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After completing a successful career at the University of Texas and bringing home the school's first Heisman trophy, Earl found himself preparing for his NFL future. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers had the first pick in the 1978 draft. But days before the Tuesday draft Tampa Bay unexpectedly traded their first draft pick to the Houston Oilers. And so on a hot, sunny Texas afternoon, while he was sitting in a University of Texas classroom, Earl Campbell was chosen by Coach Bum Phillips, owner Bud Adams and the Houston Oilers as the number one draft pick in 1978. Earl was about to embark on a whole new experience, unaware of the profound impact he would continue to have on the game of football in the state of Texas and beyond. A Texas native, a UT alumni and a Heisman trophy winner was about to bring pride and excitement back to the city of Houston.

Earl had never even heard of Bum Phillips, the Oilers' charismatic coach, until the day of the draft. So when he received a call from the infamous coach that night, he was pleasantly surprised at what he heard.

Phillips reassured Earl that he would be a perfect fit within the Oilers organization and that he would personally look after his well-being.  After all, Bum was long-time friends with Darrell Royal, Earl's college coach, and had promised the Royal family that he would watch over Earl. But it was not what he told him that made Earl feel so readily welcomed into the Oilers family, but it was how he told him.

Bum Phillips, the popular coach Earl's friends had spent all day telling him about, talked with a deep country accent that made Earl feel like he was back home again, deep in the heart of Tyler, Texas. Earl hung up the phone that night anxious and excited. He made himself two promises that night. First, he decided he was going to build a new home for his mother, Ann, who had been Earl's long-time mentor, provider, friend and biggest fan. A year later, Earl presented that new home to his mother. It stands today proudly on the land where Earl's old house stood. The second promise he made to himself was that he would always strive to be the best running back in the NFL. Many would argue that he came through on that promise, as well.

Earl's first year as a Houston Oiler began on the day he flew to Houston to sign his contract. It was then that he finally met Bum Phillips, the man who would become yet another one of Earl's guardian angels that would protect and guide him throughout different stages of his life. Earl reported to training camp a few weeks later and moved into a new apartment with a fellow rookie teammate named J.C. Wilson. The two newcomers became very good friends, spending many afternoons studying upcoming opponents' game film.

By the time the veterans reported a few days later, Earl and the entire team had adopted Bum's infectious personality and attitude. Bum did all he could to make his players feel welcome and happy to be an Oiler. He would host pizza parties for his athletes and even invite their families to watch occasional practices. Soon, many of the players, including Earl, were even dressing like Bum, complete with cowboy boots, western clothes and ten gallon hats.

The excitement surrounding the "new and improved" Oiler team spilled over into their first season. After a pre-season win against their state rivals, the Dallas Cowboys, the Oilers carried a 5-2 record entering into a Monday Night Football match-up against the Pittsburgh Steelers. This game gave the Oilers a big opportunity to prove themselves in front of a national audience. Rushing for 89 yards against the ferocious Steel Curtain defense, Earl led the Oilers to a 24-17 victory. A new spirit suddenly permeated the entire city of Houston.

Later in the season, in another Monday night game, that spirit was given a new name. Carrying an 8-3 record into the battle against the Miami Dolphins, Earl remembers the mania surrounding that game. He recalls that every fan who was given a blue and white pom-pom prior to the game was shaking it in an effort to support and excite their home team. The crowd was truly the 12th Man in this game, in which the Oilers walked away with a 35-30 victory in front of their adoring fans and a national television audience. In a game that ABC Monday Night Football commentator Howard Cossell called, "the greatest football game I have ever broadcast," the rookie from the University of Texas, Earl Campbell, rushed for 199 yards and four touchdowns. During the game, Coach Phillips asked Earl if he would like to gain that extra yard. Earl modestly declined stating, "When I arrived here in Houston, I took the place of Ronnie Coleman. Let him play for the rest of this one."

That night, the "Luv Ya Blue" era was born. Many fans even referred to their team as the Houston "Earlers." But Earl, as he has always been, remained modest. Later, he would say, "The display of 'LuvYa Blue' was a chance for people of all races and backgrounds to come together as a city. More than that, it was a feeling that the players and fans shared without even talkin'. We owed it all to one man: Bum Phillips."

The Oilers finished their regular season at 10-6, earning a wild card invitation to the playoffs. But after two playoff wins against Miami and New England, the Oilers fell to a Steeler team they had already beaten once in the regular season. In a game now known as the "Ice Bowl" in which Pittsburgh temperatures dropped well below freezing, two teams fought their hearts out for the rights to continue in the playoffs and have a chance at the Super Bowl title. After that win, the Steelers were the ones who went on to win another Super Bowl. The long flight home that night was difficult for Earl and the rest of his teammates and coaches. But as they arrived in Houston that night, they noticed numerous cars and fans surrounding the Astrodome, their home stadium where the players park their vehicles during away games. Over 50,000 fans had gathered inside the Astrodome for an impromptu pep rally to honor their team. The spirit and pride of "Luv Ya Blue" rang loud and proud that night deep in the heart of Texas.

As a rookie, Earl finished the season with an unprecedented 1,450 yards and was named Rookie of the Year and Most Valuable Player in the NFL. He also received his first invitation to the Pro Bowl. But one accomplishment had continued to elude him. Earl had yet to graduate from UT. He was only nine credits short of completing his degree. Because he had promised his mother and himself that he would, Earl returned to Austin that spring and graduated in May with a Bachelor's Degree in Speech Communications from the University of Texas.

After strenuous summer workouts with a personal trainer, Earl returned for his second season in the best shape of his life. The hard work that Earl, his teammates and Coach Phillips put into the 1979 season paid off. The Oilers finished the regular season at 12-4. Unfortunately, however, for the "Luv Ya Blue" fans, the team would not be so successful in the post season. Although they won their first two playoff games against Denver and San Diego, they once again faced the daunting challenge of battling the Steelers in their home stadium. Many believe they lost this game due to an unfair official's call, but whatever the reason, the Oilers lost most of their momentum during the game and lost a tough battle, 27-13.

Now, like they had done years before to Earl's mentor, coach and friend, Darrell Royal, the media began to question Bum Phillips and his ability to successfully coach the Oilers. Earl was furious by these comments and "went to bat" for his friend. But Earl knew that the NFL was a business and there was nothing he could do to stop the fate of his beloved coach.

During the 1979 season, Earl also struggled through many tough personal times, even though he never let anything stop him on the field. During training camp of that year, his junior high and high school coach, Lawrence "Butch" La Croix, died from a massive heart attack. While Earl was coping with the death of his own father at the age of eleven, La Croix had become a "father figure" to him. Now he was gone, and Earl was left to understand why.

Happy times were in Earl's future, however. Months later, on Valentine's Day of 1980, Earl decided to drive to his hometown of Tyler unexpectedly. He knocked on his mother's door, sat down across from her and said, "I'm in love with Reuna and I'm gonna marry her. I just wanted you to know first before I go over to propose to her." Earl met Reuna when they were in junior high school and they had been in love ever since. On May 30, 1980, in front of 1,000 guests, including Coach Darrell Royal and Coach Bum Phillips, Earl married Reuna Smith. Later that week, she moved into Earl's home in Houston on Candle Lane.

The Oilers finished the 1980 season with an 11-5 record and even knocked their arch-rival Pittsburg out of the playoff picture late in the season with a 6-0 victory.

But the Oilers lost their first playoff game against the Raiders, 24-7. The front office of the Oiler organization was furious. So on December 31, 1980, a day known to Houston fans as "The New Year's Massacre," Bum Phillips was fired by Bud Adams as the head coach of the Houston Oilers. He had directed his team to two consecutive AFC Championship games and was now unemployed. Earl was considerably upset at the loss of another mentor, friend and father figure.

The Oilers spent the next three seasons falling far from the "Luv Ya Blue" era. After 31 games as the new head coach, Ed Biles, was fired by the same man who had promoted him from the defensive coordinator's position after Phillips accepted a job with the New Orleans Saints. Earl, on the other hand, continued to excel, both on and off the football field. In 1981, Ralph Wallace, a member of the Texas State Legislature, proclaimed Earl Campbell an Official State Hero of Texas. Earl was one of only four men bestowed with this honor, along with Stephen F. Austin, Davy Crockett and Sam Houston. The poor boy from a small East Texas town was now being honored as one of the most influential men in Texas history. On the field, Earl continued to achieve athletic success and recognition for his achievements, receiving six consecutive nominations to the Pro Bowl. Earl was also very happy in his personal life. His wife, Reuna, gave birth to their first son, Earl Christian Campbell II. The football and state hero was now a proud papa.

One day, after taking his young son to get a haircut, Earl tuned into his favorite country radio station on the way to grab a quick lunch. He was shocked when he heard the disc jockey announce that he had been traded to the New Orleans Saints. He was about to be reunited with his favorite NFL coach, Bum Phillips. But Earl was furious that the Oilers and Bud Adams had failed to warn him of the upcoming trade. He knew the business side of the NFL, but he was shocked and hurt that he had to hear about his trade over the radio. That night, Earl emptied his locker alone and thought about all the wonderful and exciting times he had as an Oiler, especially during the "Luv Ya Blue" years. He was grateful for the opportunity God had blessed him with. He knew it was time to look toward the future…and a long-awaited reunion with Bum Phillips.

After watching his two favorite coaches become the center of media firestorms, Earl now found himself in the middle of one. The Houston fans and media were angry to hear about his trade and the media in New Orleans felt Phillips shouldn't have traded a first round draft pick for an athlete they considered to be "past his prime." Amid the media criticisms, Earl finished his first season as a Saint with 468 yards on 168 attempts, while sharing playing time with a rookie. He was not disappointed by his efforts, but he knew that the fans and the media in his new home city were growing restless with their team and Coach Phillips. During the 1985 season, Bum Phillips, a dedicated hero to the game of football and to the numerous athletes he coached, decided to retire from the NFL, leaving the position to his son, Wade, who was an assistant under his father.

Earl knew, on that day, that his time in New Orleans would be difficult and most likely, short-lived. He prepared for the 1986 season with as much vigor and toughness as he did while preparing for a college season. He knew the new coaches were looking for a reason to cut him from the team. So he spent his summer with Tom Williams, a personal trainer that he had worked with years before. He reported to training camp weighing in at a lean 225 pounds.  To everyone around him in New Orleans, Earl seemed focused and physically ready for another season of Saints football. Little did anyone know, Earl was aching on the inside, and on August 18, 1986, he realized that his body couldn't take any more pain. After a tough pre-season scrimmage against the Patriots, Earl showered and slowly walked back to the dormitory room he was staying in during training camp. He was so physically sore that he barely made it to his bed.

He lay in bed for hours praying for some relief. As he crawled out of bed and across the floor to the restrooms, he realized it was time to leave the NFL…on his own terms. He knew the Saints were trying to get rid of him anyway. So before Earl could give them the satisfaction of doing so and after he called his dearest friends and family members, Earl Campbell announced that he was retiring from the NFL. After a short press conference, Earl boarded a plane to Houston, sat back in his seat and reflected on his life. He had come so far. This son of a rose field worker named B.C. and a housewife named Ann, this victim of so many prejudices and tragedies, this victor of so many battles…this boy had become a man in front of millions.

This football great had become a legend.