They had two different styles carrying the ball. Barry Sanders ran around people; Earl Campbell ran through them.
They also had two different lives after football. Sanders retired early long before his body burned out; Campbell wasn’t as fortunate. It is stunning to see the one-time beast in a football uniform struggle to walk.
The careers and lives of both legends are examined in two new documentaries. Still Standing: The Earl Campbell Story, produced by Ross Greenburg, airs tonight at 11 p.m. (ET) on NBC Network. Wednesday, Sanders is the latest subject of A Football Life on NFL Network at 8 p.m. ET.
Here’s the rundown on both films. Highly recommended.
NBC Sports Network presents Still Standing: The Earl Campbell Story, a riveting documentary about one of the greatest running backs in the history of the NFL, and the touching life story that followed his retirement. Still Standing: The Earl Campbell Story, debuts Tuesday, December 4 at 11 p.m. ET/10 p.m. CT/9 p.m. MT/8 p.m. PT on NBC Sports Network.
Born in Tyler, Texas, to a family with 12 children, Earl Campbell began his life working the rose fields and living in a shack, where his brothers joked, ‘you could see the big dipper from your bed at night.’ His father, B.C. Campbell, died of a heart attack at the age of 50, when Earl was 11, leaving his mother, Ann, to raise all 12 Campbell kids.
After winning the Texas State Football Championship in his senior year at John Tyler High School, Campbell went on to the University of Texas, where in his senior year he won the coveted Heisman Trophy (1977). He became the No. 1 pick in the 1978 NFL Draft when the Houston Oilers traded with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for the top pick in the draft, and the Oilers immediately chose Campbell.
Campbell’s Hall-of-Fame career was a highlight reel of running over those who would attempt to tackle him. Campbell’s 199-yard, four touchdown performance in a 35-30 win over the Miami Dolphins before a national audience on Monday Night Football in Week 12 of his rookie season is the signature individual performance of his career.
Halfway through the 1984 season, Campbell was traded by the Oilers to the Saints where he rejoined his mentor and coach Bum Phillips. He finished his career in New Orleans, retiring during the 1986 preseason, but he will always be remembered as the best of Bum’s Bunch in Houston.
After his retirement, Campbell battled five spinal surgeries, two knee replacements and an addiction to pain pills and alcohol. He was confined to a wheelchair for six years, but due to a successful spinal surgery performed by Dr. Stan Jones in Houston, and his sons Christian and Tyler convincing him to check into a rehabilitation center for his addictions, Campbell is still standing today. He is walking again, and tossed the coin at a University of Texas game in Austin earlier this season.
For 10 seasons, Detroit Lions running back Barry Sanders electrified the NFL with unbelievable runs while putting up prolific rushing numbers. Yet just before the start of the 1999 NFL season, as one of the league’s biggest stars, he quietly walked away from the game.
NFL Network’s Emmy-nominated series A Football Life continues Wednesday, December 5 at 8:00 PM ET with a profile of one of the NFL’s greatest players who retired during the prime of his career. Barry Sanders: A Football Life examines Sanders’ incredible Hall of Fame career, his unexpected retirement and the reaction it garnered throughout both the NFL and the city of Detroit, and his relationship with his late father, William.
The one-hour documentary features a sitdown interview with Sanders in which he discusses his fascinating football life. The NFL’s third all-time leading rusher talks about how he was overlooked in high school, his decision to attend Oklahoma State, the unwanted media attention that came as a result of winning the Heisman Trophy award in 1988 and being an NFL superstar, and the lessons he imparts to his children, including his son BJ Sanders, a redshirt freshman running back at Stanford University.
Additional interviews include fellow Hall of Fame running backs Emmitt Smith and Curtis Martin, former teammates Thurman Thomas, Herman Moore, Kevin Glover and Lomas Brown, former Lions head coaches Wayne Fontes and Bobby Ross, and Hall of Fame guard for the Detroit Pistons, Joe Dumars, among others.
Barry Sanders: A Football Life also includes past interviews with his father and Barry reading the statement he released to the Wichita Eagle announcing his retirement for the first time publically.