Ken Houston had been a linebacker at Prairie View A&M but the Houston Oilers were thinking of him as a safety when the club picked him in the ninth round of the 1967 draft.
Houston became a regular in his third game. Two games later, he scored two touchdowns against the New York Jets. The first score came on a 45-yard return of a blocked field goal and the other touchdown via a 43-yard interception return.
After six seasons with the Oilers, during which he established a record by returning nine interceptions for touchdowns, he was traded in 1973 to the Washington Redskins for five players, three of whom became instant regulars for the Oilers.
Although recognized as the premier strong safety of his era, Houston made little impression on the masses. The Redskins media guide once tabbed him as the NFL’s most underrated superstar.
It took just one play during a nationally televised Monday night game to change that. In a game on October 8, 1973 against the rival Dallas Cowboys, Washington was leading 14-7 with 16 seconds remaining. Dallas had the ball on a fourth and goal situation when the Cowboys’ powerful running back Walt Garrison grabbed a swing pass and headed toward the end zone. Houston hit him squarely and stopped him dead in this tracks, inches shorts of the goal line. Houston instantly became a household name.
Houston, listed at 6-3, 198 pounds, had all the physical gifts to be a tremendous safety. He had a long, fluid stride and excellent speed and agility. Those skills made him ideal for pass defense and he was strong enough to be a devastating tackler.
He was selected to two AFL All-Star games and 10 Pro Bowls over a 12-year period from 1968 through 1979. He retired following the 1980 season recognized as the premier strong safety of his era. In 1994, he was honored as a member of the NFL’s 75th Anniversary Team.
Altogether he intercepted 49 passes which he returned for 898 yards. He also recovered 21 fumbles and scored 12 touchdowns, nine on interceptions and one each on a punt return, a fumble return, and a blocked field goal return.
After being named to the NFL’s All-Decade team of the 1970s, Houston received professional football’s highest honor when we was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1986.
Following his playing career Houston served as a head coach on the high school level and was the defensive backs coach for the Oilers (1982-85).
Houston currently is a counselor/task coordinator for the community services of the Houston Independent School District.
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