept us from winning two Super Bowls. It was a great rivalry.
PL: You're known for delivering big hits, but who delivered some big hits to you?
EC: I think one game we played the Oakland Raiders and Jack Tatum and I had an accident on the one-yard line. The only thing that Jack Tatum didn't do was wrap me up so I backed into the endzone backwards. After the game, he said, "That's the best I had." And I said, "That's the best I had, too." Jack is a great guy. He and I are friends. And for some reason, (Pittsburgh defensive back) Donnie Shell had my number.
PL: Talk about your running style.
EC: After watching films of Jim Brown, I noticed that he never ran out of bounds. He always ran North and South and that's what I turned my style into. I was a North and South runner.
PL: Who are some of your favorite present day running backs?
EC: Emmitt Smith is a great running back. One of the things I like about him along with Edgerrin James is that neither one of them "show out" when they run a touchdown. They don't spike the ball or do anything when they score a touchdown. They just do their thing and walk off. Ricky Williams has a chance to do some great things if he can stay healthy. There's a lot of talent in that young man. Ron Dayne has a chance to do some great things as soon as he figures out how it all works. You can tell it's there. I did some good things as a rookie. Marshall Faulk can put it all in another gear.
PL: Talk a little about your family.
EC: I have a wife and two boys. One is 18 and the other is 14. The 18-year old is getting ready for college next year and he made a decision to run track. He runs a lot like Michael Johnson. He played split-end on the high school football team for four years and he said that's it.
PL: So he has no football aspirations?
EC: No. I don't think so. But ... I think there's still going to be some room for football because I think he loves. But for some reason he just wants to try track and that's fine with me. The only thing that I'm concerned about is that he gets good grades and represent the Campbell name well and be a great young man some day.
PL: Does your younger son play football?
EC: He just got moved up to varsity. He's going to be a sophomore next year. He has the perfect body to be an unbelievable linebacker, but he says he wants to try split-end and running back.
PL: Are you still involved in the University of Texas?
EC: I talk to student-athletes. I try to get them to remember that they're not just athletes, but student-athletes. You need to get an education, keep your hands clean and try to represent the university...They have to get their priorities right. Not only just in college, but in the pros, too. It's not a difficult thing to do. You just have to find out from yourself, 'what do I want to try and accomplish?'
PL: Growing up did you want to be with the Dallas Cowboys and not the Houston Oilers? Were you disappointed that the Oilers chose you?
EC: No. Not at all ... I just think Bum Phillips and Earl Campbell fitted each other. I don't think Tom Landry and I would have fit because I don't like to dress up a lot. When you would see the Dallas Cowboys, you would always see a tie and all that. With Bum Phillips, he liked the Wrangler Jeans and the cowboys hats. I liked that kinda style.
PL: Was there a rivalry between Dallas-Houston?
EC: I don't know from a team standpoint, but from my standpoint, if I played in Cleveland and Dallas was playing somewhere else, I would always ask the pilot, "Can you find out how many yards Tony Dorsett gained?" I always wanted to out do Tony, even though we were the best of buddies.
PL: Are you still involved in professional football?
EC: There had been talk about me getting involved with the new team in Houston. I don't know if it's something that will become a realization, but it would be something that I would love to do.
PL: Do you miss football?
EC: I miss the guys. I don't get to see them often. We do get together in Houston now and then. I'm on the phone with (defensive end) Conway Hayman all the time. Bum Phillips and I talk a lot. Bum Phillips doesn't know my name is Earl Campbell. He's never called me Earl Campbell. It's always E.C. The first time he met me in 1977 after I won the Heisman he said, "E.C." and it's been "E.C." since then.
If you want to know more about Campbell, you can check out his website at www.earlcampbell.com.