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Ken Houston – One of the Greatest Safeties in NFL History

Ken Houston made the Pro Bowl 12 consecutive times. He played safety for the Houston Oilers and the Washington Redskins. Washington traded 5 players to obtain him. He played 14 NFL seasons and was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1986.

Many will tell you that Ken Houston is the best safety in NFL history. In fact, John McClain, the legendary NFL writer for the Houston Chronicle and long-time voter for the Pro Football Hall of Fame, told The Texas Sports Hall of Fame Podcast, “Kenny Houston is the greatest strong safety in NFL history. It is not debatable….I’d love for somebody to try to argue that. I could recite off my head the things that he did that nobody else has done.”

Although Ken Houston retired from the football after the 1980 NFL season, he still holds records that stand even after the close of the 2019 NFL season. Houston holds the record for most defensive touchdowns in a single season, with 5. Additionally, he holds the record for most consecutive Pro Bowls by a defensive back with 12. He stands tied with Champ Bailey, who also made 12 Pro Bowls, as the NFL career leader for most cumulative Pro Bowl selections for a defensive back.

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KEN HOUSTON HOMETOWN

Ken Houston grew up in Lufkin, Texas. He attended Lufkin Dunbar High School where he also played basketball and ran track. Ken played college football at Prairie View A&M in the Southwest Athletic Conference. He told The Texas Sports Hall of Fame Podcast that Prairie View originally wanted one of Ken’s high school teammates, Wiley Smith. Smith said he didn’t want to play at Prairie View unless Ken came with him.

KEN HOUSTON COLLEGE FOOTBALL CAREER

Ken starred at linebacker for Prairie View A&M on a roster that included other future pro football stars, including Otis Taylor of the Kansas City Chiefs, Jim Kearney, and tight end Alvin Reed. Ken spoke of the great talent at Prairie View A&M in the pro football history book, The Game before the Money: Voices of the Men Who Built the NFL: “Let me tell you how thick the talent was at Prairie View: Charley Taylor felt like he couldn’t make the team and wound up going to Arizona State. He later made the Pro Football Hall of Fame.”

KEN HOUSTON WITH THE HOUSTON OILERS

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The Houston Oilers (one of the original AFL teams) selected Ken Houston in the ninth round of the 1967 AFL/NFL combined draft. 1967 was the first draft that combined both the AFL and NFL. The Oilers moved Ken to safety and he intercepted four passes during his rookie season. He returned two for touchdowns. One touchdown came off a pass from Joe Namath in a game against the New York Jets at New York’s Shea Stadium. Ken also returned a blocked kick for a touchdown against the Jets, scoring two defensive touchdowns in a game that ended in a 28-28 tie. He led the AFL in defensive touchdowns in 1967 as a rookie.

The Houston Oilers played the Oakland Raiders in the 1967 AFL Championship Game. Oakland won handily, 40-7. (See above photo – Ken is #29 for the Oilers.)

Pro Football in the 1960s was much different than it is today. Ken sang in his church choir on Sundays before games when he played for the Houston Oilers. He tells that story and more in the Houston Oilers history DVD We Were the Oilers.

Ken made NFL history in 1971 when he scored 5 defensive touchdowns in a single season. He made further history by running back two interceptions for touchdowns in a single quarter! (You can hear Ken discuss that game on The Texas Sports Hall of Fame Podcast — you can also read a transcription here.) Ken’s second return gave the Oilers the lead in the third quarter in their eventually triumph over the San Diego Chargers.

KEN HOUSTON TRADE TO WASHINGTON REDSKINS

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The Houston Oilers traded Ken Houston to the Washington Redskins in exchange for five players before the 1973 NFL season. Washington coach George Allen forced Ken to earn his job in training camp despite the fact he gave away five players to obtain the star defensive back. Ken Houston spoke about earning his job in the NFL history book The Game before the Money: “I later understood the concept. Head Coach George Allen didn’t just let you come in and step into a position. You had to earn that position so the players could respect you.”


Ken paid immediate dividends and quickly became a fan favorite. He made a game-saving tackle on Monday Night Football against Washington’s archrival, the Dallas Cowboys. Ken read the play perfectly and stopped Cowboy star running back Walt Garrison at the goal line as time expired to preserve the win.

He snagged six interceptions during his first year with the Redskins. He also recovered five fumbles that season. He continued to excel through the rest of his career in Washington, making the Pro Bowl every year except for his final season of 1980.

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KEN HOUSTON CAREER SUMMARY

Ken Houston returned nine interceptions for touchdowns in his NFL career, a record that wasn’t broken until the 2000s. He still co-owns the record for most interceptions returned for touchdowns in a season, with four. He was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1986, his first year of eligibility. He is also a member of the Texas Sports Hall of Fame.

Notable Ken Houston NFL Career Stats and Highlights

• Record for most defensive touchdowns in a season (5, 1971 – still held after 2019 season)
• Nine career interception returns for touchdowns
• Ken Houston is the only player to lead both the AFL and NFL in interception returns for touchdowns (NOTE: 1968 AFL – tied for first in pick 6s, 1971 NFL — sole possession of first)
• 1986 Pro Football Hall of Fame Class (with Paul Hornung, Willie Lanier, Fran Tarkenton, and Doak Walker)
• Named to the NFL 100 All-Time Team and 1970s All-Decade Team

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Hear NFL legends share their stories! You can listen and subscribe to The Game before the Money Podcast on your favorite listening platform, including on Apple Podcasts, iHeartRadio, Spotify, Stitcher, and Google Play.

Looking for a great NFL history book? Check out The Game Before the Money: Voices of the Men Who Built the NFL available at — Amazon.comBarnes and NobleUniversity of Nebraska Press

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