In 1981 the legislature enshrined Earl Campbell as an Official State Hero Of Texas. Only three other favorite sons—Davy Crockett, Stephen F. Austin, and Sam Houston—had been previous recipients of that honor, so the proclamation was a fair measure of Campbell’s popularity and fame at the time. The Tyler Rose was one of the most dominating high school football players the state had ever seen; he won the University of Texas’ first Heisman trophy; and he was named the NFL’s player of the year three times as a member of the Houston Oilers. Now I sit across a table from him and ponder the bygone years. Campbell carries a few more pounds and inches of girth, but he still has the bull neck and the shoulders that resemble pipeline joints. His face looks almost unchanged—a prominent scar between his eyebrows, a broad flattened nose, a slightly drooping left eyelid—except now it is graced by an oval frame of hair and beard gone silver.
With an air of wanting to get it over with, he hands me a press release detailing the bankruptcy this spring of his Austin food company, which he founded in 1990, and a restaurant he opened in 1999. A sausage manufacturer in Flatonia has taken on his debts and put him back on the road selling for the new partnership, Earl Campbell Meat Products. He’s a businessman gone bust, starting over at 46. And that’s just part of his run of bad luck. Showing me that he can’t make a fist with either hand, he explains why he wears none of the bulky rings attesting to his Heisman trophy and other football honors or even a wedding band: “When a guy’s shaking your hand, he doesn’t know you have