"I just slipped," said Earl Campbell, describing the start of his most important run yesterday, a five-yard burst on fourth and one to the Redskin three setting up his own, winning touchdown.
"It was," added Campbell, "the best slip I've ever had."
There were slightly more than two minutes left when the crucial play developed, with Campbell slipping to one knee, recovering and powering his way through several Redskin defenders for the first down.
"I lost my traction; that's all," said Campbell, who on the next play followed Maryland graduate Tim Wilson's lead blocking into the end zone to give Houston the lead. Toni Fritsch's extra point gave the Oilers a 29-27 victory.
Campbell gained 166 yards on 32 carries yesterday and scored two touchdowns.
The Oilers were then charged their last timeout because Campbell remained face down on the ground. Was he injured?
"No," replied Campbell. "I was tired."
Campbell got an unexpected breather three plays earlier when, to the surprise of almost everyone, running back Rob Carpenter trotted onto the field and quarterback Dan Pastorini shooed Campbell to the sidelines.
It was third and one. The Oilers took a timeout, but Campbell still remained out of the game.
"I don't question his integrity," Campbell replied when asked if he was shocked to go out. "I do what he says."
Pastorini explained later that there had been a mixup in communications between the coaches on the sidelines and himself. Coach Bum Phillips said that he had intended to use three backs on the play, taking out a wide receiver, so Campbell could benefit from another blocker.
When Campbell came out, amid obvious confusion, Pastorini then called a timeout. However, Campbell did not reenter the game until fourth down, after Carpenter was stopped for no gain.
Early on, with the Redskins using Ken Houston as a fourth linebacker, the Oilers were frequently stopped. Still they amassed 365 yards total offense, including 276 in the second half. Campbell gained 110 of his 166 yards after intermission.
It was a simple adjustment for the Oilers. Since Redskin Houston was keying on Campbell, the Oilers keyed on Houston, running right at him much of the time and assigning fullback Wilson to block him.
"Kenny Houston was stopping the whole thing," said Campbell of his team's offensive plans. "so we just decided to put a man on him. He was playing linebacker."
"We expected them to do that, but not that close," said Wilson. "We didn't expect eight guys that close to the line. We made a few adjustments and it worked out well."
The Redskins strategy seemed obvious: take a chance of stopping a rusty Pastorini instead of Campbell, who chose his holes neatly and drew this comment from linebacker Houston: "You say running backs and then you say Earl Campbell. He's the Jim Brown of his era."
Pastorini completed only 12 of 30 passes, often missing open receivers. On all three interceptions, he overthrew the ball.
"My arm just felt really too good today," said Pastorini. "It felt better than it's ever felt. I was just high with some of my throws; sometimes I had a lineman in my face. I don't think I've ever had a good day passing the first day."
There were two plays open to second guessing. Should the Redskins have taken that holding penalty on third down, prior to the long fourth-quarter run by Billy Johnson? Should the Oilers have tried a field goal at the end, making the Redskins score a touchdown to win?
The Oilers agreed with theRedskin decision to take the penalty, making it third and 20 at the Redskin 39.
"Hell, yes," said Phillips, "you take them out of field goal range. You gotta hope they don't make that 10 yards back. You do that every time; it'll work most of the time."
As for the waning moments, Phillips said, "The field goal wasn't worth the risk. You get a field goal blocked and returned for a touchdown. If they were going to score, I wanted them to work at it."