Team: Houston Oilers
Career: Bum Phillips once joked that on his tombstone it should read, "He’d have lived a lot longer if he hadn’t faced Pittsburgh six times in two years." Willie Alexander could say the same about Steeler receivers Lynn Swann and John Stallworth. And that doesn’t even count the bi-annual matchups with Cincinnati’s Isaac Curtis.
At 6’2", the lanky cornerback was often matched up against the big receivers of his day. Drafted in the sixth round from Alcorn State in 1971, Alexander manned the corner in Houston for nine years. He watched the Oilers sink to the depths of futility then stayed around long enough to see it turn to playoff glory.
Overshadowed by the selections of quarterbacks Dan Pastorini and Lynn Dickey in that year’s draft, Willie quietly worked his way into the starting lineup, joining All-Pro Ken Houston in the secondary along with Zeke Moore and John Charles. Alexander picked off four passes in his rookie season.
There wasn’t much to cheer about during the next two seasons – back-to-back 1-13 campaigns. The defense was frequently torched and the offense struggled. Alexander had four interceptions over those two lean years. His fumble recovery against the Jets helped Houston claim their only win of 1972. He had five more picks during the following three seasons as the Oilers won back some respect.
As a quiet and steady veteran, Willie’s value was evident to Phillips even as younger men fought to take his job.
"Willie is a self-made football player, a dedicated self-made football player," remarked Bum. "He knows all the techniques, knows what to do, and he’s intelligent enough to know his limitations.
It wasn’t blazing speed that let Alexander keep up with the likes of Stallworth and Curtis. It was guile and savvy that helped him find the right angle and proper position to keep the big play from happening on his watch.
By 1977, the Oilers were no longer a joke. In a tough division, Houston held their own against the Steelers, Bengals and Browns but just missed the playoffs. Willie swiped three passes that season and scored the only touchdown of his pro career.
The 1978 campaign might have been his best. In a season filled with tight contests, Willie snared a career-high five aerials. His reward was a long-awaited trip to the playoffs. Postseason victories on the road in Miami and Massachusetts must have been sweeter still to longsuffering Oilers like Alexander, Pastorini and Elvin Bethea. The ride ended one step short of the Super Bowl.
Alexander closed out his NFL career with two more picks during the 1979 season, less than teammate Vernon Perry had in one afternoon. But Houston made it back to the AFC Championship game, only to lose to Pittsburgh a second time. Willie stayed in Houston after retiring and started his own company, W. J. Alexander and Associates, which consults on employee benefits and insurance needs for several major Texas employers. He remains active in local charities and has been a visible supporter of the Houston Texans.
Houston Highlight : Already two games behind the hot Steelers heading into Week 5 of the 1978 season, the Oilers had to visit 3-1 Cleveland with Earl Campbell injured. The defense stepped up to seal a 16-13 victory as Alexander swiped a pass from Brian Sipe that thwarted a Browns drive. Mike Reinfeldt and Robert Brazile followed with picks of their own. Toni Fritsch provided the margin of victory. Without that effort, Houston would have started the season 2-4 and would have likely missed the playoffs. Willie Alexander Return to Houston Pro Football Find out who else has made the All-Time Team.