With the NFL season starting, I thought I would provide my list of the five best professional football players to suit up in the city of Houston.
1. EARL CAMPBELL: Not only is Earl Campbell the greatest running back in the history of Houston-based professional football, he’s also one of the greatest running backs in football (high school, college, and professional) history. And not only did I get to watch Campbell on television, there was one season where I got to watch his games in person. He now suffers from the after effects of all of the punishment that he doled out through his career.
2. BRUCE MATTHEWS: Mathews played every position on the offensive line for the Houston Oilers. And he played every position at an All-Pro caliber while being selected to 14 straight Pro Bowls. His best friend, former Oiler Mike Munchak, gave the speech inducting Matthews into the Hall of Fame. And the sad thing is that he may end up being the very last Houston Oiler inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
3. ELVIN BETHEA: Bethea had the misfortune to be the best Oiler on a lot of crappy Oiler football teams. But he was also on the team for the Earl Campbell-era and came up just one game short of a trip to the Super Bowl. He was a dominating force on the defensive line, and he finished his career with over 100 sacks and eight Pro Bowl selections. He was also the first player to play his entire career for the Oilers and be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
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4. MIKE MUNCHAK: Munchak was drafted one year before Bruce Matthews, and for many years afterward, he and Matthews would anchor one of the best offensive lines in football history. He was chosen to play in nine Pro Bowls. He and Matthews were also the best of friends and team leaders. He retired before Matthews, and he was inducted into the Hall of Fame before Matthews, though it was Matthews whom Munchak chose to have enshrine him into the Hall.
5. JIM KELLY: Many people forget that Jim Kelly began his professional football career as the quarterback of the Houston Gamblers of the U.S.F.L., the team that introduced the run-and-shoot offense to a mass audience. Kelly manhandled the U.S.F.L. defenses for two seasons before leading the Buffalo Bills to near NFL domination while running a fast-paced no-huddle offense.
HONORABLE MENTIONS: Warren Moon is another Hall of Fame quarterback associated with the Houston Oilers. He was the leader of the high-scoring run-and-shoot Oiler teams which came up short in the playoffs many times. George Blanda had essentially washed out of the NFL when he arrived in Houston to lead the Oilers in the first year of something known as the American Football League – he’s also the only Oiler quarterback to lead his team to a championship. Robert Brazile was Lawrence Taylor before Lawrence Taylor. He was a force on the pass rush, dangerous in pass coverage, and a powerful hitter. Billy “White Shoes” Johnson isn’t remembered so much for his skills on the football field as for his skills in the end zone, where his dances helped to popularize end zone celebrations – but he was one of the most dangerous kick-off and punt return specialists of his or any era, and he was a very skilled wide receiver. Andre Johnson is still early in his NFL career, but since he was drafted number one by the Texans in 2003, he’s been not only their best player, but also the only Texan player feared by any other team in the NFL.
-- John Royal