Tennessee Titans: 30 greatest players in franchise history
By John Buhler
- Pro Football Hall of Fame (Class of 1991)
- Tennessee Titans No. 34 retired
- NFL MVP (1979)
- 3x NFL Offensive Player of the Year (1978-80)
- NFL 1970s All-Decade Team
- 3x First-Team All-Pro (1978-80)
- 5x Pro Bowl (1978-81, 1983)
Earl Campbell is one of the few football players to have won both the Heisman Trophy while in college and be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame as a professional. “The Tyler Rose” was something else down in Austin for the Texas Longhorns collegiately. No wonder Houston used the No. 1 overall pick on him in the 1978 NFL Draft.
Right out of the gate, Campbell was unbelievable as a running back for the Oilers. Not only was he NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year in 1978, he was First-Team All-Pro and NFL Offensive Player of the Year. He led the league with 1,450 rushing yards on 302 carries for 13 touchdowns.
This would be the first of three-straight NFL Offensive Player of the Year honors, three-straight All-Pro First Teams and four-straight Pro Bowl honors. In year two in 1979, Campbell had statistically his best season. He won NFL MVP rushing for 1,697 yards and 19 touchdowns to lead the league on 368 carries.
On just those two years alone, Campbell made the NFL 1970s All-Decade Team. Unbelievable. His 1980 campaign was simply outstanding. He led the league in carries (373), rushing yards (1,934) and rushing touchdowns (13). However, Campbell would never match any of those marks in his final five professional seasons.
Campbell made it to his fourth Pro Bowl in 1981, rushing for 1,376 yards and 10 touchdowns, leading the league in touches for the second consecutive season with 397. Overall, Campbell was every bit the bell-cow back in his prime. Unfortunately, he got shamelessly overworked during his four years at Texas and his first four years with the Oilers.
Campbell was under 1,000 rushing yards for the first time in his career in 1982. While he bounced back with another 1,000-yard rushing season in 1983 to make the Pro Bowl for the fifth and final time, he managed barely over 1,000 combined yards in the rest of his career.
After averaging 2.9 yards per carry in his first six games in 1984, Campbell was traded to the New Orleans Saints to be reunited with his former Oilers head coach Bum Phillips. He played one more season with the 1985 Saints before retiring with 9,407 career rushing yards in eight seasons.
Campbell has had major health issues in the aftermath of his football career. Though a generational tailback in his 20s, Campbell’s body was completely broken down in his early 30s. He earned Canton enshrinement in his first year of eligibility in 1991.
However, the relative shortness of his NFL career has him coming in at only No. 7 on this all-time Oilers/Titans list. To be No. 7 is a testament to the amount of outstanding players that have played in either Houston or Nashville.