Spot On: Luv Ya Blue and Lots More

Russell S. Baxter

Spot On: Luv Ya Blue and Lots More

By Brandon Fazzolari

Special to Pro Football Guru

On Saturday, the Houston Texans and the franchise formerly known as the Houston Oilers will both see action. Here’s a trip down memory lane and look back at three exciting periods of pro football in one of the best cities in the United States: Houston, Texas.

The AFL Days

The Oilers exploded on to the scene by winning the first two American Football League championships. Led by a trio of great offensive players in 1960, the Oilers finished 10-4 and played only one bad game the entire season. Quarterback George Blanda was considered an “NFL Reject” as Chicago Bears owner George Halas only wanted to use Blanda as a kicker, so he left for the expansion league. Along with wide receiver Charley Hennigan and running back Billy Cannon, the resurgent Blanda set the AFL ablaze with a rock solid 1960 campaign. In the championship game, Blanda connected with Cannon for an 88-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter. Houston defeated the San Diego Chargers, 24-16.

Blanda won the AFL MVP one season later. After a slow start, the Oilers won their final nine regular season games averaging a whopping 41 points per game. It was the defense, however, that captured the title when they were able to slow down the Chargers to the tune of a 10-3 victory.

Houston would try to make it a three-peat in 1962. However, in possibly the greatest game in AFL history, they were defeated by the Dallas Texans in double overtime.

The Oilers captured two more playoff appearances late in the decade but were destroyed both times by the powerful Oakland Raiders.

Luv Ya Blue

Houston fell on very hard times during the early part of the next decade. Owner Bud Adams went with offensive guru Sid Gillman as the head coach in 1973. Gillman subsequently hired Bum Phillips as defensive coordinator. After two abysmal seasons, Phillips replaced Gillman and the Oilers “Luv Ya Blue” Era was launched.

In 1978, the Oilers qualified for the postseason thanks to a stingy defense and the incomparable skills of rookie running back Earl Campbell. In the wild card game, the Oilers upended the Miami Dolphins, outgaining them 455-209 in the process. A week later, they absolutely stunned the Patriots, 31-14 in New England. Quarterback Dan Pastorini was efficient and effective while Campbell rushed for 118 yards on 27 carries.

Unfortunately for Houston, they ran into a juggernaut and an ice storm in Pittsburgh. The Steelers crushed the Oilers in the gross weather conditions, 34-5.

Again, Houston qualified for the wild card round in 1979, and again, they finished behind the amazing Steelers. The Oilers held off the Denver Broncos by a score of 13-7, but lost Pastorini and Campbell in the process. Next, they traveled to San Diego to face Don Coryell’s record-setting Chargers in the divisional round. In a stunner, Dan Fouts played possibly the worst game of his NFL career while Oilers’ safety Vernon Perry played his best. Perry picked off an astounding four passes and Houston got just enough offense from backup quarterback Gifford Nielsen. He hit Mike Renfro for the winner in the fourth quarter and Houston was headed back to Pittsburgh for a second straight season to play for the AFC title.

In a much more competitive game, Perry and Renfro again made the big plays. Perry picked off Terry Bradshaw and bolted to the end zone to give Houston an early lead. In the end, though, a missed call by the officials cost the Oilers some points on an apparent-Renfro score. And, of course, the Steelers of that era were simply a cut above the Oilers and everybody else for that matter.

Houston qualified for the wild card again in 1980 but were trounced by the eventual Super Bowl XV champion Raiders, essentially bringing to an end the fun Bum Phillips Era of Oilers football.

House of Pain

While Phillips’ teams were easy to love, the Oilers under Jerry Glanville and then Jack Pardee of 1987-93 featured one tumultuous event after another. A constant of the era, however, was the brilliance of future Hall of Fame quarterback Warren Moon. Moon engineered a run and shoot offense to near perfection during the regular season. Often times, though, it would turn out to be a different story in the postseason.

For example:

1987: They beat Seattle in OT in the wild card game before getting crushed at Denver.

1988: They defeated Cleveland 24-23 in the wild card game. One week later, they lost at Buffalo.

1989: The Oilers lost to Pittsburgh 26-23 in OT in the wild card game.

1990: Houston got pummeled at Cincinnati in the wild card round.

1991: They outlasted the Jets in the wild card round. Then, they lost a heartbreaker at Denver.

1992: Houston experienced the worst collapse in NFL history as they lost to Buffalo despite leading 35-3 in the third quarter.

All of those Oilers teams were good. However, they pale when compared to the 1993 squad. Defensive genius Buddy Ryan was hired as DC finally giving the Oilers a defense that was the equal to their exciting offense. After a poor September, Houston rattled off 11 consecutive victories and claimed the AFC’s second seed. Then, disaster struck. Houston welcomed Joe Montana and the Kansas City Chiefs to the Astrodome also known as the “House of Pain” in the divisional round. And, pain is exactly what the Oilers experienced on this afternoon. KC punched them in the gut, winning 28-20 in an upset.

The Oilers would never be the same. In 1994, they finished 2-14. And, in 1996, they played their last game ever as the Houston Oilers.

So, this Saturday, when you watch the Texans play, reflect on the greatness of George Blanda and Earl Campbell. And, when you tune in to watch the Titans, take a moment to imagine Warren Moon throwing spirals in that beautiful Columbia blue home jersey.

Brandon Fazzolari (@spot_bills) is a lifelong Buffalo Bills fan and a Vegas sports reporter for Vegas the Network.

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