Former Houston Oilers and Washington Redskins defensive back Ken Houston spent his entire 14-year career disrupting the offensive rhythm of opposing teams. Known as one of the greatest defensive backs in NFL history, Houston imposed a substantial amount of fear in quarterbacks while altering the routes of wide receivers.
The 12-time Pro Bowl safety achieved numerous honors throughout his decorated Hall of Fame career, including being named to the NFL 75th Anniversary All-Time Team and the 1970s All-Decade Team. In 1999, Houston ranked No. 61 on The Sporting News’ list of the 100 greatest football players of all time.
Coming out of Dunbar High School in Lufkin, TX, Houston possessed the proper attitude and mindset necessary for being a successful football player. Despite drawing little interest from NCAA Division I programs, he accepted a scholarship to play college football at Prairie State College (now Prairie View A&M University).
“It was an exciting time in my life,” said Houston, who was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1986. “I was hungry to become a better football player. Prairie State was the only school willing to offer me a scholarship. I’ve always had a strong work ethic and I took advantage of my opportunity to get better as a football player and person.”
For a short time, he played center before starting at linebacker. Ultimately, Houston emerged as an impact defensive player, earning All-Conference in the Southwestern Athletic Conference. His willingness to learn and desire to improve opened the door for greatness.
He was selected by the Houston Oilers in the ninth round of the 1967 AFL-NFL Draft. After two games into his rookie season, Houston assumed the starting role at free safety.
Oilers head coach Wally Lemm took notice of his free safety’s unique talent during the fifth game of the regular season when Houston returned an interception and blocked a field goal attempt for touchdowns.
“Everything was starting to come together for me,” he said.
“I wanted to be the best safety in the league and never settled for less. My coaches would tell anyone that I frequently asked questions and wanted to excel in our defensive scheme. While playing for the Oilers, I learned how to cut off receivers’ routes and create havoc for quarterbacks.”
Houston was one of the best at making offenses aware of his presence on the field. After six years with the Oilers, he was traded to the Redskins in 1973 for five veteran players. The legendary safety escalated his dominance under the guidance of Hall of Fame coach George Allen.
As a member of the Redskins, Houston was selected to seven straight Pro Bowls. He played alongside Hall of Fame quarterback Sunny Jurgenson, running back John Riggins and defensive end Deacon Jones.
“My tenure in Washington will forever be special to me,” Houston said. "Playing for George (Allen) and having the pleasure of being teammates with a group of talented guys molded me into a Hall of Fame player. I learned how to impact the game from a defensive standpoint.
"I made it tough for wide receivers to get position and make plays. My pro football career was an incredible journey, especially since I was offered only one scholarship coming out of high school.”
After retiring from the NFL in 1980, he went on to coach for Wheatley High School and Westbury High School in Houston, Texas. He returned to the Oilers as the defensive backs coach from 1982-86 and occupied the same role for the University of Houston from 1986-1990.
While coaching at UH, former Detroit Lions quarterback Andre Ware became the only player in school history and the first African-American to win the Heisman Trophy in 1989.
Currently, Houston serves as a “Houston Texans Ambassador” and participates in several Hall of Fame functions. Overall, the Texans organization set a long-term goal of becoming the most community-connected sports franchise in all of professional sports.
Houston, along with Kenny Burrough, Curtis Duncan, Charlie Frazier, Jacob Green, Jerry LeVias, Bubba McDowell, Zeke Moore, J.J. Moses, Vernon Perry, Jaime Sharper, Don Trull, Richmond Webb and Kailee Wong, represent the honor and integrity of the Texans' organization throughout the community.
“I enjoy my work with the Texans,” said Houston, who became an ambassador in 2006. Honestly, it’s fun to meet-and-greet fans. Often, people come up to me and talk about football, my career and how they remember my playing days in Houston and Washington. I’m very approachable and love discussing the game with people.”