Support during his upbringing in Tyler and a strong Christian faith have helped football great Earl Campbell throughout his life, the author of a new book about Campbell said Thursday in Tyler.
Asher Price of Austin was at the Smith County Historical Society Museum to promote “Earl Campbell: Yards After Contact.”
Price, a reporter at the Austin American-Statesman, explored Campbell’s career through the lens of changes in racial relations from the mid-1960s until Campbell’s retirement from professional football in the mid-1980s.
“During this time, Texas is changing in a lot of different ways,” Price said.
Price said the book also chronicles Campbell’s challenges and sacrifices beginning during his childhood.
Price was joined in the discussion Thursday by Willie Campbell, one of Earl Campbell’s older brothers; Henry Bell, a longtime friend of the Campbell family; and Phil Hicks, sports editor at the Tyler Morning Telegraph, who has followed Campbell’s career for decades.
Campbell was raised in a large family that did not have a lot of money. Like some of his older brothers, he was gifted as a football player.
Hicks said he first took notice that Campbell was a special player when he saw him when John Tyler High School played Longview High School.
“He had a dominant performance,” Hicks said.
In 1973, Campbell led John Tyler to a state championship.
Bell said Campbell’s success at John Tyler united the community, which was still in its early years of school desegregation.
Darrell Royal convinced Campbell to play at the University of Texas.
Price said his research showed that some in the university’s administration and athletic department were reluctant to recruit black athletes in the years prior to Campbell’s arrival.
At the University of Texas, Campbell led the nation in rushing as a senior in 1977, with 1,744 yards and 19 touchdowns. He was awarded the Heisman Trophy as the nation’s most outstanding college player.
During his professional career, Campbell played eight years with the Houston Oilers and two with the New Orleans Saints. While with the Oilers, he was among the top rushers and was the league’s Most Valuable Player in 1979.
Price drew attention to the fact that after Campbell became a professional athlete, he built his mother a new home on the family’s property and maintained friendships with people he knew growing up.
Campbell is still known as the Tyler Rose. The Earl Campbell Tyler Rose Award recognizes top offensive players in college from Texas or with Texas ties.
In 1991, Campbell was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. He now heads Earl Campbell Meat Products, which sells beef products and barbecue sauces.
Price said Campbell is proud of his accomplishments and his two sons.
Willie Campbell credited his brother’s success to the guidance and values of their mother, Ann.
“She always expected us to be in church on Sunday,” Willie Campbell said. “All of our lives the one thing that we had to learn is that our blessings are from Jesus Christ.”