We sympathize when we hear normal-sized humans, such as NFL defensive backs, not wanting to come up to make solo tackles on modern day beasts like Brandon Jacobs and Adrian Peterson. It used to be that the biggest guys were along the offensive and defensive lines, in the trenches, battling with the other monstrous guys, but nowadays, some of the biggest players on the field are skill position players carrying the ball. The two mentioned above may be the most feared players in the game today; giants, part of a new breed of athlete that is bigger, faster, stronger and even more athletic - yet, not always smarter (Dexter Manley Legends is coming in the next few weeks you illiterate biznitches). Anyway, this Bruce Banner to Hulksville scene is a trend that has been slowly happening over the past 25 years. Basically, since Earl Campbell hit the scene.
Earl was the first running back that looked more like a nose tackle or middle linebacker. It's the guy that changed the future complexion of the League like few backs have. Guys that come to mind that were game-changers: Walter Payton, Jim Brown, Eric Dickerson, Bo Jackson, Barry Sanders, Thurman Thomas, Emmitt Smith, and now, Adrian Peterson.
The thing about Earl is that he was a roughneck, a competitor, a great person and kind gentlemen. But in the heat of battle, Earl was an unmatched warrior - literally, a gladiator - an outdoorsman that loved to shoot and hunt and be out in the wild. This lifestyle defined his game on the field. He played with the mindset of the animal that he liked to hunt; he played with reckless abandon, running for his life, the biggest load imaginable with power, quickness and speed that resembled those of super human (even make believe) athletes like Drago.
"Whatever he hits, he destroys!"
On a side note, no one ever had bigger thigh pads than "The Tyler Rose". Even in an era of minimally protective helmets and pads, Campbell ran with the mentality that if he couldn’t get through you, he’d run right over you. The freakish thing, and make no mistake, Earl was nothing short of a freak, he had the speed to get around the corner - palming the ball in the wrong hand, and if he got past the first lines of defense, he was gone... this wasn't some lumbering big man, this was a guy that wasn't getting caught from behind, even from fleet footed defensive backs and safeties - check out the career highlights video below - it's unreal with the growth of the specimen that athletes are today, that this fella' would make any of the "Thunder" backs (Ron Dayne, Lendell White, Bus Bettis, Brandon Jacobs) look like Friday Night Lights.
Check out his bowl-legged running style in the Sports Illustrated cover below, this guy is like nothing the league had ever seen, and we are still waiting. His head-rocking power and unstoppable motor combined to create the NFL’s scariest monster coming out of the backfield right from the start. From 1978 to 1982, he was the most feared player in the NFL and won every award you can along the way… with Earl, it was all about getting your hands dirty – getting right down to business. A DIY kind of tough guy, essentially a defense's worst nightmare behind pads, acknowledged as the single biggest reason for Ben Gay's increase in sales in the late seventies and early eighties.
At the University of Texas, Campbell was a bona fide machine at tailback. In a dominating senior season, Campbell ground out 1,744 yards and won the Heisman Trophy. He totaled 4,443 yards and 41 touchdowns over his Longhorn career.
President Obama holding Earl Campbell's Heisman Trophy
As the NFL's first overall pick in the 1978 draft, Campbell burst onto the NFL scene in a big way. Over 15 games, Campbell bulldozed for 1,450 yards, earning honors as the NFL’s Rookie of the Year as well as the NFL’s Offensive Player of the Year. People took notice as he was the type of sensation that rarely ever arrives. The Houston Oilers were all of a sudden the Megan Fox crotch shot of the league as Campbell continued to barrel through NFL defenses over the next three seasons. From 1979 to 1981, Earl led the NFL twice in rushing yards and twice in TDs, while averaging 1,669 yards and 14 touchdowns over that span. In 1980, Earl’s career-year, Campbell led the league with 1,934 rushing yards, a number that not even Walter Payton, Jim Brown, or the NFL’s all-time leading rusher, Emmitt Smith, would reach throughout their careers. In 1979, Earl became the youngest running back at 24-years old to ever to hit the 19 rushing touchdown plateau. However, for all his dominance over those years, Campbell could do little to reverse the Oilers playoff ineptitude. Houston made it to the AFC championship game against Pittsburgh in both 1978 and 1979, faltering in both games.
Campbell’s 1979 and 1980 seasons were arguably two of the most dominating seasons ever achieved by a running back. In that span, Campbell won his second and third NFL Offensive Player of the Year trophies, led the league in rushing in both seasons, and almost single-handedly pushed his team into the playoffs.
1980 was the climax of Campbell’s relatively short career. Campbell surpassed 1,300 yards in 1981, but averaged only 3.8 yards a carry, down a full yard from his average over his first three seasons. In 1982, a players’ strike shortened the NFL season to nine games, of which the Oilers dropped eight. In 1983, Campbell did well for a garbage Oilers team, and then in 1984, he was traded to the New Orleans Saints so that the Oilers could sign Warren Moon. Campbell never caught on in New Orleans, and it proved to be the last stop in his NFL career.
In only seven full professional seasons, Campbell made a name for himself as one of the toughest running backs to have played the game. His highlight tapes became instant classics, clip after clip of Campbell running into a defender, head lowered, and delivering a bone-crunching blast that would knock the defender off his feet. No player before him or after him has ever run with the same tenacity, and his legend will be a part of the game forever.
After professional football, Earl started a family with his wife Reuchalle Smith. Together the couple had two sons, who are now both in college. Campbell's life after football has been a difficult adjustment as the abuse he put his body through when playing has taken its toll. Earl suffers from chronic back pain and severe arthritis in his knees, both coming as a result of his fearlessness decades before. Campbell’s poor physical condition is a fate shared by many other NFL vets suffering from chronic issues as a result of their playing days. Campbell and Mike Ditka have been among the more active former players in pursuing medical protection for the NFL’s retirees. This is a topic that we plan to cover on Pyromaniac.com sometime later this season, life after football and how the league takes care of it's players (or how it doesn't for that matter).
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