By Dave Sargent
"He's a legend in his own time, a living legend."
Sometimes descriptions are so exaggerated, praise and criticism so overstated, that comments such as that seem to carry little meaning. Imagine my skepticism when I received an e-mail from a colleague that suggested I pursue an article on a "legend" in Texas high school football circles.
What an error I made in wondering about the legendary status of Texas journalist Dave Campbell. After finishing a generously extensive interview with Campbell, I not only knew that I had just spoken with a living legend, but also I knew that I had spoken with a truly humble gentleman whose love for Texas football at all levels was deep and genuine.
That love is equally matched by his admiration for the coaches who provide guidance and direction for the student-athletes in their care. It is impossible to overstate the influence that Campbell has had on Texas football, particularly at the high school and college levels, for the past half century.
Campbell's 60-year journalistic career is distinguished by countless national, state, and local honors and awards, and coincides with the phenomenal growth of high school football in Texas. He has been a central figure in promoting that growth throughout the past six decades. His career began in 1942 when he served as a copy boy for the Waco Tribune-Herald while studying History and Journalism at Baylor University.
After serving in the Army in Europe during World War II, where he was awarded a Bronze Star, Campbell returned to Baylor. He earned his degree in 1949 while working full time as the night news editor for the Tribune-Herald and writing for the sports department on weekends. In 1953 he became the Tribune-Herald's sports editor, a position he held until his retirement in 1993. He continues to publish the Baylor Bear Insider Report at the age of 81.
Of all of his contributions to football journalism, Campbell is most proud of the founding of Dave Campbell's Texas Football - an annual preview publication dedicated to the sport at all levels. After being discouraged with the inaccuracies regarding Texas college teams in national football magazines he purchased, he and an associate compiled the first edition of the magazine while huddled around his kitchen table in 1960. For the first two years, the annual report on the upcoming season of Texas football was a financial liability. However, Campbell and his associates persisted, and in subsequent years the magazine has become "the Bible of Texas Football" according to an official with the Fox Sports Network.
The magazine's publication each year has been described as "the official start of the football season" and "the most anticipated printed material in Texas since the paycheck" in press releases from Fox Sports. In 2005, the history and production of the magazine, which has achieved the status of an institution in Texas, was the subject of a documentary produced by Fox Sports Southwest.
Campbell remains Editor-in-Chief of the magazine that was purchased by Host Communications in 1996. In its 47th year of publication, Texas Football is unquestionably the most comprehensively researched preseason statewide publication of its kind, providing detailed information about every high school and collegiate team in the state.
During his career covering high school and college athletics, Campbell has truly had the opportunity to see it all. Ever positive, when asked to reflect upon the changes in high school football that he has observed over time, he praises the changes in protective equipment, the increases in participation and increasingly knowledgeable coaches. He credits athletics for hastening integration in Texas, and in many cases easing that process. The only negative he voiced was the use of performance enhancing substances by athletes. He strongly believes that coaches can and should be the first line of defense against that usage.
Many of Campbell's most treasured memories revolve around his relationships with coaches, who he holds in the highest esteem. He recalls with joy the inspirational post-game, late-night discussion with revered University of Texas coach Darrell Royal after the 1976 season-ending win over rival Arkansas. That game marked the end of both Royal's career, and Arkansas' Frank Broyles.
The best football coaches Campbell covered all taught life lessons that prepared their athletes for the future. In addition to Royal, he specifically mentioned Waco High School coach Paul Tyson (1920's) who "was far ahead of his time" according to Campbell. He also noted Gordon Wood of Brownwood High School, whose teams won over 300 games during his tenure.
Campbell punctuated the mention of Wood with a story about the coach's stance on integration. On a road trip, when a restaurant that had been reserved for a post-game meal refused to serve his African-American players, Wood took his team elsewhere. A strong life lesson not relating to football was taught by Coach Wood that night.
What advice for current youth coaches would Campbell have from the decades of wisdom he has stored in his mind's eye?
"(Coaches) must realize the impact they have on their players, their schools, and their communities," Campbell said. "(Coaches must) help parents keep athletics in the proper perspective."
Campbell's love of football has caused him to remain deeply involved in the sport after his retirement from the Waco Tribune-Herald, through his work with Texas Football, as well as duties with his Baylor football publication. His impact on high school football has increased over the past decade through his involvement in and promotion of the Texas Football Classic.
The Classic is a "footballfest" that has grown from a one-day tripleheader of high school games, to five games over three days pitting some of the finest teams in Texas against one another. This year's games were scheduled in the Alamodome in San Antonio, Aug. 31-Sept. 2, and were covered by MaxPreps' USA Football Road Tour.
A living legend? Campbell more than qualifies. However, he is far more than famous. He is a man of principle whose influence in Texas football circles has been pervasive and positive. Through his writing and his energetic, enthusiastic involvement he has created a forum for providing deserving recognition for student-athletes who excel in football.
His support for his university has been unwavering and has resulted in the dedication of the Dave Campbell Media Center in Baylor's football stadium. Above all, Campbell understands the value of relationships. His unique ability to "walk in the shoes" of others coupled with his intense desire to see others succeed has enabled him to create a trail of admiring friends wherever he has gone.
"Waco and Baylor have been blessed.and so have I," Waco Tribune-Herald Assistant Sports Editor Jerry Hill said during Campbell's enshrinement in the Texas Sports Hall of Fame in 2005. "He's as genuine and humble as he is great. I treasure the 10 years I worked under Dave. And more than anything, I cherish the friendship of Dave and his wife, Reba. (They are).an example for the rest of us to follow"
Living Legend? Absolutely.
Dave Sargent: firstname.lastname@example.org