Ken Burrough Team: Houston Oilers
Career: He wanted to be Otis Taylor. The tall, graceful wideout of the Kansas City Chiefs was who Ken Burrough patterned himself after. That’s why he started out with Taylor’s number 89 when he played at Texas Southern University. But his coach made him change it.
"My coach walked up to me," explained Ken years later, "and said, ‘You’re going to either be double something or double nothing.’ After he gave me the number (00), it stuck with me."
It certainly did. The 6’3" wide receiver with blazing speed flashed "double nothing" past a decade of NFL secondaries who got used to seeing the double-oughts on the back of his jersey as often as those in the front.
After a standout high school career in northern Florida, Ken was in demand for his height and speed. At a time when most major southern schools didn’t recruit black players, Burrough found a home in Houston at TSU. He earned notoriety around the Southwestern Athletic Conference and caught the attention of many pro scouts.
Ken was taken by the New Orleans Saints with the tenth overall pick of the 1970 draft. But he wasn’t a polished receiver and he caught just 13 passes in his rookie year. The Saints thought he might not cut it in the NFL.
So Houston traded for him, along with DT Dave Rowe, for RB Hoyle Granger and their #2 pick in 1971. It was one of the Oilers’ shrewder deals during a time when they were often fleeced.
Burrough not only had to learn how to catch passes like a pro but he also had to gut out the growing pains of quarterbacks Dan Pastorini and Lynn Dickey. Pastorini could throw it a mile. Burrough could run fast enough to grab it. The trick was in providing time for Burrough to run down there and Pastorini to throw it. Given the porous offensive line, the scattershot arm of Pastorini and the iffy hands of Burrough, this play looked a lot better on the chalkboard than it did on the gridiron.
But when it worked, it was like magic.
It was a 52-yard bomb to Burrough that helped give Houston their only win of the 1972 season, 26-20, over the Jets. New York was the victims again in 1974 when, trailing late, Pastorini connected on another 52-yard strike to double-zero that set up the winning score, 27-22.
That year was the emergence out of purgatory. Burrough led the club with 36 catches for 492 yards as Houston fought its way to a 7-7 record.
The following year, 1975, was arguably Ken’s finest season. He and Pastorini hooked up six times on plays of 50 or more yards. He racked up a league-leading 1,063 yards on 53 catches for a gaudy 20-yards-per-catch average. The Oilers, in their first year under Bum Phillips, went 10-4. For a punctuation, Burrough caught a 64-yarder from Pastorini at the Pro Bowl.
Injuries to Pastorini the next season cut down Burrough’s numbers slightly. He snared 51 passes for 932 yards and seven scores. He went back to the Pro Bowl in 1977, leading the AFC with 816 yards on 43 catches, eight for touchdowns.
By now, Ken was the focus of opposing defenses. Stopping the home run throw to Burrough was a key in every NFL gameplan.
That all changed when Earl Campbell came to town in 1978. Although his role would be diminished, Burrough was still an important deep threat that opened the field. He notched just two TDs Earl’s rookie year (on 47 receptions), but he kept the defenses honest as Houston finally reached the playoffs.
He came up big in the postseason. He caught six passes for 103 yards in the Wild Card game in Miami then grabbed a 71-yard bomb for the first score during the playoff upset in New England. However, Ken was shut out against the Steelers in the AFC Championship.
Burrough led the Oilers for the sixth straight season in receiving the next year as Houston returned to the playoffs. Injuries, including a painful tailbone, kept Ken out for most of the postseason. He did not catch a pass in three games.
Injuries sidelined him for much of the 1980 campaign but not before Burrough lit up the Chiefs for 177 yards on seven receptions. He returned in 1981 to lead the squad again with 40 catches, 668 yards and seven scores. The players’ strike and injuries halted his 1982 season and he was let go as the Oilers began rebuilding.
Ken has had a hand in several coaching jobs since his playing days ended. Recently, he has coached a pair of minor-league pro squads in Mobile, Alabama, winning a championship in 1999.
A lot of good receivers have set up shop in the Bayou City but none could run past the secondary quite like Ken Burrough. He wore double-nothing, but he turned out to be double-something.
Houston Highlight: It wasn’t his longest or prettiest catch but, for Houston fans, there might have been none bigger.
Trailing Dallas, 24-23, before a national television audience on Thanksgiving Day in 1979, Houston had just been given a gift first down.
Pastorini changed the play at the line and sent Ken on a post pattern. He got behind cornerback Benny Barnes as Pastorini threw for pay dirt. Burrough had to slow down and use his body to shield Barnes as he grabbed the pass for a 32-yard touchdown. The extra point gave Houston their winning margin, 30-24, and bragging rights to the State of Texas for the first time over their Dallas rivals.
by Bob Hulsey
Ken Burrough’s career stats Year Catches Yards Avg. TD 1971 25 370 14.8 1 1972 26 521 20 4 1973 43 577 13.4 2 1974 36 492 13.7 2 1975 53 1063 20.1 8 1976 51 932 18.3 7 1977 43 816 19 8 1978 47 624 13.3 2 1979 40 752 18.8 6 1980 4 91 22.8 0 1981 40 668 16.7 7 Totals 413 6,906 16.7 47 Ken Burrough Home