"Funny," says our old friend Willie Nelson, "how time slips away."
Eddie Little was a great photographer, who left this world way too soon. My father left me many gifts, including the camera with which he took the pictures that would not only make him famous in photography circles but would record a piece of history for the folks around Winters and Abilene and points in that part of West Texas.
With that camera, in the summer of 1977, I rode the elevator to the top of what was then called Memorial Stadium and took a picture of our new football coach and his top player.
The massive football media guide which UT's media relations staff now produces was only a dream in those days. The "press guide," as we called it, was four by nine inches, a pamphlet of 104 pages.
As the only assistant sports information director to SID Jones Ramsey, producing the cover was my job. So I took our new head coach and our star player up to the 11th floor, unlocked the gate to the stadium and posed the two of them in the stands with the stadium field and the LBJ Library in the background.
Dressed in suits, they were looking all spiffed up for the "new beginning"" of Texas football. The picture turned out pretty well, and as we got ready to go to press, I added a cutline at the bottom of the picture which read, "Head Coach Fred Akers, Heisman Candidate Earl Campbell."
That was a pretty big stretch for a guy who hadn't even made the all-conference team the year before. Other folks were just beginning the glitzy campaigns promoting candidates, but that one sentence on that little guide, was the only published piece of literature proclaiming that Campbell might be the best player in college football in 1977.
Tuesday night in Dallas, the people who run the Doak Walker Award will honor him with their Legends Award and they have that part dead solid right.
Campbell was famous long before he stepped on the field to play football for Darrell Royal at Texas. His high school career at Tyler John Tyler was the stuff from which legends are made. He was, for those who saw him, the greatest high school running back in state history. While almost 30 years have passed since he claimed that title as a senior in 1973, folks around East Texas will tell you it is a title he still holds.
They write books and sing songs about guys like him. The most powerful person in his life was his mother, Ann, who raised roses to earn the money to feed her 11 kids after Earl's father died when he was 10 years old.
"The Tyler Rose," he would become and the recruiting of Campbell was one of the most spirited competitions in the spring of 1974. Ken Dabbs, a Texas assistant coach who had been a fine high school coach, was the point person for Royal's staff and he was matched against the best from every school in the country.
But whatever the challenge it was Mamma Campbell who would stand in the doorway, fending off the other folks. Once, when she had been sent to bed because of high blood pressure, Earl came in the room abound 9:30 one evening. It seemed that Barry Switzer, the head coach at Oklahoma, wanted to come over and visit. Dabbs was in the house at the time.
"You tell them 'no,'" Dabbs remembers Ann saying. "You know you want to go down to Texas with Coach Dabbs."
So it was that in the spring of 1974, Campbell signed to become a Texas Longhorn.
His success was immediate. With Roosevelt Leaks, the Longhorns' All-American running back battling to come back from knee surgery after a spring practice injury, Campbell became the fullback in the Texas "Wishbone." He gained 928 yards and helped lead the team to the Gator Bowl. As he prepared for a sophomore season in which he would lead UT to a Southwest Conference tri-championship, he sat down in my office for one of the most memorable interviews I have ever had.
"What makes you run?" I asked.
"I want to be a pro football player," he said. "I want to be successful in what I try to do. It is part of me, just like the clothes I wear. The way I look at it, it's a gift that God gave me and this is what I am meant to do. I want to make it so I can help take care of my family. I want to buy my momma a house so she won't have to look at the stars at night through the holes in the roof. And after I have done that, maybe I can be of help to some who are less fortunate than I."
Then, at just 20 years of age, he continued talking.
"I try each night to read the Bible and I say my prayers. People wonder how I get out there and run like I do. On game days, I sit on the bench, put on that suit and say a prayer. I remember a sign in my high school dressing room that said 'a quitter never wins and a winner never quits.' I think about that all the time. There are times when I feel like I want to quit, but whenever I do, I just say a little prayer and suddenly my day is brighter.
"If it weren't for the dark days, we wouldn't know what it is to walk in the light."
He was named an All-American that sophomore season and then struggled throughout 1976 — Royal's last year — with a hamstring injury. The trainers and the doctors knew what was the problem was, but they had difficulty getting to the source to treat the injury. The pulled hamstring was buried deep within his thigh, which measured an incredible 30 inches, more than a lot of college students' waists.
However, when we took that picture in the summer of 1977, things had changed. Akers had installed the "I" formation, with Campbell as the featured tailback and the season upon which they were about to embark would be like a tale from a storybook.
Ramsey, who was highly respected by the national media, developed the statistic of "YAC" or "yards after contact." It is common today, but we were the first to use it to reflect the power of a running back. Campbell set conference and school rushing records and led the NCAA with 1,744 yards and 114 points. Royal had told him in his freshman year to always play with class.
When other players were dancing and showboating after big plays (before the NCAA outlawed such behavior), Royal told him, "Earl, when you get in that end zone, act like you have been there before."
And he was in there a lot.
He led the Longhorns to an 11-0 record and a No. 1 ranking at the end of the regular season and only an upset by Notre Dame in the Cotton Bowl denied UT a National Championship.
The national media recognized the story. Sports Illustrated's Doug Looney was the first to pick up on Campbell as a national figure, as he covered Texas' wins against Oklahoma and Texas A&M. Sometime early in November, I received a call in my office.
"This is Kent Demaret with People Magazine," the voice on the other end of the phone said. "I have heard a story about some football player you have there whose mother raises roses."
"Let me tell you about Earl Campbell," I said, stopping him in mid-sentence.
The week when the Heisman votes came due, the story of Ann and Earl Campbell was in every super market and on every magazine stand in the country. The prediction of the little media guide came true. Earl became the first Heisman Trophy winner in Texas Longhorns history.
His storied professional career created some of the most memorable plays in league history and he ran his way into the NFL Hall of Fame.
It has been a long time since those days when Royal became a father figure to him and his senior season under Akers created a year in which he won the Heisman. In some ways, the years have not been kind. The pounding he took as a pro player has aged his body, and like the old song says, he "can't get around much any more."
When he was honored by the Heisman folks for the 25th anniversary of his induction, and tonight when the good folks at the Doak Walker Award recognize him for all that he meant to college football, it is a good time to remember.
It was a brave time when he chose to come to The University of Texas. It was a brave young heart who played the game with reckless abandon and who came back to earn his degree, despite being one of the most famous players in pro football.
Fame, as we have learned, is not always friendly. However, in the twilight of a moment, somewhere in the memory is an incredible athlete, a running back without peer and a young man whose momma gave him values that will always stand the test of time.
It is a picture created, not only on an old media guide cover, but in a special place, in the hallways of our mind.