The Digital Journalist
Selected photos from Michael O'Brien's The Face of Texas.
© Michael O'Brien

Earl Campbell/AUSTIN - Earl Campbell, one of the most powerful running backs in the history of college football, grew up among roses in Tyler, Texas. After his father died, Campbell's mother raised Earl and his six brothers and four sisters on her own by growing and selling the flowers--initially, for a mere 75 cents a dozen. Campbell worked in the family business until he was 18, and then set out to play football for the University of Texas in Austin.

"I always wanted to be an athlete," says Campbell, winner of the Heisman trophy in 1977. "I never wanted to see another rose again."

After playing with the Longhorns, Campbell moved on to the NFL to play for seven years with the Houston Oilers - for whom he was the number one draft pick - then for another year-and-a-half with the New Orleans Saints. His reputation as being virtually unstoppable on the field--for his speed as well as his strength--was unsurpassed; his powerful thighs were legendary. By the end of the his professional football career, he had amassed a total of 9,407 yards rushing, 806 yards receiving, 74 touchdowns, and 10,213 total yards. He ranks tenth in the NFL in all-time rushing yards. Campbell, who appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated six times, was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in "91.

But the "Tyler Rose," whose two young sons play football, says his most significant accomplishment is not as an athlete.

"I wanted to be the first one in my family to get a college education," says Campbell, who returned to UT to get his degree--a BA in Speech Communications--after his rookie year with the Oilers. "I'd vote that bigger than the Heisman and the Hall of Fame."

Since then, several of his siblings followed suit.

Campbell, a successful businessman in Austin, has run Earl Campbell Meat Products, Inc., which sells Earl Campbell's Smoked Sausage, barbecue sauce and other food products, since1988. He also briefly owned a restaurant, Earl Campbell's on 6th.

"Everything Texans do is BIG," says Campbell, who tipped the scales at 230 pounds in his football prime, and who still participates in University of Texas Athletics.