Position: Kick Returner
Team: Houston Oilers
Career: The story of how Carl Roaches came to be an Oiler is the stuff of legend.
Desperate for someone to energize their woebegone special teams, made weaker by yet another injury to Billy "White Shoes" Johnson, Bum Phillips, still in the afterglow of vowing to "kick the son of a bitch in," pulled Roaches from his day job as an ice cream truck driver and inserted him into a fierce battle for the AFC Central crown. And did Roaches ever deliver. The media loved his rags to riches story, of course, as did the fans. And soon, Roaches became the very personification of the overachieving, blue collar, no names Phillips used to help form the foundation of the Luv Ya Blue era.
Only problem, the story wasn’t true.
Phillips actually plucked Roaches from his 8-to-5 job at the Arco Oil Company. You see, the ice cream truck was just his secondary gig.
But even the four years off from professional football didn’t seem to bother the former Aggie, who was originally drafted, and then cut, by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 1976. He electrified the league in 1980, and helped the Oilers to their third consecutive playoff appearance. Roaches’ Cinderella run would not end until February of 1982, when he joined 3 other Oilers in Honolulu for the NFL Pro Bowl. It would be his one and only appearance, capping a remarkable two-year run that would see him average 23.3 yards per kickoff return and 7.9 yards per punt return. Included in those numbers was a 96-yard return for a touchdown, the fourth longest in team history.
From that moment in Hawaii forward, the Oilers, desperate to do anything and everything to erase the lingering shadow of the Phillips’ regime, went about trying to replace Roaches each and every July. But Roaches continued to defy odds and hang around until the summer of 1985, when he was officially released. After a brief tenure with New Orleans, Roaches retired.
Roaches remains the second ranked kickoff and punt returner in franchise history. But perhaps most impressive of all, he was able to step into the crazy-legged shoes of Johnson, a perennial crowd favorite, and pick up right where White Shoes left off, minus the spectacular end zone dance. But then, could Johnson drive an ice cream truck?
Houston Highlight: On September 18, 1983, with the Oilers in the midst of one of their worst-ever seasons, Roaches offered fans a quick reminder of the halcyon Luv Ya Blue days. Darting through the Steelers’ special teams, Roaches hung a 97-yard touchdown on the eventual division champs. The kick return marked the longest of Roaches’ career, and the third longest in Oiler history. It also remains the longest kickoff return by an Oiler inside the Astrodome. But as was par for the Oilers’ course in those days, the team still lost that Sunday afternoon.