There are more than a few observers — myself included — who believe that Earl Campbell was the most powerful and dominant fullback to play in the NFL during the past 40 years. Having won the Heisman Trophy in 1977 while playing for Texas, he was drafted number one by the Houston Oilers in 1978. He was named both Rookie of the Year and MVP of the league that year. He led the league in rushing in each of his first three seasons, a feat (i.e., three consecutive titles) that only Jim Brown had previously accomplished.
Campbell was fantastically strong, and, especially early in his career, he ran over and through defensive players with disdain. As impressive as his displays of strength and power were — and they were very impressive — those of us watching him at the time wondered just how long his body could take such tremendous punishment. The answer was that he was able to play a total of eight seasons.
But much more revealing than that statistic was that after his third season he never again led the league in rushing, nor did he ever approach his 4.86 average yards per carry that he posted during those three years. Campbell was exceptionally brilliant early on, but simple physics and his reckless running style prevented him from maintaining that level of play beyond his third season.
As physical as NBA Basketball can be, it obviously isn’t comparable to NFL football in terms of the pounding taken by players. At the same time, however, I can’t help wondering whether there might be a worrisome connection between “The Tyler Rose” (Campbell’s nickname) and D-Rose.
Derrick Rose is an exceptional athlete, and may well be the strongest point guard ever to drive to the basket in the NBA. It’s thrilling to watch him dominate smaller players while finishing around the basket, or use his dazzling array of running one-handers and bank shots to score when the lane is clogged. But last night’s game in Orlando was a frightening reminder that reckless drives to the basket can be dangerous, as, for the second time this season, Rose decided to challenge Dwight Howard, and, also for the second time, ended up going down hard, and injuring himself in the process.
I don’t expect, nor do I hope that Rose will react to this incident by suddenly becoming conservative, or (worse yet) gun-shy. Driving aggressively to the basket will always be a crucial part of his repertoire. But if he isn’t smart enough to start becoming a bit more selective, then the Bulls’ coaches have a responsibility to push him in that direction.
Rose obviously has the potential to be a star in the NBA for many years to come, and even though the analogy isn’t perfect, perhaps someone should tell him about a football player from Tyler, Texas who played long before he was born. A player whose star shined so brightly, but for all too brief a period.
About the author:
Tony C. grew up in Evanston, and cut his teeth on the exciting, early ’70’s Walker-Love-Sloan-Van Lier Bulls. As a pick-up player, he admits to having stuck too long with low-top shoes (Puma Baskets, for the detail oriented), but did belatedly make the switch when the sprained ankles became tedious. Tony’s professional life revolves mainly around buying, selling and managing Thoroughbred racehorses. While he now resides outside of Chicago, he remains an interested, enthusiastic, and at times critical Bulls fan.