Surgery may have Campbell back on his feet

By Matt Musil
Updated: September 12, 2008

HOUSTON — Earl Campbell was the No. 1 draft pick for the Houston Oilers and after six seasons with Luv Ya Blue was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. The “Tyler Rose” was once considered the toughest running back in the NFL and made a living by running over defenders.

For the past six years, though, the 1977 Heisman Trophy winner has been unable to walk normally or without pain. A new brand of surgery, however, may give No. 34 the ability to get around again without pain.

“When I first saw Earl, I was overwhelmed by how disabled he was,” said spinal specialist Dr. Stan Jones, who performed the corrective surgery on Campbell’s back.

The procedure called for fusing spinal discs together and removing some unwanted medical hardware from surgeries of the past.

“All of this was in his back,” said Dr. Jones, as he emptied a large bag of surgical screws.

Campbell said he would not forget the first time he was helped out of bed after the surgery.

“Then the doc says, ‘Come on, let’s go for a walk,'” Campbell said with shock on his face. “I said, Huh? This is just the second day (after surgery). I just had this done yesterday.”

Dr. Jones answered, “‘I know, but we are going to go for a walk,'” Campbell recalled.

Some doctors had told Campbell that his problems were in part hereditary, but Dr. Jones said Campbell has a bad back for one reason alone.

“He had a beat up back,” said Dr. Jones, blaming the Hall of Famer’s injuries on his bashing running style of his playing days.

Even with the pain and surgeries, Campbell said he would never change the way he played the game in which he took on tacklers without backing down.

However, in what may be a surprise to many, Campbell said he never watches the game that made him famous.

“I guess it’s like a guy (who has) been to war or something. It’s something I don’t get a kick out of,” said Campbell.

Now that he can stand upright, Campbell’s next goal is to beat his old coach Bum Phillips in a round of golf when his recovery is complete in about six months.