By Michael Sudhalter
Sports broadcaster and former NFL running back Spencer Tillman is proud to call Fort Bend County home.
Tillman, 51, moved to Missouri City while he was a running back with the Houston Oilers in 1993 and now lives in Sugar Land.
“I like the diversity and the eclectic aspect of Fort Bend,” Tillman said. “That diversity provides an opportunity for Americans to live out our nation’s creed.”
Tillman broadcasts college football games for Fox Sports, along with Tim Brando. He’s done NFL games, college basketball as well. He also contributes locally to Houston Texans coverage on Channel 13.
But how does his current job compare with the excitement of an eight-year NFL career?
“There are a lot of similarities between preparing for a broadcast and game planning,” Tillman said. “In college football, you have to learn about 53 new people each week.”
Tillman is part of an elite group of football players who have championship rings in both college football – Oklahoma (1985) and the NFL (1989 San Francisco 49ers).
“The college championship means more, but the Super Bowl is worth more,” Tillman said. “It can be leveraged because of its honor in our society.”
During his career, he played for legendary coaches Barry Switzer and the late Bill Walsh and alongside quarterbacks Joe Montana, Troy Aikman and Warren Moon.
A native of Tulsa, Okla., Tillman chose his home state’s flagship university for its academic prestige and football tradition.
While playing for the Sooners, he became interested in communications and broadcasting and earned a Communications degree in it from the Norman, Okla. university.
“Coach Switzer had the capacity to identify with a lot of the young men he was recruiting,” Tillman said. “He still calls me and says he loves me. He gave me a shout-out when they gave him the Lifetime Achievement Award on ESPN. Things like that don’t happen without relationships.”
Tillman, the MVP of the 1987 Orange Bowl, is looking forward to his Sooners upcoming trip to NRG Stadium on Sept. 3 to face the University of Houston.
He loved being part of the annual OU-Texas rivalry but misses traditional rivalries such as Oklahoma-Nebraska, which was one of college football’s biggest rivalries when he played.
“College football isn’t getting too big – it’s getting stupid,” Tillman said. “The currency of college football is tradition.”
Tillman was drafted by the Houston Oilers and played his first two pro seasons for the franchise. After the 1988 season, he was watching a San Francisco 49ers playoff game on television.
“I told myself ‘that’s where I want to be’,” Tillman said.
He wrote a letter to the 49ers management about why he wanted to join their legendary franchise.
A year later, he was back on the Gulf Coast, but this time, it was celebrating a Super Bowl XXIV win over the Denver Broncos at the Louisiana Superdome in New Orleans.
Tillman was amazed by Coach Walsh’s brilliance.
“It was profound,” Tillman said. “He created the Red Zone concept as a way to get players to perform to their maximum ability from inside the 20 yard line. He always put ‘Red Zone’ at end of practice. If we didn’t do well, it would continue, so our attention would become laser-like.”
Before long, the rest of the league adopted Red Zone production as a benchmark for their own franchises.
After three seasons in San Francisco, Tillman returned to Houston in 1992.
The jubilation of a Super Bowl title in 1989 was juxtaposed with one of sports’ greatest comebacks/collapses (depending on your perspective) when the Oilers gave up a 32-point lead in a 41-38 loss to the Buffalo Bills.
“We had as much talent on that Houston team as we did in San Francisco – what was different was the leadership,” Tillman said.
Tillman said he believes if the Oilers had reached the Super Bowl that year – instead of a first-round exit – they would have stayed in Houston.
“Bud Adams would have had the political capital to build a new stadium,” Tillman said. “There’s no question that (the Oilers leaving) hurts. Tradition is the currency of the game, and that represented a chunk of tradition killed. That hurts.”