With college football set to honor the 2017 Heisman Trophy winner this weekend, we take a look back 40 years ago, when Earl Campbell became the first Texas Longhorn to win the prestigious award after leading his team to an undefeated regular season in 1977.
The national high school player of the year coming out Tyler, Texas, Campbell was a force to be reckoned with from the moment he stepped onto the Austin campus, starting at fullback in the Longhorns Wishbone attack as a freshman while rushing for 928 yards and six touchdowns. He ran for 1,118 yards and 13 touchdowns as a sophomore, garnering consensus All-American honors.
During his junior season, injuries derailed him as a pulled hamstring forced him to miss four games and severely limited him in the games that he did play. But he returned with a vengeance as a senior in 1977, rushing for 1,744 yards, a Southwest Conference record that stood for 16 years, and 19 touchdowns while leading the nation in rushing and scoring.
As a collegiate football player at the University of Texas at Austin, he won the Heisman Trophy in 1977 and led the nation in rushing with 1,744 yards. In 1977, he became the first recipient of the Davey O’Brien Memorial Trophy which was awarded to the most outstanding player in the now-defunct Southwest Conference.
In the third game of his remarkable senior year against Rice, Campbell scored four touchdowns during a 7215 blowout. Against Texas A&M in the season finale, he ran over, through and around the Aggies defense for a career-high 222 yards in a 5728 win that clinched the Southwest Conference championship.
The Longhorns went undefeated during the regular season as the nation’s top-ranked team and faced Joe Montana’s Notre Dame Fighting Irish in the Cotton Bowl, which was ostensibly the national championship game. Campbell rushed for 116 yards, but Notre Dame won the game and the national title.
Despite the sour ending, there was no denying that college football had never, and would never again, see a player quite like Earl Campbell. He finished his brilliant career with a then-Longhorns record of 4,443 rushing yards and 41 touchdowns.