Some might say that Hall of Fame running back Earl Campbell helped put Tyler, TX on the map. But as far as Campbell is concerned, it was the people of Tyler who acted like a map and showed him the right direction to go in his life.
Campbell was born in 1955 and grew up in the city of Tyler as part of a family with 11 children. After Campbell’s father died when he was 11 years old, he says the city's caring residents stepped in to provide the father-figure support that helped send him on his way to a legendary football career.
“At each step in my life after my dad died, there was a coach or somebody in Tyler who acted like a dad to me,” says Campbell, who is nicknamed “The Tyler Rose” because of his close association with the city. “There were people who encouraged me and told me I had great potential, which I didn't understand at the time. I learned a lot of great lessons in Tyler and got a lot of support there. There’s just a lot of love in Tyler.”
Hall of Fame Career
Campbell had tremendous success at every stop of his playing career. He led John Tyler High School to the Class 4A Texas state championship as a senior in 1973, a moment he says “really brought the city together.” Then he attended the University of Texas, where he rushed for 4,444 yards in his career, capped by a 1,744-yard senior season that earned him the 1977 Heisman Trophy as college football’s top player. Finally, after being the first overall pick in the 1978 NFL draft, he rushed for a total of 9,407 yards and scored 74 touchdowns during his eight-year professional career, primarily with the Houston Oilers.
For his accomplishments, Campbell has been inducted into both the Pro and College Football Hall of Fame. But he says the recognition that means the most to him has come recently from Tyler. In September 2012 the city opened a new $16.4 million, four-lane road connecting Texas Highway 155 to West Loop 323 and called it the Earl Campbell Parkway. In addition, the Tyler Chamber of Commerce worked to create the Earl Campbell Tyler Rose Award, which beginning with the 2012 season is given to recognize the best Division I offensive college football player in the country.
“I’m very grateful for the city of Tyler and the Chamber of Commerce for naming the street after me and helping us in getting the Earl Campbell Award going,” Campbell says. “I’m very excited about that. It says a lot that they would do that, and I don’t know if there are words to express what it means to me.”
Memories of Tyler
Though he lives in Austin, Campbell returns to Tyler often. He enjoys simply driving around the city – circling the loop and then taking Broadway Avenue directly into the heart of downtown – and soaking in the memories. He visits Hopewell Valley Baptist Church, which he attended as a child, and stops by Brookshire’s, where he sacked groceries while in high school. He passes the rose fields where he used to work, and spends time on the family ranch he calls “The Seven Cs,” named after the seven Campbell brothers. He also remains a member of the Tyler Custom Truckers Club (Campbell owns a 1957 Chevrolet pickup truck).
“I still enjoy going to all those places,” Campbell says. “There’s nothing like going to the city of Tyler. It’s a very important part of my life.”
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