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Pro Football Hall of Fame bios
Tuesday, July 29
Updated: August 3, 11:52 AM ET
Bethea still owns franchise mark for sacks
HOUSTON -- For years, Elvin Bethea repeatedly played down his chances of making the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Well, it turns out he was wrong.
As quiet off the field as his hits were loud on it, Bethea starred for 16 seasons as a defensive end with the Houston Oilers, setting the team's record for sacks and helping it reach two AFC championship games.
On Sunday, he'll be inducted in Canton, Ohio, along with running back Marcus Allen, guard Joe DeLamielleure, wide receiver James Lofton and coach Hank Stram.
"You can't get any higher than this and you can't take it away from me now," Bethea said.
A third-round pick out of North Carolina A&T in 1968, the 6-foot-2, 260-pound Bethea was an immediate starter with the Oilers.
When he retired in 1983, Bethea had accumulated 105 sacks and 691 tackles. He experienced the highs and lows of the franchise, from consecutive 1-13 seasons in 1973 and 1974 to the teams that fell one victory short of the Super Bowl in 1978 and 1979.
And all that despite playing a lot in a 3-4 alignment Bethea wasn't thrilled about.
"If he'd played in a four-man front all his career, a lot of people would be chasing him for the all-time sack lead," Hall of Fame offensive lineman Art Shell said. "People don't realize that the guy was so quick and strong."
Former Oilers coach Bum Phillips used the 3-4 extensively.
"Let me tell you about Elvin: He was quiet around the dressing room, but he was loud on the field," Phillips said. "He didn't do a lot of talking, just a lot of playing. He was always in top condition. Elvin could play a whole ball game defensively, and in the fourth quarter he was still fresh."
If anyone knows Bethea as a player it would be Shell, who played against him in college and in the pros. The former Oakland Raiders star recalled the way his team would double- and triple-team Bethea. Gene Upshaw would help block, too.
"We had two people block him, and if he got by one we had Upshaw waiting," Shell said. "He'd get to cussing and going at us: 'I'll get you the next time.' We really had a lot of fun."
Bethea chose Hornsby Howell, his former college line coach, to introduce him at Sunday's ceremony.
"The good part about Elvin was that he was the kind of athlete who worked hard even when nobody was watching him," Howell said. "He came in with a good work ethic and his morals were good."
Bethea's most memorable game as a pro was an improbable victory over the San Diego Chargers in the 1979 playoffs. The Oilers were devastated by injuries, with quarterback Dan Pastorini, running back Earl Campbell and wide receiver Kenny Burrough sidelined.
No defense seemed to be able to stop Chargers quarterback Dan Fouts that season.
"Everything worked perfectly. Fouts was supposed to be the best thing that ever dropped on this earth, and we shut him down," Bethea said. "We knew we were good. We played on character."
The AFC title game losses to the Pittsburgh Steelers deprived Bethea of a chance for a Super Bowl ring. But after each of those defeats, thousands of fans filled the Astrodome for a rally in support of the Oilers.
"We had decent teams, a lot of characters and a lot of character," Bethea said. "The thing that stood out was the fans -- coming back, and those 50,000 fans in the dome after we got beat.
"Those were two great nights I'll never forget."