Tyler’s Earl Campbell rose to the forefront again. With the Hall-of-Fame running back in attendance, city leaders launched the establishment of the Earl Campbell Tyler Rose Award, to be presented annually to the country’s outstanding Division I senior college offensive player.
The introduction of the award highlighted the East Texas Kick-off Luncheon on Thursday at the Patriot Center on the UT Tyler campus, presented by SporTyler.
The award, set to be handed out yearly starting in December 2013, joins a long list of collegiate accolades including the Doak Walker (nation’s top running back) and Davey O’Brien (nation’s top quarterback). Criteria for the new award consist of integrity, performance, team work, sportsmanship, community and tenacity — to persist and overcome adversity and injury in pursuit of reaching goals.
Campbell’s name currently graces the playing surface at Trinity Mother Frances Rose Stadium and a new thoroughfare. The ribbon-cutting ceremony for Earl Campbell Parkway takes place today on the west loop.
“They gave this honor to the right person,” former Texas coach Fred Akers said after speeches from former NFL veteran Gary Baxter, of Tyler, and Campbell. “Earl is a leader on and off the field.”
Campbell chose football over the city’s well known rose industry. The decision paid off, with Campbell now one of four official state heroes.
“All my life all I wanted to do was be an athlete,” Campbell said. “My family was in the rose business. I didn’t like that. I could go to the field, and I could help everyone get organized. But I always wanted to do something different, with a football.”
Before the start of each season a defined timeline will be established by the board of the Earl Campbell Tyler Rose Award. The award watch list will be selected by the board from nominations given from sports information directors submitted by all Division I colleges and universities. The watch list will be announced at the annual SPORTyler football kickoff luncheon held each August in Tyler.
The selection committee will be comprised of journalists, broadcasters, commentators and former winners. In addition, there will be a fan vote, which will count as 5 percent of each stage of voting. The selection committee will narrow the field to 16 semifinalists in October and four finalists in November, before the official presentation the next month.
The four finalists will be recognized at the announced dinner, held at a date to be determined. The winner and his respective school will receive a specially designed trophy with the winner’s name to be permanently added to the base of the original trophy for display.
“We are fortunate to have a celebrity of such impeccable virtues which defines this award,” said Henry Bell, chief operating office for the Tyler area chamber of commerce. “How many well-known sports role models worked hard to finish their degree, are still married to their high school sweetheart (Reuna), have two fine successful children (Tyler, Christian) and still support the community where they came.”
Community leaders started working on a way to remember Campbell a few years ago. The framework of the award rounded into shape after discussions between Campbell and his sons, Bell, councilmen Donald Sanders and Martin Heines, Cindy Smoak, of SporTyler, and Dr. Bill Lockhart, of Austin.
The bruising back won his fair share of awards during his playing days, including college’s highest honor, the Heisman Trophy, his senior season at Texas in 1977. Campbell rushed for 1,744 yards and 19 TDs during the memorable year.
The Houston Oilers drafted Campbell, widely considered to be one of the best running backs in history, with the first overall pick of the 1978 draft by the Houston Oilers. Campbell owns the distinction of being one of the few athletes in sports history named Most Valuable Player his first three professional seasons. He finished his pro career with 9,407 yards and 74 TDs.
The 57-year old Campbell, who was raised in the Swan community in rural north Tyler, led John Tyler to a state championship in 1973. Campbell rushed for 2,036 yards and 28 TDs during the perfect 15-0 season.
The rest turned into history for the Campbell household and the city.
“When I found out that God had given me that talent to be something very special, all I had to do was put a little bit of my spices in there,” said Campbell, who has a documentary with NFL Films in the works. “I kept God in my life and surrounded myself with good people. I’m real happy to be here. You all are going to hear some (more) great things going on in our city in the future.”