With the season over, and little to talk about in college football until signing day and the NFL draft, I thought I would take a look at my all time favorite Longhorns.
This is based upon nothing by my personal opinion and biases, but current players are not eligible. Therefore, Colt McCoy, who would otherwise likely make the list, will have to wait until next year.
I’m also going to limit it to guys who I can actually remember playing college ball, which limits us to about the mid-Seventies. This disqualifies amazing players like Tommy Nobis, Bill Bradley, and James Street. Sorry guys, I only had limited control over when I was born.
Honorable Mentions (in no particular order): Priest Holmes, Quentin Jammer, Wayne McGarity, Aaron Ross, David Thomas
15. Stanley Richard
Awards: All-American, 1990; All-SWC, 1990
At the end of the 1980’s, the Texas Longhorns football team was in shambles. They had been, well, bad for several seasons. Then in 1990, Stanley “The Sheriff” Richard took the Longhorns on a mission to restore order to the Southwest Conference. What resulted was the “Shock the Nation” Tour and a 10-1 regular season record (for some reason, there is a hole in my memory, and I don’t remember them playing in a bowl game that season).
Richard recorded 13 interceptions as a Longhorn. He led the team in passes broken up in 1989 (12) and tied for the lead in 1990 (14).
Richard was drafted by the San Diego Chargers in 1991 and played for them for four seasons. He then signed with the Washington Redskins as a free agent and played another four seasons. He retired with 21 career interceptions returned for 352 yards and 2 touchdowns.
14. Casey Hampton
Nose Tackle: 1997-2000
Awards: All-American, 1999-2000; Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year, 2000
One of the best Casey Hampton stories was told recently by CloseToJumping on Barking Carnival:
My senior year in high school, we were taking our annual beating from Galveston Ball. The score ended up 69-14 that year, which was awesome. Anyway, I was a WR and never went to the huddle. One of the Guards was a lifelong friend of mine and he told me in the middle of the game to swing by the huddle. I said “no thanks” and he told me it would be worth my time. I walk over to the huddle after the next play and everyone in the huddle is telling our Center to pull himself together and at least attempt to make a block on the Nose Tackle. The Center, a buddy of mine and an 18 year old high school senior, is bawling in the huddle and hyperventilating. Literally, he had tears streaming and his face was a bright purple. “I’m doing the best I can, guys. Oh F–k!?! You don’t understand!”. I walked away, chuckling and mortified. On literally the next play, the NT took the Center on the snap and threw him backwards into the QB who was dropping back to pass. The QB fell backwards for the sack, with the Center collapsing on top of him. The Center is mocked to this day about that game and his behavior, against a Sophomore NT, no less. Of course, that NT was named Casey Hampton, but who cares. It was hilarious.
He lead the team in tackles his last two years, and recorded 329 tackles (177 solo) for his career.
In 2001, Hampton was drafted by (and still plays for) the Pittsburgh Steelers. He is a four time Pro Bowl player and has one Superbowl ring.
13. Peter Gardere
Awards: None that I know of
When you are the only UT quarterback to lead the Horns to beat the hated Oklahoma Sooners four times, they nickname you Peter the Great. Peter Gardere threw for 7,396 yards and 37 yards as a Longhorn, but most importantly, he beat the Sooners four times.
After the 1992 Red River Shootout, there were chants of “Grad-u-ate!” from the Sooner fans in the stands.
In the NFL, Gardere was cut during training camp for both the Seattle Seahawks and New Orleans Saints. He played some ball in the Canadian Football League as a punter.
12. Michael Huff
Awards: Consensus All-American, 2005; Jim Thorpe Award, 2005
Michael Huff saved Texas in the 2006 National Championship Game against USC. He recovered a fumbled lateral by Reggie Bush that helped turn the momentum of the game. He was also the key defender on Lendale White’s failed 4th and 2 attempt.
His senior year, Huff recorded 127 tackles and five interceptions (two of which went for touchdowns). He also posted 14 pass deflections, two sacks and one blocked kick.
Huff was the seventh overall pick in the 2006 draft and plays for the Oakland Raiders, although his 2008 season was unimpressive as he was benched in favor of Hiram Eugene.
11. Johnny “Lam” Jones
Awards: All-American, 1978-1979; All-SWC, 1978-1979
A former sprinter turned football player, Johnny “Lam” Jones won a gold medal in the 4 x 100 meter relay at the 1976 Summer Olympics. He had the speed to beat any coverage, but didn’t have the best of hands.
In his college career, he had 85 receptions for 1,603 yards and 14 touchdowns.
The second overall pick in the 1980 draft, Jones played six seasons with the New York Jets.
Jones now suffers from myeloma cancer that affects bone marrow in the legs. The University Co-op is selling some amazing photos he took of the UT Tower after the National Championship game in 2006. All proceeds go back to Lam who is using the money to pay for his medications.
10. Kenneth Sims
Defensive End, 1978-1981
Awards: Consensus All-American, 1980-1981; All-SWC, 1980-1981; Lombardi Trophy, 1981
After uneventful freshman and sophomore years at Texas, Kenneth Sims exploded onto the scene his junior year. He ended his college career with 131 tackles, and became the first Longhorn to win the Lombardi Trophy.
Sims was the number one pick in the 1982 draft, going to the New England Patriots, where he played eight seasons. Unfortunately, he never really lived up to his potential in the pros, playing in only 74 games and recording only 17 sacks.
9. Britt Hager
Middle Linebacker: 1986-1988
Awards: American Coaches Association All-American, 1988; All-SWC, 1987-1988
Britt Hager was a monster for the Longhorn defense. His senior year, he recorded 195 tackles (120 solo) and had 499 for his Longhorn career.
Hager was BMoC when I entered Texas in 1987, and I remember riding the UT Shuttle Bus with him a few times. He was a big, scary looking man.
Hager played nine seasons in the NFL for the Philadelphia Eagles, the Denver Broncos, and the LA Rams.
8. Derrick Johnson
Awards: Dick Butkus Award, 2004; Bronko Nagurski Trophy, 2004; Consensus All-American, 2004
When the Longhorn Band has a song they play (the theme to Superman) whenever you make a great play, you know you’re doing something right. For me, the greatest memory will be watching Texas A&M quarterback Reggie McNeal collapse into a fetal position in the backfield when Derrick Johnson had an open path towards him.
Granted, I would have done the same thing in McNeal’s shoes, but I wasn’t the starting quarterback for a Division I-A football team.
Johnson logged 458 tackles (281 solo), a school-record 65.0 tackles for loss, 10.5 sacks and 10 INTs for 199 yards with a TD during his Longhorn career. Just for fun, add five fumble recoveries, 11 forced fumbles, 39 QB pressures and 30 passes defensed.
Johnson was a first round draft pick for the Kansas City Chiefs, where he won the Mack Lee Hill Award his rookie season, and where he continues to play today.
7. Brian Jones
Middle Linebacker: 1989-1990
Awards: All Southwest Conference, 1990
A member of the 1990 “Shock the Nation” Tour, Brian Jones started at UCLA but transferred to Texas. His senior year, Jones led the Longhorns with 116 tackles (71 solo) and five forced fumbles.
He played in the NFL from 1991-98 for the Indianapolis Colts, Miami Dolphins, Los Angeles Raiders and New Orleans Saints.
After football, Jones stayed close to the game and the Longhorns by joining the sports media. He has worked for FOX Sports, Austin’s Sportsradio 1300 The Zone, Longhorn Sports Network, and Longhorn Sports Center with Mack Brown.
6. James Brown
Awards: Southwest Conference Offensive Player of the Year, 1995
1996 Big 12 Championship game. Against the defending national champion Nebraska Cornhuskers. Two and a half minutes left in the fourth quarter. Texas with the ball and the lead 30-27. Fourth and inches from the Texas 28 yard line.
The conventional thing to do would be to punt the ball away and play defense. Head coach John Mackovic decides to go for it. He calls “Roll Left”, where Brown is to fake to Priest Holmes going up the middle, and then roll out to the left.
Prior to the play, Mackovic had told Brown to run for the first down. Instead, Brown tosses it over the defenders’ heads to tight end Derek Lewis. Lewis rumbles down the sideline to the Nebraska ten yard line. Holmes scores on the next play, securing the win and Brown’s place in Longhorn History.
In his Longhorn career, Brown passed for 7,638 yards and 53 touchdowns. He led the Horns to win the final Southwest Conference championship, and the inaugural Big 12 Championship Game (mentioned above).
Brown never made it in the NFL, but played some ball in the Arena League and NFL Europe.
5. Ricky Williams
Running Back: 1995-1998
Awards: Heisman Trophy, 1998; 2x Doak Walker Award, 1997-1998; Walter Camp Award, 1998; Maxwell Award, 1998
The arguments over Ricky Williams’ place in the list of Texas running backs is one that may never be fully resolved. He is my third most favorite, however.
Williams had an amazing combination of moves and power, that could make you miss or make you wish you had. In 1998, he became the NCAA career rushing leader with 6,279 yards (broken one year later by University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Ron Dayne). He broke or tied twenty NCAA records.
The highlight of his career (for me, at least) came in the Texas A&M game his senior season. He needed nine yards to break the career rushing record. Instead, he takes it sixty yards for a touchdown. This virtually assured his winning the Heisman Trophy
His pro career has been a disappointment so far, with several violations of the league’s substance abuse policy, an early retirement and return, and some ugly injuries. He currently plays for the Miami Dolphins, rushing for 659 yards and four touchdowns during the 2008 season.
4. Eric Metcalf
Running Back, Return Specialist: 1984-1987
Awards: 1987 SWC Offensive Player of the Year, 1987; 2nd team AP All-American
Eric Metcalf ran like a gazelle, able to change direction in unbelievable ways. He was a threat to run, to catch the ball out of the backfield, and to return punts and kickoffs all the way to the end zone.
He holds every Longhorn running receiving back record, and is the only player in Texas history to lead the team in all-purpose yards all four years.
After five years with the Cleveland Browns in the pros, he bounced around to six different teams, but is the NFL record holder for career punt return touchdowns, with ten. Metcalf was a three time Pro Bowl selection.
3. Major Applewhite
Awards: 1998 Big 12 Freshman of the Year, 1999; Big 12 Co-offensive Player of the Year, 2001; Holiday Bowl MVP
Perhaps the greatest football mind to come through the Longhorns as a player, Applewhite set eight quarterback records while at Texas, several of which still stand.
The highlights of his career include a 20-16 a win over #7 Nebraska, breaking their 47 game home winning streak and a record setting day to close out his career against the Washington Huskies in the 2001 Holiday Bowl.
In his career at Texas, he through for 8,353 yards and sixty touchdowns.
After graduation and a failed attempt at the NFL, Applewhite joined the Texas coaching staff as a graduate assistant. He spent time coaching at Syracuse and Rice, and joined Nick Saban’s staff at Alabama as offensive coordinator.
Prior to the 2008 season, he effectively took a demotion to return to the Texas staff as running backs coach. Many expect him to take Greg Davis’ position at offensive coordinator when he moves on.
2. Vince Young
Awards: Manning Award, 2005; Davey O’Brien Award, 2005; Archie Griffin Award, 2005
In just three seasons at Texas, Vince Young became a legend, leading the Longhorns to comebacks in some of the most exciting games in Longhorn history.
The two Rose Bowls (the second of which was a National Championship Game) get most of the attention, but my favorite is the 2004 comeback against Oklahoma State.
Texas was down 35-7 at home against the Cowboys. Absolutely nothing was working for the Horns. A late second quarter touchdown made it 35-14 at the half.
At least in my section, many people left. I try not to fault them as Texas clearly wasn’t giving it much effort that day.
Something incredible happened during the half, however. Vince learned how to lead and the team came together. Mack Brown promised the team that they would come back and win 42-35. He was selling the team short.
The Longhorns came out with an energy unlikely anything I’d ever seen. They rolled off 42 unanswered points in the second half to win going away, 56-35.
Vince Young never lost another game in a Longhorns uniform.
He finished his college career with a record of 30-2, the best of any UT quarterback. He threw for 6,040 yards and 44 touchdowns, and ran for 3,127 yards and 37 yards.
After a great NFL rookie year for the Tennessee Titans, his second season was mediocre, and he spent most of his third year riding the pine. I hope he pulls it together, but no matter what happens, he will always be one of the greatest Longhorns of all time.
1. Earl Campbell
Running Back, 1974-1977
Awards: Heisman Trophy, 1977; Davey O’Brien Memorial Trophy, 1977; Southwest Conference Running Back of the Year, 1974-1977
The Tyler Rose takes the top spot easily. In fact, some of my earliest sports memories are of Campbell running the ball for the Longhorns.
His Heisman winning senior year, Campbell ran for 1,744. For his career, he had 4,443 yards and 41 touchdowns.
His Heisman acceptance speech was the epitome of simple elegance:
I will represent what a Heisman Trophy winner should be. Thank you very much.
Campbell went on to the NFL and rushed for 9,407 and 74 touchdowns for the Houston Oilers and the New Orleans Saints. His many professional recognitions include:
- 5x Pro Bowl selection (1978, 1979, 1980, 1981, 1983)
- 4x All-Pro selection (1978, 1979, 1980, 1981)
- 1978 NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year
- 1979 NFL MVP
- 2x PFWA NFL MVP (1978, 1979)
- 3x NEA NFL MVP (1978, 1979, 1980)
- 3x NFL Offensive Player of the Year (1978, 1979, 1980)
- 1978 UPI AFL-AFC Player of the Year
- 1979 Bert Bell Award
On top of all this, he is an simply a nice, approachable man.
After his pro career, Campbell took an office in Belmont Hall on the University of Texas campus. It was on the way to the fencing room, where I spent a great deal of my time as a UT student. One more than one occasion, I sat in his office and listened to stories about his days as a football player. I’ll always cherish those memories.
Perhaps most notably, a non-trivial amount of my BMI can be directly attributed to Earl Campbell Hot Links.