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Relocated NFL Teams: The Houston Oilers

NFL outfit Tennessee Oilers can trace their history to a franchise called Houston Oilers who played in the league from 1960 to 1996. The team was started as a Charter member of the AFL in 1960. Throughout their 36 years, the team was owned by Bud Adams. The Oilers nickname arose from the heritage of Houston as an oil mining city. As with many cities in Texas, Houston’s economy is heavily dependent on the oil industry. The team’s derrick logo also speaks of the City’s heritage. The Oilers wore blue jerseys for home games and white when playing away.

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Erratic is perhaps the best word to describe the oiler’s on-field performance. They came out of the blocks guns blazing, to win the first two AFL championships but never won another championship as their assault for a third consecutive trophy was thwarted by the Dallas Texans in the 1962 Final. After that season, the occasional division championship and playoff championship was all the Oilers fans had to savor. In total, the Oilers won 2 AFL championships, 6 division championships and made 14 playoff appearances.

The Oilers impressed in fits. The 1972 and 1973 seasons were the most humiliating seasons for the Oilers. On both of those seasons, the team finished with a 1-13 record, being outscored 447-199 in the latter season. Coach Bill Peterson whose record with the Oilers was a dismal 1-18 naturally became the fall guy. This was just the worst of a streak between 1967 and 1977 in which they did not see playoff football. In 1978 and 1979 they came within a whisker of reaching the super bowl. They lost to the Pittsburg Steelers on both occasions and each time tens of thousands of loyal fans greeted them back home at the Astrodome with banners written “Love Ya Blue.”

The Oilers made an unenviable piece of history in 1992 in the AFC wild card playoff game against the Buffalo Bills. Early in the third quarter, the Oilers held a 35-3 lead thanks largely to Warren Moon’s 371 yards passes. The team looked set for a win but the unthinkable happened and they capitulated in spectacular fashion to allow the Bills a 41-38 win. To date this remains the biggest lead ever blown n NFL history and the game is famously known as just “The Comeback.”

Many fans considered Bud Adams to be a major stumbling block to the Oilers. He was a notorious micromanager, requiring expenditures greater than $200 to go through him first. He was also notoriously impatient with the team at times. For example in 1993 with the team struggling to rise from the ashes of the poor 1980s, he gave an ultimatum that unless the team reached the Super Bowl he would break it up. The team upped their game and put together a 12-4 record which was actually their best ever and the followed this up with an AFC Central Title. Despite the good performance, Adams actuated his threat and sold many of his first teamers including star quarterback Warren Moon. The team returned to oblivion the next season finishing 2-14.

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Why Did The Oilers Relocate?

In 1987, Adams threatened to relocate the team unless the City of Houston renovated and expanded the Astrodome which at the time had the lowest capacity (50,000) in the NFL. The city obliged and gave the stadium a $67 million facelift which included 10000 additional seats and a new Astroturf. In 1995, he came up with new demands this time a new stadium that was at par with newer NFL stadiums. Houston mayor Bob Lanier however turned him down despite fans desperately wishing to keep the Oilers. When it was clear a new stadium would not be forthcoming, Adams started looking for alternative cities. He announced in 1995 that the Oilers would move to Nashville, Tennessee in 1998. Interest in the franchise in Houston disappeared with fewer than 20000 fans showing up for games following the announcement. Eventually the city, Adams and the NFL agreed to terminate the lease to the Astrodome allowing the team to leave two years earlier than planned. After the move to Tennessee in 1996, the team was renamed the “Tennessee Oilers” before changing to “Tennessee Titans” after one season. Meanwhile Houston was awarded an expansion franchise which became the Houston Texans. The new team built a new arena called the Reliant Stadium next to the Astrodome. They also adopted the Oilers’ red white and blue strip.

Who Were Some Houston Oilers Notable Players?

Earl Campbell RB 1978-1984
Warren Moon QB 1984-1993
Mike Munchak G 1982-1993
Ken Houston S 1967-1972
Edwin Bethea DE 1968-1983
Dave Casper TE 1980-1983
George Blanda QB 1960-1966
Bruce Matthews G 1983-1996
Curley Culp DT 1974-1980
Charlie Joiner WR 1969-1972
John Henry Johnson RB 1966
Jim Norton S/P 1960–68

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