One of the original members of the American Football League, the Oilers were the premier team of time. Playing in the first three AFL championship games, winning the first two over the Los Angeles (and later San Diego) Chargers. During the third championship game run, the Oilers played the Dallas Texans (now Cowboys) in the longest game in history, falling 20-17 in double overtime. During their initial seasons, the Oilers played at both Jeppesen Stadium and Rice Stadium. The Oilers became the first AFL team to play in a domed stadium, the Astrodome in 1968.
The AFL/NFL Merger
When the NFL absorbed the American Football League in 1970, the success for the Oilers came to an abrupt end, winning only nine total games as during their first four seasons. Up and down seasons during the mid-1970s highlighted by the play of Billy “Whiteshoes” Johnson and led by Bum Phillips, saw the team’s success finally begin to turn the corner by the end of the decade. The Oilers selected running back Earl Campbell, out of Texas to lead the offensive attack. Campbell, along with Mike Renfro, helped lead the Oilers to back-to-back AFC championship games, only to lost to the eventual Super Bowl champion Pittsburgh Steelers. The decade ended on a high note as the Oilers were once again considered one of the elite teams in the NFL.
The Bottom Falls Out
Even though the Oilers made the playoffs again in 1980, the decade was one of the worst in franchise history, as the miles began to take their toll on a quickly aging Campbell, who was eventually dealt to New Orleans. A multitude of coaching changes by owner Bud Adams left little in the way of consistency on the field. The Oilers did acquire the rights to CFL star quarterback Warren Moon, along with drafting Heisman winner Mike Rozier. The Oilers returned to the playoffs in 1987 and were knocked out by Denver in the divisional round. Houston made the playoffs again in ’88 and ’89, and sowed the seeds of early 1990s success along with seeing the Astrodome renovated under the threat of relocation to Jacksonville.
Rise and Fall
The Oilers quickly became the elite team of the AFC Central during the first years of the ’90s. Winning three straight division titles, but getting knocked out short of the Super Bowl each time-including heartbreaking losses to Denver and Buffalo, owner Bud Adams stripped the team of all prevalent talent, trading away the likes of Warren Moon and other key members of the team. The team never enjoyed the success previously known while remaining in Houston.
After having received millions of dollars for renovations to the Astrodome at the end of the 80s, owner Bud Adams wanted a new stadium with the latest in amenities and club seating. The mayor of Houston refused his request, given the bust of the oil industry currently ongoing at the time. Adams then went into secret negotiations with the City of Nashville to relocate the Oilers, which is what occurred prior to the 1997 season.
Hall of Fame Members
The Houston Oilers have several members of the Pro Football Hall of Fame including: Warren Moon, Sid Gilman, Earl Campbell, Elvin Bathea, Ken Houston, Bruce Matthews, and current Tennessee Titans (formerly the Houston Oilers) coach Mike Munchak.
Ronnie Desmond is a freelance writer who focuses on a variety of issues pertaining to sports, including sports history, Pro Sports Injury, sports memorabilia, sports contracts and other topics as well.