Hall of Famer Kenny Houston leads students from Pro-Vision Academy through a tour of the Pro Football Hall of Fame’s Gridiron Glory, traveling exhibit on the campus of Texas Southern University on Thursday, Feb. 16, 2017, in Houston.
By Jenny Dial Creech, Houston Chronicle
Bryson Moore watched wide-eyed as Hall of Fame safety Kenny Houston pointed out various jerseys and photos.
“Jim Brown,” Houston said as he looked at the No. 32 Cleveland jersey. “Now that’s who you all need to know. He was a presence.”
Houston was all smiles and laughs as he told Moore, 18, and his teammates from ProVision Academy about the various exhibits on display at the University Museum on Texas Southern’s campus.
The NFL Hall of Fame is showcasing the Gridiron Glory exhibit until April 30.
On Thursday, student-athletes from the charter school in Sunnyside and Texans players Johnathan Joseph, Quintin Demps and Tony Washington visited the museum together.
The current players and the aspiring ones looked at the various artifacts from the Hall of Fame in awe while Houston and Hall of Fame defensive end Elvin Bethea, decked in their gold jackets, talked about their experiences in the NFL.
“To hear from guys who are playing now and to talk to guys who paved the way is really special,” Moore, a wide receiver at ProVision said.
Houston and Bethea had a lot to say.
Whether it was Houston telling a story about how he had no interest in football at first when he started high school in Lufkin because he wanted a girlfriend – “I joined the band and tried to play the trumpet,” he said – to Bethea talking about the old leather helmets on display and joking with the high school players about how lucky they were to have more than that protecting their brains, the conversations were lively, entertaining and enjoyable.
The energy in the room as generations of football players looked at history was hopeful.
The teenagers dreamed of having an NFL jersey, like those on display.
The NFL players wondered if they’d ever seen their own hanging in a shadowbox for all to see.
The veterans fondly remembered their playing days, their teammates and friends.
There was more to the morning at TSU than goal setting and happy trips down memory lane though.
As a group turned a corner with Bethea and saw a display about race in the NFL, all eyes turned to the 70-year old.
He told them how in 1968, racial tension was high. He had white teammates who said and did terrible things to the black men on the team. He had a white teammate who would rush off the field after every practice. They found out eventually it was because he didn’t want to shower with his black teammates.
“We wake up every day and we get to play football,” Joseph said. “You don’t always think of the history, or the struggles others went to for that to happen.”
Bethea also told the young men in the room about how he made $15,000 a year the first few years he played. They played six preseason games and made $50 a game.
On the other side of the room, Houston talked about the evolution of equipment, like helmets and shoulder pads that were on display.
“You’re going to get knocked around, hit in the head a lot,” he told them. “That stuff is real. A lot of guys have problems, dementia when they get older. You need to be smart and pay attention to this stuff. Learn the best ways to take care of yourself and protect your head.”
Houston also told the players how he played center in college. When he got to the Oilers he started to learn how to play in the defensive backfield. He said he kept learning until he retired.
“If you can run and jump, you can keep getting better and you can play,” he said. “If you can’t, you shouldn’t be playing football.
“Go get a job!”
In all seriousness, Houston said being around the young players and sharing his experiences with them was rewarding.
“I think we understand each other,” Houston said. “I hope they look at me and realize that this could be their destiny.
“I wasn’t the best player in high school or in college or even in the pros. But it all adds up. It was meant to be. That’s why I’m here. And I love to share that with these young men.”