NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Elvin Bethea has retired from two careers but is staying busy making the rounds.
Bethea had a remarkably successful playing career but strategized for success thereafter. He actually started his second career at Anheuser-Busch in 1977, several years before he retired from football, and stayed there 28 years.
Since his second retirement, Bethea has enjoyed reunions that occur at golf tournaments and honorary dinners. He also continues to speak up for the players of his generation and doesn’t mind stressing to current players the importance of them having their own post-career plans.
Bethea joined former Houston Oilers teammate Ken Houston in addressing the Titans before their game against the New York Jets on Monday Night Football last season.
“I told them this is just a trip,” Bethea said. “This is a one-way trip and the train is going to stop somewhere and you have to get off and go into the real world.”
Bethea, Houston, Warren Moon, Mike Munchak and Bruce Matthews were all recognized by the team for their Hall of Fame accomplishments at a special luncheon the day of the game, and Bethea, Houston and Moon were recognized at LP Field during halftime of Tennessee’s win.
Bethea was inducted to the Black College Football Hall of Fame in February 2013 for his accomplishments as an outside linebacker at North Carolina A&T. He joined Houston, who played at Prairie View A&M before being drafted by the Oilers in 1967, and Oilers teammate Charlie Joiner, who starred at Grambling State before being drafted in 1969, in this year’s class of inductees.
The class also included: Charles “Choo Choo” Brackins, QB, Prairie View A&M; Joe Gilliam, Jr., QB, Tennessee State; Ed “Too Tall” Jones, DL, Tennessee State; Larry Little, OL, Bethune-Cookman; Shannon Sharpe, TE, Savannah State; Jackie Slater, OL, Jackson State; “Big” John Merritt, HC, Tennessee State; and Charlie Neal, a long-time commentator for Black College Football.
Bethea played defensive end for 16 seasons with the Houston Oilers, who became the first team in pro football to play home games indoors in his 1968 rookie season.
“It was something new for everybody that played the game, especially with Houston being the first indoor stadium,” Bethea said. “I can say I was there for the first game indoors, and I was there for the first (game in the Louisiana Superdome), so that’s part of my history.”
Bethea received plenty of rug burns from the AstroTurf surface that was “hard as a brick,” but said it was a thrilling ride.
“If I could have played in Canada, I’d have been just as happy, but playing in the AFL back then, not knowing much about the NFL versus the AFC, it was just exciting,” Bethea said. “I was playing in the pros, making 15-big-thousand dollars a year. I set back and figured out one day, I said, ‘Wait a minute, we’re paid $15,000 and we’re playing 14 games, so we were paid what, a thousand dollars a game?’ But you’re so happy, and honored and gracious that you left college, and especially me, I went to a small college and went to (pro football). I thought it was the greatest thing since cotton candy.”
|Elvin Bethea, from left, joined fellow Pro Football Hall of Fame members Mike Munchak, Warren Moon, Ken Houston and Bruce Matthews before the Titans hosted the New York Jets last season. Click here for a slideshow of Bethea's career with the Oilers.|
Bethea holds the franchise record for career sacks (105) and sacks in a season (17 in 1973). He had four sacks in one game (against San Diego on Oct. 17, 1976) and has the franchise record of 26 games with more than one sack.
Bethea was extremely tough and durable in a career that spanned the merger between the AFL and NFL and the arrival of Munchak (in 1982) and Matthews (in 1983) and included appearances in the AFC championship games in 1978 and ’79. Bethea appeared in 135 consecutive games — the third longest streak in franchise history — until breaking his arm in 1977. He ranks second in franchise history in years of service and games played (210) behind Matthews in both categories (19 years and 296 games).
The No. 65 jersey worn by Bethea was retired following the 1983 season. He was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2003 and named to the Titans/Oilers Hall of Fame and Ring of Honor in 1999.