NFL Interception Return Records
In 1971, Ken set several NFL records. On December 19th, during the final game of the season, he picked off two of Chargers quarterback John Hadl’s passes and returned them for touchdowns. During that game, Ken Houston set the NFL career record for interceptions returned for touchdowns with 9, set the NFL single-season record with 4 interceptions returned for touchdowns, and set the record for most interceptions returned for touchdowns in 1 game. Ken’s historic 1971 season included a fumble recovery returned for a touchdown, giving him 5 defensive touchdowns on the season.
Houston talked about the record setting day on The Texas Sports Hall of Fame Podcast. The injuries he endured during that game makes his records even more impressive.
“I very seldom talk about that game because there’s not that much that I remember about it,” Houston said. “Matter of fact, I probably still got a scar. I got hit up under the eye. That’s when they’d come out and give you the smelling salt.”
NFL medical teams often used smelling salts to revive players in the middle of games. This was long before an concussion protocols or doctors knowing much about the dangers of concussions and playing football with concussions.
“There was a lot about the game I didn’t really remember until I watched the film,” Houston said.
During that game, the Oilers trailed the Chargers 23-7 at halftime. Ken’s two interception returns put the Oilers ahead by the end of the third quarter en route to a 49-33 victory at the Houston Astrodome.
“I had these back-to-back returns against John Hadl. I intercepted the ball and ran it in. We kicked off, he threw another ball I intercepted and ran it in. I didn’t even know it was a record.”
LISTEN: Ken Houston talks about his life and NFL career
Houston may not have realized that he was rewriting the NFL record book, but he was fully aware of some unfriendly competition.
“They had this big offensive tackle. I mean, I was running for my life because I’ve never seen a big man run that fast. And I crossed the goal line (laughs) and I mean I’m running! I wasn’t the fastest guy in the world but I wasn’t the slowest one either. This guy was going to catch me and he was going to put me out! That second one was on account of him because I was running for my life!”
Ken Houston is widely regarded as one of the greatest defensive backs in NFL history. Not only did he turn interceptions into touchdowns, he also made game-saving tackles against division rivals. He is a proud member of the Texas Sports Hall of Fame and the Pro Football Hall of Fame.