NASHVILLE – Houston Oilers great Earl Campbell is 64 years old, but he experienced a first on Thursday.
Campbell gave a motivational message to the Titans on his first visit to Saint Thomas Sports Park, but that’s not all.
“Heck, this is the first time I’ve ever been in Tennessee,” Campbell said as he watched practice. “People say they can’t believe it as much as I love country music -- Willie Nelson is one of my best friends. But this is my first time in the state of Tennessee.
“I like it here. I like the air, I like the hills and I’m enjoying watching this practice, putting faces to what you see. This setup kind of reminds me of my days with the Oilers. I hope they like me because I plan on hanging around.”
It's safe to say the Titans enjoyed having Campbell, in town for an autograph signing, around.
Former Houston Oilers Hall of Fame running back Earl Campbell visited Titans practice on Thursday, delivering a special message to the team. (Photos: Donald Page)
Titans coach Mike Vrabel introduced the Hall of Fame running back to the football team at the end of practice, and Campbell delivered a message to the players before they introduced themselves to the rushing legend. Campbell watched practice in a golf cart before being driven into the middle of the team’s huddle.
“We talk about being physical,” Vrabel said as he introduced Campbell, “and I said, ‘We have one of the most physical players ever (right here).”
Campbell had a message for the Titans, who enter Sunday’s game vs. the Buffalo Bills with a 2-2 record.
“You get in a habit to win,” Campbell told the players. “You are here because you are a winner -- win more. It takes a lot to be just a football player, and it takes a lot to be a pro football player. It takes a hell of a lot to be great, and the way you get to be great is because the whole team wants to be great. It is a team effort. I wish you guys the best.”
Then, Campbell stopped and asked for Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota.
“Where is that guy Mariota? C'mon over here,” Campbell said as he looked around, before Mariota walked his way. “No matter what nobody says: I think you are the leader of this football team.”
Mariota thanked Campbell as he shook his hand.
Campbell also found Derrick Henry and congratulated him on his success. With a smile, he also instructed Henry to use his stiff-arm more.
“I’ve been watching Derrick Henry since he was at Alabama,” Campbell said. “I like what he does. He’s a big-time running back. That dude can play some football, I’ve seen him do it.”
One by one Titans players introduced themselves to Campbell, a five-time Pro Bowler, Pro Football Hall of Famer and Heisman Trophy winner who ran for 8,574 yards and 73 touchdowns while playing from 1978-84 with the Oilers. Campbell played his final two NFL seasons with the Saints and finished his career with 9,407 yards and 74 touchdowns.
Campbell kidded Titans quarterback Ryan Tannehill about his success vs. Texas A&M, and how it helped him win the Heisman back in 1977. He chatted with rookie A.J. Brown and wished him luck as well.
Equipment manager Paul Noska showed Campbell a photo of the two from way back 1983. They reunited today, and Noska gave Campbell two bags of Titans gear to wear back in Texas.
During an interview, he Campbell praised Mariota more.
“Pro football, it takes a lot, and from what I have seen in him, he is getting it,” Campbell said of Mariota. “It sometimes takes guys a while, but he has come a long way and I can tell he is getting it. I like Mariota. I think he’s a franchise quarterback, I really do.”
Campbell said he’s a fan of the Titans and wished the team well.
He was also happy to see the team retire the uniform numbers of Titans greats Eddie George and Steve McNair last month, joining a select group that includes Campbell.
“Both are very deserving,” Campbell said. “And Eddie has become a close friend.”
Campbell believes the Titans are on the verge of something special in Tennessee.
“I think have some quality players on this football team, and I really do think they’re on the verge of getting over the hump,” Campbell said of the Titans. “They are not that far away -- I think the Tennessee Titans are real close to making that next step. And I like the head coach, too -- he has played the game and he has the respect of the guys and that’s important. I can see that by watching.”
“By all means I support the Titans, even though they are not in Houston any more. … A lot takes place in life and at some point you have to get over it. Even though the franchise moved, they are in Tennessee and they’re the Tennessee Titans, it’s still the organization I used to play for, and the Adams family.”
The Houston Oilers selected Hall of Fame running back Earl Campbell with the first pick of the 1978 NFL Draft. (Photos: Houston Oilers/AP/NFL)