George Allen called him the best safety to ever play the game. He calls himself the “reluctant” player who was not highly recruited by colleges after graduating high school and who was a member of the “others”, a group of back up players who didn’t often get on the field.by
George Allen called him the best safety to ever play the game. He calls himself the “reluctant” player who was not highly recruited by colleges after graduating high school and who was a member of the “others”, a group of back up players who didn’t often get on the field and a back-up center his first year in college.
Born in Lufkin, Texas on November 12, 1944, Ken Houston was the third of four children — two boys and two girls. His father, Herod, owned a dry cleaning business in the small town of Lufkin near Houston, Texas. “There wasn’t much to do in Lufkin. You grew up and either joined the military or worked for one of the factories there,” he remembered.
He first became interested in sports in his sophomore year at Dunbar High School in Lufkin where he played basketball and football. He credits Dunbar High football coach Elmer Redd and swimming coach Herbert Allen as the two who inspired him to pursue sports.
The only school to recruit him after he graduated from Dunbar was Prairie State College in Texas. Bishop College had offered him a scholarship but withdrew it. “It was prior to the integration of the school,” explained Houston.
He played football, ran track, and was on the swim team during the four years he was at Prairie State. Although he was tall — about 6 feet 2 inches — he was relatively light at just barely 200 pounds. Despite his weight, however, he played center and linebacker for the school’s football team. It took him a while to break into the starting line up. “I was a fifth string center and part of the group we called `The Others,'” he mused. He did progress to play starting linebacker and was selected All-American in the Southwest Conference. The Conference included such schools as Grambling and Jackson State University.
Tom Williams, the track coach at Grambling and a scout for the American Football League Houston Oilers, scouted Houston. He liked his speed and strength and suggested that the Oilers draft him to play strong safety. He was drafted by the Oilers in the ninth round of the 1967 American Football League Draft. In his third game as a starter against the New York Jets he scored two touchdowns, one on a 43-yard interception return and the other on a 45 yard run with a blocked field goal attempt. His best season with the Oilers was 1971 when he intercepted nine passes and set a single season record by returning four for touchdowns.
In 1972 he was traded to the Washington Redskins for five players — offensive lineman Jim Snowden, tight end Mack Alston, wide receiver Clifton McNeil, defensive end Mike Fanucci, and defensive back Jeff Severson. George Allen was head coach of the Redskins at the time and Richie Pettibon was the defensive backfield coach. “Coach Allen’s defense was a head of the game at the time,” commented Houston. “We played a lot of defenses they play now — cover two and combination defenses. Allen also had the knack of bringing in heady players like Jake Scott from the Miami Dolphins and Lamar Parrish from the Cincinnati Bengals. Those guys brought a lot to the table and their ideas merged well with George and Richie Pettibon,” said Houston.
Houston had a stand out career with the Redskins. He is most well known, however, for a play that took place in a Monday Night Game against the Dallas Cowboys in 1973. He alone stopped Walt Garrison on the one yardline on the last play of the game to preserve a Redskins victory. “People are still stopping me on the street and mentioning that play,” said Houston. “Everyone claims to have seen it.”
He retired as an active player in 1980. “I had broken my arm in the next to the last game of the season. Before that I had never missed a game,” he said. He acknowledge that age had caught up with him and he was slated to be a backup if he returned to play. Jack Pardee was head coach of the Redskins at the time. “If George (Allen) were coaching the team, I’d still be playing,” Houston quipped.
During his 14 year career Houston intercepted 49 passes and returned a record nine for touchdowns and played in 183 consecutive games, the most ever by a defensive back. He was named to two AFL All-Star games and played in 10 Pro Bowls. He was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1986 and was also elected as one of the 70 Greatest Redskins.
“The morning I was told that I was nominated for the Hall the Shuttle exploded,” he volunteered. “A small story was published in the newspaper announcing that I had been nominated that was just four or five paragraphs long. I cut it out to save it so I could show it to my grandchildren.
“I didn’t think I was a Hall of Famer,” he continued. “I remember watching Namath and Charley Taylor get inducted and I thought it was quite an honor just to have played with those guys. There are so many great players who are deserving who will never make it to the Hall. Every day since my induction I realize it is a blessing.”
After his retirement in 1980 Houston served as a head football coach for Wheatley High School and Westbury High School in Houston, Texas. In 1982 to 1985 he was the defensive backfield coach for the Houston Oilers and in 1986 to 1990 he was the defensive backfield coach for the University of Houston.
He held a goal to become a head coach for an NFL team but it did not happen and he has moved on to other endeavors outside of football. Since 1990 he has served as a guidance counselor for children in hospitals and who are home bound or have been placed in child care agencies by the State of Texas. He does this work for the Houston Independent School District.
He has been married to Gustie since 1967, the year he went into pro ball. His wife was an optical engineer for NASA and an assistant principal for the Houston School District. They have two children — a daughter, Kene; and a son, Kenneth Christian.
He also organizes Hall of Fame golf tournaments every year that benefit the Texas Children’s Hospital in Houston. “I enjoy giving back. I think it is something you are supposed to do,” he said.
“I’ve had a blessed life. I have no regrets,” he concluded.