Still Standing: The Earl Campbell Story

Published on Monday, 3 December 2012 23:27 - Written by Phil Hicks

A riveting and heartfelt documentary on the Tyler Rose, Earl Campbell, debuts tonight on national TV. “Still Standing: The Earl Campbell Story” is scheduled to air at 10 p.m. on the NBC Sports Network (Suddenlink Cable Channel 64 in Tyler).

Some of his great runs from John Tyler High School to The University of Texas to the Houston Oilers and New Orleans Saints are shown as well as compelling interviews with Campbell and his family and friends.

Produced by Emmy-award winning Ross Greenburg and NFL Films, the film documents the early life of Campbell growing up in the rose fields of East Texas to his punishing style of running to his determination to overcome addictions.

Campbell began his life working the rose fields and living in a shack, where his brothers Willie and Steve joked, “You could see the big dipper from your bed at night.” His father, B.C. Campbell, died of a heart attack at the age of 50, when Earl was 11, leaving his mother, Ann, to raise all 12 Campbell kids.

The documentary follows Campbell’s life from his roots near Swan through his famous exploits on the football cathedrals of America. Also, it shows the Tyler native’s life since he retired from football some 27 years ago.

Campbell first became famous when he led the 1973 John Tyler High School Lions to the Class 4A state football championship.

Some of his runs from JT are shown, including the game-winning TD against Austin Reagan in the 1973 state championship game at the Astrodome in Houston. Also, photos from the archives of the Tyler Morning Telegraph are used.

After JT, he went to Texas where he won the 1977 Heisman Trophy. Then UT recruiting Ken Dabbs recalled how he spent 17 days at the Ramada Inn in Tyler for “$12 a day” in trying to persuade Campbell to come to Austin.

It follows how the Houston Oilers traded with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for the No. 1 pick and the rights to select Campbell as the No. 1 pick of the National Football League Draft in 1978.

Campbell, who possessed a rare combination of speed and power, led the NFL in rushing three times and was NFL Most Valuable Player three times.

His head coach with the Oilers and Saints and father figure Bum Phillips has an extensive interview as well as current Houston Texans defensive coordinator Wade Phillips.

It is a nice ride down memory lane for all the “Luv Ya Blue!” Oiler fans.

Campbell’s Hall-of-Fame career was a highlight reel of running over those attempting to tackle him. Campbell’s 199-yard, four touchdown performance in a 35-30 win over the Miami Dolphins before a national audience on Monday Night Football in Week 12 of his rookie season is the signature individual performance of his career.

It also looks at consecutive AFC championship games against the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Halfway through the 1984 season, Campbell was traded by the Oilers to the Saints where he rejoined his mentor and coach Bum Phillips. He finished his career in New Orleans, retiring during the 1986 preseason, but he always will be remembered as “the best of Bum’s Bunch in Houston.”

He is a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame and the College Football Hall of Fame. Campbell is a prominent businessman in Austin and still is heavily involved in The University of Texas athletics.

After his retirement, Campbell battled five spinal surgeries, two knee replacements and an addiction to pain pills and alcohol. He was confined to a wheelchair for six years, but due to a successful spinal surgery performed by Dr. Stan Jones in Houston, and his sons Christian and Tyler convincing him to check into a rehabilitation center for his addictions, Campbell is back near his old self. He is walking again, and tossed the coin before a Texas game earlier this season.

Along with Christian and Tyler, Campbell’s wife Reuna Campbell is featured. Others include former Texas coach Fred Akers, former Pittsburgh Steeler “Mean” Joe Greene, musician and friend Willie Nelson, former Oilers broadcaster Ron Franklin, ex-Texas offensive lineman Rick Ingraham and former Oilers lineman Conway Hayman.

The idea of making the documentary started when David Barron, Houston Chronicle sports editor, posted that Greenburg, the former HBO Sports president and executive producer, was interested in looking at the life of the Tyler Rose.

Barron, who appears in the show, is also a John Tyler High School graduate.

Greenburg, while at HBO, produced Sports of the 20th Century, a series of sports documentaries, along with Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel, Inside the NFL and HBO World Championship Boxing. In 1990, he won the Sam Taub Award for excellence in boxing broadcasting journalism. He graduated from Brown University in 1977.

During his tenure he won 51 Sports Emmys and eight Peabody Awards.

Follow Phil Hicks on twitter @PhilHicksETFS