John McClain hada good article
(yes, I’m being serious) on the
, who hada reunion at the half of Sunday’s Texans game
. Quarterback Dan Pastorini spoke of the thrill of being reunited with teammates he hadn’t seen in years. Coach Bum Phillips spoke of the fun he was having being with all of the guys.
There was just one thing, or person, missing.
The heart of the Luv Ya Blue Oilers, running back Earl Campbell, did not make the trip from Austin.
McClain’s story doesn’t address Campbell’s absence, but I doubt it’s because the Texans refused to invite Campbell. It’s probably because Campbell refused to come. And it’s not because Campbell has anything against the Texans; it’s because he couldn’t make the trip.
I don’t know how many of you have kept up with Campbell since his retirement, but it hasn’t been good for him. You can read the details in this fantastic story from the Austin American-Statesman. But the short version is, he has to be driven by his best friend since childhood. He can’t walk on his own, but has to use either a walker or a wheelchair. His back pain is so bad that he hasn’t been able to sleep in a bed in seven years. He’s not hurting for money, and his sausage company is successful.
But Earl Campbell, age 52, has the body of a 62-year-old man. He was honored at the halftime of a UT/Texas Tech game in 2003. He had to ride out on a cart, and he was told that many people who were in attendance thought he was drunk.
Earl Campbell, Hall of Famer, is a proud man. And proud men like Earl Campbell don’t care much for people thinking that they’re drunk.
This depresses me.
Anyone who grew up in Houston during the Luv Ya Blue era knows how important Earl Campbell was to the franchise. The offense was: Earl runs right; Earl runs left; Earl runs straight ahead. Who can forget that game on Monday night, back when Monday Night Football was a BIG THING, in his rookie season? The Oilers were beating the Dolphins late in the game, but the score was close, the Oilers were bottled up deep in their own territory, and Bum Phillips wanted only to run out the clock. Dan Pastorini would take the snap, spin to his right and pitch the ball out to Campbell who would hit the corner, speed past several Dolphins, then take off down the sidelines for the 81-yard touchdown to give the Oilers the victory.
Then there was that hit when he laid out Ram linebacker Isaiah Robertson (about 1:24 into the video). The only bigger NFL hit I can really remember is when Bo Jackson laid out Brian Bosworth one Monday night.
Campbell was a god. He would carry the ball 30 times a game. He wouldn’t avoid contact. He would seek out contact. He wanted to run over the opposition, not run past the opposition. He would never give up. The best times to run Earl were often late in a game, when he should’ve been dead tired, when the other guys were tired. And he’d get the ball and no one would be able to stop him.
Houston loved Earl Campbell. I loved Earl Campbell. He was everything a football player should be. He was the best. Ever. He took a beating. Every game. It was like he was indestructible. Like he was an immortal.
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No team has ever captured the spirit of Houston like the Luv Ya Blue Oilers captured the spirit of Houston. Not the Warren Moon-era Oilers. Not the Nolan Ryan-era Astros, or the World Series Astros. Not even the Hakeem Olajuwon Rockets captured the heart of this city like those Oilers. And no Oiler did more to capture the spirit of the city than Earl Campbell.
And now he can’t walk. Or sleep.
Thanks for the memories, Earl. And I’m sorry. I feel responsible for your condition because it’s for me you were playing. Well, for me and the rest of the city.
I miss the Houston Oilers. I miss Earl Campbell. – John Royal