Whether at the coffee shop, barbershop, DQ, Whataburger or anywhere in East Texas, the conversation always seems to come around to who is the all-time best football player.
East Texans love their football and ask any college coach and they will say they love East Texas players, noting their work ethic and passion.
So back in August it was decided to settle this once and for all — who was the best football player to ever suit up in East Texas. The G.O.A.T. if you will — Greatest of All-Time.
There were 78 players (one from each area school and that in itself was a hard decision to decide who would represent their alma mater) on the ballot.
The voting, sponsored by Peters Chevrolet-Chrysler-Jeep-Dodge-Ram-Fiat, Peters AutoSport and PetersCars.com, began in August and continued through the regular season when the top five was decided — Earl Campbell of Tyler, Larry Centers of Tatum, Patrick Mahomes of Whitehouse, DeMorrio Williams of Beckville and Todd Fowler of Van.
With five weeks of the playoffs, it is time to announce the winner.
No electoral college was needed and there were no hanging chads as running back Earl Campbell is the winner.
“I just want the kids in East Texas to know that everything I have accomplished in life — they too can do the same thing,” said Campbell, a 1974 John Tyler High School graduate. “You just have to believe, remain prayerful and be ready to work and sacrifice.
“I am honored, with all of these best-of lists flying around, it’s fun to be recognized,” Campbell continued. “At times, I forget about all that my teammates and I accomplished on the field. Football was fun, but, it was just a platform. Life goes on from there. I played with a really good group of guys at John Tyler, had two phenomenal coaches in Darrell Royal and Fred Akers (at the University of Texas) and the NFL stuff speaks for itself. It’s been a fun ride. Better than I ever imagined.”
Campbell was first in the voting, followed by Centers, Kansas City Chiefs QB Mahomes, Williams and Fowler.
Nicknamed “The Tyler Rose,” Campbell started his career as a running back as a senior at John Tyler where he rushed for 2,036 yards and led his team to a 15-0 record and the Class 4A state championship. He continued his success at the University of Texas with 4,443 career yards and 40 TDs with 1,744 yards and 18 TDs in his Heisman Trophy winning senior year in 1977. Campbell was two-time All-America (1975, 1977) and helped the Longhorns to two Southwest Conference titles.
In 1978 he was drafted No. 1 overall by the Houston Oilers where he led the league in rushing yards his first three years. He won rookie of the year (1978) and Most Valuable Player (1979). Campbell was also NFL Offensive Player of the Year from 1978 through 1980.
Campbell was known for his punishing running style and ability to break tackles and had a career-high 1,934 yards rushing in 1980. His career NFL statistics include: 9,407 rushing yards, 74 rushing touchdowns, 121 receptions and 806 receiving yards.
In 1990, Campbell was inducted in the College Football Hall of Fame and on July 27, 1991, he was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio.
Recently Campbell was voted as one of the 12 best running backs of all-time in the NFL.
“You had to get him before he got going, because once he got going, he was like a truck ... and fast,” New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick said. “This guy was one of the toughest football players who ever played.”
Campbell was joined on the all-time running backs team by Jim Brown, Earl “Dutch” Clark, Eric Dickerson, Lenny Moore, Marion Motley, Walter Payton, Barry Sanders, Gale Sayers, O.J. Simpson, Emmitt Smith and Steve Van Buren.
Campbell became the first Texas Longhorns football player to have his jersey retired by the University of Texas, his number 20 in 1979. The No. 20 is also retired by the Tyler ISD and the field at Christus Trinity Mother Frances Rose Stadium is named in his honor, Earl Campbell Field. He was the inaugural member of the Tyler ISD Athletics Hall of Fame.
During the 1973 season, Conroe football coach W.T. Stapler said of Campbell, “I thought Superman was white and wore a cape and a red and blue suit. I was wrong. He’s black, wears number 20 and plays football for John Tyler High School.”
Campbell helped the Lions defeat Conroe 10-7 in a regional playoff game.
During that five-game playoff run to the state championship, Campbell gained 852 yards and scored 11 touchdowns. In the 21-14 win over Austin Reagan in the state championship game at the Astrodome, Campbell gained 164 yards on 32 carries and scored twice — once on a 53-yard run and again on a 1-yard run with 53 seconds left in the game.
His first varsity game, as a sophomore linebacker, came in October 1971 when he sacked Longview quarterback Jeb Blount eight times in JT’s 10-7 upset of Longview.
The legend continued after his debut.
A section of roadway in Tyler, extending from Loop 323 to Texas Highway 155, was named Earl Campbell Parkway at its opening in 2012.
In 2013, the Earl Campbell Tyler Rose Award, an award given to the best offensive player in NCAA Division I with Texas ties, was named in Campbell’s honor.
Phil Hicks is the sports editor of the Tyler Morning Telegraph.