Legendary Days: Rookie Earl Campbell Rushes For 199 Yards on Monday Night

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.

The "Luv Ya' Blue" Houston Oilers of the late 1970's was a team that almost won it all.

The “Luv Ya’ Blue” Houston Oilers of the late 1970’s was a team that almost won it all.

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.

Campbell leapfrogging Patriot cornerback Raymond Clayborn in the '78 playoffs.

Campbell leapfrogging Patriot cornerback Raymond Clayborn in the ’78 playoffs.

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.

As their careers are forever attached, Campbell and Phillips exit Three Rivers Stadium after the 1979 AFC Championship Game.

As their careers are forever attached, Campbell and Phillips exit Three Rivers Stadium after the 1979 AFC Championship Game.

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.

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On This Date In 1994: Jerry Rice Eclipses Jim Brown’s Touchdown Record

On this date 18 years ago, Jerry Rice scored this touchdown against the Raiders. It was his 127th touchdown to break the record of legendary running back Jim Brown.

On the first Monday Night Game of the 1994 season, there was an outside chance Jerry Rice could break Jim Brown’s touchdown record of 126. He entered the season with 124 and was in the prime of his career. The San Francisco 49ers were retooling their team to take down their arch nemesis in the Dallas Cowboys who bested them in the last two NFC Championships. At this time fellow Hall of Fame member Michael Irvin was starting to move into the “best receiver in the NFL” talk as well. All of this kept an already certain Hall of Famer Jerry Rice motivated.

In came the Los Angeles Raiders who had been a playoff team the year before. They had a defense that ranked 9th overall in 1993, and fifth against the pass. To bolster their defensive secondary they signed free agent CB Albert Lewis formerly of the Kansas City Chiefs. The Raiders had just lost Howie Long to retirement yet thought this game would show they were still among the league’s elite. Surely with a young Terry McDaniel and Albert Lewis manning the corners they would stop Rice in the season opener…right??

In what was a microcosm of the 1994 season, the 49ers slaughtered the Raiders 44-14 on national television. This was the great 49er team that signed Deion Sanders, who went on to be NFL Defensive Player of the Year, and multiple free agents from the 1993 Pro Bowl. They would coast to a fifth Super Bowl trophy four months later.

Looking back at how great that team was with Sanders, Ricky Jackson, Richard Dent, Steve Young, and Jerry Rice all in the Pro Football Hall of Fame now was the greatest of the 1990s. In fact it was one of the best in history and the man who led by example on this day 18 years ago became the all time touchdown record holder. His record of 208 touchdowns will never be broken.

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Week 15 Monday Night Football: Pittsburgh Steelers @ San Francisco 49ers

"Did you hear?? Baltimore lost to San Diego last night!"

Well doesn’t this have a good ring to it?? These teams are coming in with a ton of NFL playoff implications tied to this football game. The first is the San Francisco 49ers are trying to catch the Green Bay Packers, for homefield advantage on the NFC side of the ledger. Although they have won their division, they have been caught by the New Orleans Saints who are 1/2 a game up on the 49ers for the #2 seed. In other words, the 49ers need this game in more ways than one. They need it for playoff positioning and also to prove they can stand up to the best AFC teams. They were handled in Balitmore Thanksgiving Night 16-6, and being new to the league’s elite they need to prove to themselves they can beat an established team. The Niners come into this game 10-3 and face the 10-3 Steelers.

The Steelers come into this game without their enforcer in linebacker James Harrison who is serving a one game suspension. However this team had to deal with his missing four games from an orbital bone fracture earlier in the year. With Lawrence Timmons & Larry Foote, the Steelers are able to rotate linebackers to continue playing the same defense and rush the passer along with stopping the run. This year’s edition hasn’t forced the turnovers of previous editions yet comes in with the #1 defense. Thanks to early injuries to this defense, which is one of the eldest in all of football, they are healthy on defense at the right time and they’re rested.

Unsung versatile linebacker Larry Foote

They also have to rally around an injured Ben Roethlisberger who has a high ankle sprain but this is the type of rock ’em sock ’em game the  Steelers thrive in. It may be hard for Roethlisberger to move around and make plays but he plays with grit and has to will his offense down the field. For the season he’s completed 64.5% of his passes for 3,526 yards 21 touchdowns and 11 interceptions. He’s on pace for another 4,000 yard season and people have to get over the illusion that the Steelers are a running team. Sure they are a running team first, but Ben is what makes this offense go. They say it’s a game time decision but Big Ben, sitting out this game?? Stop, he’ll be under center tonight bank on it. Especially with Baltimore stumbling last night in San Diego, now the Steelers are in control of the AFC North, the second seed in the AFC playoffs or possibly home field throughout.

Yet coming in with the league’s #4 defense is the San Francisco 49ers. Did you know they haven’t given up a rushing touchdown all year?? They are trying to become the first team in league history not to give up a rushing touchdown for the season. Now that is a record. Furthermore did you know that in the Super Bowl era, for every team that didn’t give up a rushing touchdown in the first 10 games, all of which made it to at least the conference championship?? So take a guess who is #1 against the run in the NFL?? Getting the picture??

Underappreciated as the #1 rushing defense in football. Folks will learn of Justin Smith and the rest of the defense. It's more than Patrick Willis.

Frank Gore and Rashard Mendenhall better have on their big boy pads tonight.  Frank Gore “Didn’t he ask to be traded?? Oh that was pre-season!” has 1,054 yards and 6 touchdowns and has to be at his best for San Francisco to win. He currently ranks 6th but should end tonight as the league’s #3 rusher.  Suprisingly Rashard Mendenhall is 24th in the league in rushing with 710 yards yet he has 8 touchdowns. Can Mendenhall and company break the rushing touchdown drought of the Niners?? Well they better get their pad lower than they did on the goal line at home versus Cleveland.

In the end, Big Ben is going to win this game with a few plays out of the pocket. Alex Smith is enjoying a good season but will see ghosts of that Thanksgiving Game as Lamarr Woodley will come off the corner as Terrell Suggs did in that one. The difference is going to be the quarterback… Big Ben will win it where Alex Smith will try to manage it.  You don’t manage against Blitzburgh. Yet the 49ers aren’t battle tested enough to knock off Pittsburgh.

OUR PICK: STEELERS 20-13 OVER 49ERS

1956 NFL Championship Ring

You are looking at the first championship ring won in the NFL by both Tom Landry and Vince Lombardi. Each would go on to become legendary head coaches but they were offensive and defensive coordinators for the New York Giants at the time.  The 1956 NFL Championship Game between the New York Giants and Chicago Bears was won by New York 47-7.  In the fabled house of the New York Yankees, these two teams fought it out in the first ever nationally televised NFL championship game.  Its notoriety reduced because of the blowout and the famous game held in the same stadium 2 years later between the Colts and Giants…uh…you may have heard of it.

Furthermore this ushered in a new era that saw the Giants rise to prominence after copying Philadelphia Eagle coach Joe Kuharich’s defensive scheme, the 4-3, and cruising to the championship.  In the ensuing years Sam Huff became a household name along with DE Andy Robustelli, DTs Rosie Grier, and Jim Katcavage, LB Karl Karilivacz, S Jim Patton, and Hall of Fame CB Emlen Tunnell.

This team dominated the league for the next 7 years. They became household names and the first chants of “De-Fense- De-Fense” was first heard in Yankee Stadium.  This was the first time in the history of professional football where a defense was introduced before games. Although the team of the 1950’s was the Cleveland Browns, who had played in 6 championship games during the 1950s, it was this stalwart defensive unit that kept the Browns out of the championship game the rest of the decade.

This team had a few offensive players of mention in halfback Frank Gifford, QB Charlie Conerly, WR Kyle Rote, K Pat Summerall, and RB Alex Webster.  These men really did play their roles well.  Frank Gifford was a Hall of Fame RB who was as dangerous catching passes out of the backfield as he was a runner.  He was the Marshall Faulk of his day and later in his career was switched to receiver.

Now he did star on television and became a game analyst who saw further fame with his nearly 30 year run on Monday Night Football. Alex Webster was a steady fullback who later became the Giants head coach in the late 1960s once New York couldn’t lure back budding legends in Vince Lombardi and Tom Landry from championship situations in Green Bay and Dallas respectively.

Did you know the original Marlboro Man was Giants quarterback Charlie Conerly? LOL Go take a look at those first posters. Guess what?? He didn’t smoke!  Being a champion in New York allowed this team to break down barriers unheard of in other places.

Kyle Rote was a good receiver for this team yet needs to be remembered for his courageous stance in spearheading the movement that became the first players association (Union) fighting for equal opportunities for all players.  Not for money like today’s lockout!! For the equal treatment of all players of all races when the teams played on the road.  This WASN’T the radical 1960s, so be respectful of these movements in rememberance.

Now Pat Summerall?? You know his smooth voice as being one that helped lead the NFL to further prominence as a character and announcer with Tom Brookshier for one generation (60s-1980), then brough the game to another generation (1982-2000) while being teamed with Hall of Famer John Madden. Now lets throw in legendary coaches Vince Lombardi (team of the 60s) and Tom Landry (nearly team of the 70s) overall league contributions and you see why this team is to be held up reverently.  Talk about pillars of the league…

This group would go on to play in famous championship games later  in 1958, ’59, ’61, ’62, and ’63. They kept the once powerful Cleveland Browns out of the championship so much that all time RB Jim Brown had to wait until their run was over to win a championship in 1964.  Although they only won 1 championship, this team should never be forgotten.  These men helped reshape the league and are one of the reasons we love the game. What would the league have been like without ’em?