These days the NFL is a precision league. The multiple formations and the shifting alignments are orchestrated like high testosterone ballets. There are hard hitters, no doubt, and my favorites–Ndamukong Suh, Brian Urlacher and Troy Polamalu–would be at home in any era. They would dominate in any era. In fact, the size and speed of the contemporary NFL player makes most of the big men of the 1970s look like today’s mid-level college athletes.
But it is the old style running backs I miss–the ones who could, and would, run over you rather than dance and dart to avoid a solid hit. And there was no one better at this than Earl Campbell, the “Tyler Rose.” He played only eight years, but five of them may have been the most spectacular ever. Perhaps if he had won a Super Bowl, and ESPN had not been in its infancy during his brief era of greatness, he would now be with the immortals –not merely a Hall of Famer, but at the top of football’s Mt. Olympus, breathing the thin air that floats the sacred names of Walter Payton and Jim Brown.
When someone tells me, “Yeah, but he burned out…they worked him too hard, too early,” I respond, “If you were a football player, would you rather be Earl Campbell or Franco Harris?” Here is my answer: