Earl Campbell: ‘I loved Bum Phillips like no other’
Posted on October 19, 2013 at 4:52 pm
By Earl Campbell
There are two people who cross my mind every day. One of them is my mother, Ann Campbell. The other is Bum Phillips.
I don’t know if there are words to describe our relationship. You know the song that Willie Nelson sings, “Georgia on My Mind?” Bum Phillips is on my mind. He’s there every day. The city of Houston has lost one of the greatest men, a man who really fit the city.
I don’t think I would have fit in playing with the Dallas Cowboys or New England Patriots or Los Angeles Rams. God blessed me to play for Bum Phillips on the Houston Oilers. That was the perfect fit for me.
Our relationship started as coach and player. The first time he met me, he called me “EC.” That was the first time anybody had called me anything other than Earl Campbell or the Tyler Rose. He would tell me, “EC, you’re the one.” And our relationship grew into something that was unbelievable. We both enjoyed that country lifestyle.
Bum was like the ultimate dad – the dad I’d lost in the fifth grade. The guys on the Oilers, like Curley Culp and Robert Brazile, used to tell Wade, Bum’s son, who was one of our defensive coaches, “Hey, that’s your brother over there. Aren’t you going to make him run,?”
It takes a hell of a man to do what Bum Phillips did with our team.
Every football player has an ego. They were great college players. Earl Campbell had an ego, too. Everybody wants their name mentioned.
But Bum had a way of keeping us together. Do you remember Willie Stargell and that song, “We Are Family,” that he played with the Pittsburgh Pirates? That’s how Bum did it with us.
We had so much fun. We did things like having a pizza party on Wednesday night. We’re grown men. Why are we having a pizza party? But we were all away from our families and it was a way in training camp for us to get together as a team.
Now you see the guys walking around with headphones and earbuds. In my day, we had those big jam boxes. I still have mine in my office. I would play that country music, and Bum would say, “EC, turn it up.”
We never had a lot to say to each other on the football field. All he had to do was look at me. Do you remember the Monday night game (against Miami in 1978) where I had all those yards? He came up to me and said, “EC, you need 3 yards to set a record. Do you want it?” I said, “Ronnie Coleman deserves to play. I took his place. Let him play.”
That’s what Bum and I were talking about. That is the kind of relationship we had, and that’s the kind of team we had.
He told me years ago, “EC, you know that I love you. We don’t have to talk every day or every week. But we know how we feel about each other.”
When he was sick, he would say, “Come see me, but you don’t have to run down here every time. We know how we feel.”
In his later years, you could tell that his life changed, and I believe he was at peace with Christ. Debbie (Bum’s wife) told me that (former Oilers player Mike Barber, now a minister) had baptized him, and I knew that he had given his life to Christ. That was the name of the book he wrote: “Bum Phillips: Coach, Cowboy, Christian.”
The last time I saw him, we sat with Conway Hayman and my brother Steve, watching Texas and Oklahoma play, and we talked about playing golf one more time. When we played, the loser would have to give the winner a hundred dollars in pennies. I still have that jar of pennies, and we talked about one more rematch.
As I was getting ready to leave, I said to him, “I’ve got to go now, but I’ll tell you something: Boy, you really made a difference in my life.” And he looked at me with those blue eyes and said, “EC, that sounds like a song.”
He knew what was happening, and he knew he was getting close to the end, but he wasn’t afraid.
I loved Bum Phillips like no other. Somebody told me in the airport Saturday, “I’m sorry about Bum. But don’t worry. He looked out for you here, and he’ll look out for you up there.”
Earl Campbell is a Pro Football Hall of Fame running back who played for Bum Phillips for five seasons, including three with the Oilers.