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Picked at 1: Hall of Fame RB Earl Campbell

Posted Apr 24, 2013

With the 2013 NFL Draft just one day away, Titans Online is taking a look back at players who were selected with the 20th or higher picks in a countdown until the Titans make their first-round choice with the 10th overall selection on April 25.

Picked at: 20 | 19 | 18 | 16 | 15 | 14 | 13 | 11 | 9 | 8
6 | 5 | 3 | 2 | 1 | Trades of 17 | History of Pick 10

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — In addition to being the eve of the 2013 NFL Draft, Wednesday marked the 35th anniversary of arguably the biggest trade in the history of the Titans/Oilers franchise.

The Houston Oilers traded tight end Jimmie Giles, first and second-round picks in 1978 and third and fifth-round picks in 1979 to Tampa Bay for the Buccaneers’ No. 1 overall pick in the 1978 NFL Draft.

The Houston Oilers selected Earl Campbell after trading up to the first spot in the 1978 NFL Draft. Click here for a slideshow of his Hall of Fame career.

There was little doubt in between the trade and May 2 (the first day of the 1978 draft) that Houston would select Heisman Trophy winner Earl Campbell, a native of Tyler, Texas, who had starred collegiately as a Longhorn.    

Bob Hyde, Titans vice president of community relations, was in his first full year with the Oilers in 1978. Hyde shared his memories from that time with Titans Online.

“It was only my second year and first full year with the team, but the excitement level was one the team had not enjoyed in some time,” Hyde recalled. “Whether you were a Longhorn, or an Aggie or a Baylor Bear or whatever, the attitude and excitement level picked up as much as the team hoped that it would when that trade was made.”

Although the coverage of the draft had not yet expanded to its current behemoth form, Hyde said the excitement traversed the entire Lone Star State.  

“With Earl’s accomplishments in college at Texas as well as in the high school ranks, he was basically a Texas legend before he ever set foot in an NFL locker room,” Hyde said. “His name was synonymous with football in Texas, and that pick generated a lot more interest in the Oilers for folks out in West Texas and even in Dallas where there’s a lot of Texas alums that are diehard Cowboys fans. I think a lot of those folks started to pay more attention to the team down in Houston.”

Campbell attended the ceremony in New York and flew by plane to Houston. He took a helicopter from the airport to the team’s facility where he participated in his introductory press conference with Oilers owner and founder K.S. “Bud” Adams, Jr. and coach and general manager O.A. “Bum” Phillips. Hyde recalled Campbell signing for a Lincoln Continental from the dealership Mr. Adams owned before signing his contract.

Times have certainly changed since Campbell’s selection. There are two networks that will cover the three-day 2013 NFL Draft, and the Titans are even giving fans a look inside their “War Room,” or the draft room, as it’s known at Baptist Sports Park. Hyde and team officials made things work back then without some conveniences.

“There was no network coverage. I had a PR secretary who was on the phone with a secretary in the GM’s office, and they were relaying who the picks were,” Hyde recalled. “There was no television, no radio, no direct access, so we were getting word from the GM’s secretary in the press room. There were probably five or six writers and only three network affiliates. Now, with the No. 1 pick, you’ve got 100 people, and when Earl came to meet the media in Houston, there were probably as many staff members as there were media.”

The Titans’ draft room is now equipped with magnetic boards that allow team executives to move players around during evaluations and during the selections by teams. It also makes it easier to move teams around in the event of a trade.

Hyde would have appreciated that system but it may have made his first NFL Draft slightly less memorable. He had interned during the season in 1977 and joined the staff in 1978 in time for the annual event.

“The night before I went to an art supply shop and got some poster board and a T-square,” said Hyde, who used those materials to draw a grid with columns of all 28 teams from left to right and 12 rows for each round that year. Hyde allotted enough space for mailing labels with typed information about the selection but the technique did not allow space for changes that resulted from trades.

“This being my first draft, I was not prepared for trades where (a team) would have multiple selections in a round,” Hyde said. “My plan failed miserably, and it’s one of my favorite pictures to look at, where you see Earl in the draft room with that very poor attempt at a draft board in the background.”   

Campbell delivered results immediately for Houston, setting a franchise rookie record in rushing yards (1,450) and scoring 13 touchdowns to earn NFL Offensive Player of the Year, AFC Player of the Year, NFL Rookie of the Year, a trip to the Pro Bowl and designation as an All Pro. He led Houston to its first postseason appearance since 1969 and all the way to consecutive appearances in AFC Championship games after the 1978 and ’79 seasons.

The bruising runner was named NFL MVP, Offensive Player of the Year, AFC Player of the Year, All-Pro and to the Pro Bowl in 1979 when he rushed for 1,697 yards and 19 touchdowns. He followed that with 1,934 yards and 13 TDs in 1980 when he was again chosen as NFL Offensive Player of the Year, AFC Player of the Year, All-Pro and went to his third of five Pro Bowls.

Campbell was elected to and enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1991. He was recently honored when a “Hometown Hall of Famers” plaque was placed in Tyler.

The Titans/Oilers franchise has had the number one spot in an NFL Draft one other time in franchise history. Houston selected defensive lineman John Matuszak in 1973 from the top spot, but executed another trade that benefitted the Oilers in 1974. Houston sent Matuszak to Kansas City for Curley Culp, who was elected to the Hall of Fame in February, and a first round pick in 1975 that was used to select seven-time Pro Bowl linebacker Robert Brazile at the sixth overall spot.

The Titans are scheduled to pick from the 10th overall spot Thursday for the first time in franchise history. Click here to visit Titans Draft Central.


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