One of the biggest travesties that has taken place over the last ten years was the move of Monday Night Football to cable television. In fact it’s only trumped by the proliferation of too many channels carrying NFL football. When you go back to the last generation of us fans, many of our seasons were remembered by tremendous performances on Monday Night.
One great performance there and you were a made man in the eyes of all NFL fans, for every single one of them were watching the same exploits. ABC was accessible to the rich and the poor, the young and the old, which allowed generations of fans to watch the same game as well.
Well on one memorable Monday Night in 1978, every NFL fan watching witnessed one of the transcendent games of the 1970’s. The Houston Oilers were 7-4 and hosting the 8-3 Miami Dolphins in the marquee game of the week.
You have to understand the Oilers had been one of the NFL’s bottom feeders their entire existence up to that point. They had only appeared in 1 postseason game in their entire 19 year existence. A 40-7 loss in the 1967 AFL Championship Game. So even that hadn’t gone so well….
Enter Earl Campbell
Every year the NFL has it’s share of rookies who are supposed to live up to press clippings. The “Tyler Rose” stepped onto the field with the Oilers from day one and showed he belonged. Having won the Heisman Trophy his senior season at Texas, he came in as a marked man. Although he had lifted the lowly Oilers into playoff contention, the majority of America had only read of his exploits in newspapers. This Monday Night matchup would become the showcase where the Oilers proved they belonged with the NFL’s elite. Also it would solidify Earl Campbell’s chances to win rookie of the year honors. After all he came into this week 12 contest with 944 yards rushing.
Just as the late Bum Phillips recalled in the clip above, it was one where the crowd noise helped carry the game past a good game into one of great remembrance. Campbell, being cheered on by a raucous crowd, put on a performance for the ages that trumpeted his arrival as well as the Oilers as a force to be reckoned with. It was a back and forth game Houston won 35-30.
This may not have been one of Don Shula’s Super Bowl teams from half a decade before but they were an 11-5 AFC East Wild Card participant that year. In fact, the Oilers would defeat them again 13-7 down in the Orange Bowl for Houston’s first ever postseason win. Who was the AFC East Champion that year?? The New England Patriots who were rocked 31-14 as Campbell powered the Cinderella Oilers to the AFC Championship Game.
Alas they fell to the Steelers in the championship game and would do so again in 1979. Yet it was this performance that put Earl Campbell on the map for good in the eyes of all football fans, not just the NFL. You have to realize the majority of America was down to just NBC, CBS, and ABC when it came to college football and most hadn’t seen him play at the collegiate level. Campbell wound up rushing for 1,450 yards to lead the league in rushing. It was the first time a rookie had done so since Jim Brown in 1957.
Of course he would go on to the collegiate and Pro Football Hall of Fames and ushered in the era of the big super back. George Rogers, Herschel Walker, Bo Jackson, and Keith Byars would follow from college to pro. However none captured the imagination of the football world the way Earl Campbell did that November Monday Night.
This article is dedicated to the memory of former Houston Oiler Head Coach Bum Phillips (September 29, 1923 – October 18, 2013) A coach who nearly made it to legendary status yet is remembered for the family atmosphere he fostered on those teams. He was the quintessential Texas gentleman that called games for the Oilers for years on radio as well. NFL fans everywhere will miss him.
Thanks for reading and please share the article.