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Where Are They Now? Ken Houston

Posted Jan 31, 2013

 NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Ken Houston doesn’t care about long odds.

He overcame them during his football career and spent more than 20 years working as a school counselor, where he guided students through tough situations.

Houston wants young people to know that they, too, can overcome challenges, and he continues to deliver that message by working part-time as a special education counselor in a Houston charter school.

“Back then, we had to work, so I became a counselor and I worked in the school system 20-something years, and when I turned 65 I retired totally and realized I couldn’t do it, so I go back to school,” Houston said. “Two days a week I work at a charter school, and I’m a special education counselor. We’re K-12, but I really enjoy working with the younger group because I see our future there.

“I want to let them know that if I made it, they all can,” Houston continued. “They don’t really know (about my career), they know that I was a football player, they can’t believe it, but I do talk to them and give them hope, so it’s all good for me.”

The Luffkin, Texas, native played center and linebacker at Prairie View A&M before the Houston Oilers selected him as a safety in the ninth-round with the 214th overall pick in the 1967 Draft, which was the first joint draft between the American Football League and the National Football League as the AFL prepared to merge into the NFL with a combined schedule in 1970.

After becoming a starter early in the 1967 season, Houston and scored a pair of touchdowns in his fifth pro game. Houston returned a blocked field goal 71 yards for a score and added a 43-yard interception against the New York Jets. Houston was on the 1968 Oilers team that became the first to play its home games inside when the team began playing in the Astrodome and served as a player rep in the time before the merger. 

Houston starred in the Oilers’ defensive backfield six seasons (1967-72), recording 25 interceptions that he returned a franchise-record 650 yards and set an NFL record with nine touchdowns on interception returns, a number that is now tied for fourth-most all time in league history and still the most in franchise history. He finished his career with the Washington Redskins (1973-80), recording an additional 24 interceptions, and returned to Houston.

Ken Houston, second from right, joins fellow Pro Football Hall of Famers Elvin Bethea, Mike Munchak, Warren Moon and Bruce Matthews before the Titans-Jets game on Dec. 17. Click here for a slideshow from Houston's time with the Houston Oilers.

Houston, who turned 69 in November, was inducted to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1986. He joined fellow Oilers/Titans Hall of Fame alumni Elvin Bethea, Warren Moon, Mike Munchak and Bruce Matthews at a special luncheon in December, spoke to the Titans before their game against the Jets, and was recognized on the field on the same night the defense responded with four interceptions of Jets QB Mark Sanchez in a 14-10 win on Monday Night Football.

Houston also spoke with Chris Johnson at the meeting about taking advantage of the national television audience, and Johnson responded with a franchise-record 94-yard touchdown run that proved to be the decisive score.

Houston said he thought it was “really strange”  that he was drafted as a safety, but used his prior experience as an offensive lineman and linebacker to his advantage at his professional position.

“It brought a degree of toughness,” he said, “where I could come up and play on the line, and I had the speed to be a defensive back, so I think with that combination, I was not afraid to play, and I think that’s what led me to be a Hall of Famer.”

Houston said he is grateful for the opportunity that the AFL presented him after it was founded by K.S. “Bud” Adams, Jr. and Lamar Hunt and proud of the innovations the AFL introduced to the game.

“The AFL was a wild bunch because we were totally different from the NFL. They were three downs and drag it out, and we were one down and air it out, so you had a lot of talent,” Houston said. “Thank God the league has really come along, and now it’s just one football group, and they’ve done wonders, and you have to thank the pioneers like Mr. Adams and the rest of the AFL and the NFL for getting us to where we are today.”

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