Houston Pro Football: Joy and Pain
With 2019-2020 season around the corner nothing sums up professional football in Houston more than Frankie Beverley and Maze July 14, 1980, hit Joy and Pain. Growing up in Houston pain is a right of passage when it comes to the Oilers/Texans. My earliest memories were my dad’s complete dislike of a certain team from Ohio (no not the Browns). Which steamed from back to back playoff losses to the Pittsburgh Steelers in the late 70. I remember the many lean years in the 80s and the biggest collapse in playoff history in Buffalo. To the Oilers leaving for Tennessee in the late 90s.
But their great moments as well Luv Ya Blue, drafting Warren Moon, Run and Shoot era and that is why the song Joy and Pain sum up Houston football and sports in general so well.
They were owned by Bud Adams, a Houston oilman, who had made several previous unsuccessful bids for an NFL expansion team in Houston. The Oilers began play in 1960 as a charter member of the American Football League (AFL). The Oilers won the first-ever AFL championship and again in 1961. The AFL and the NFL were in a talent arms race in the sixties both competing for talent. That’s why signing LSU Heisman Trophy winner Billy Cannon was a huge victory over the NFL.
Adams was an influential member of the eight original AFL owners since he, Dallas Texans/Kansas City Chiefs founder Lamar Hunt and Buffalo Bills founder Ralph Wilson were more financially stable than the other five. The Oilers became the first professional football team to play in a dome starting in 1968. The Oilers found success starting in 1975 when they hired Bum Phillips and the era of Luv YA Blue was born.
Luv Ya Blue era
“Last year we knocked on the door. This year we beat on it. Next year we’re going to kick the son of a bitch in!” -Bum Phillip
1978 was the year when everything started to come together when the Oilers drafted Tyler Texas and The University of Texas great Earl Campbell. This is where the pain begins as the Oilers reached the AFC Championship Game in two consecutive seasons. The Oilers lost to the Super Bowl champion Pittsburgh Steelers 34–5 in 1978 and 27–13 in 1979. 1980 saw the Texans make the playoffs again but lost to the Oakland Raiders 27-7. Following this loss, Bud Adams fired Phillips and brought in Ed Biles.
More pain not much joy
The next several years saw losing season after losing season. The Oilers went 7–9 in 1981, and 1–8 in the strike-shortened 1982 season. In 1983, Houston went 2–14. Biles resign halfway through the season and was replaced by interim coach Chuck Studley. Hugh Campbell took over the next year and the Oilers fortune change when they won a bidding war for The University Of Washington and CFL great Warren Moon. The future Hall of Famer Earl Campbell was traded to New Orleans during the off-season and was replaced by Mike Rozier
Finally joy (but back to pain)
Hugh Campbell was replaced by Jerry Glanville late in the season. In 1987 strike-shortened season the Oilers made the playoffs for the first time in seven years. After beating the Seahawks in overtime, they fell to Denver in the divisional round. Going 10–6 in 1988, The Oilers again got into the playoffs. As a wild card, beat Cleveland in a snowy 24–23 match, and then lost to Buffalo a week later. 1989 saw a 9–7 regular season, but the team gained a wild card berth.
In a messy, penalty-ridden game, they were beaten by their 70s rival The Pittsburgh Steelers.
In 1987, Adams threatened to move the team to Jacksonville, Florida (later the home of Jacksonville Jaguars). Unless the Astrodome was “brought up to date”(This would not be the last time). Harris County not wanting to lose The Oilers added 10,000 seats and 65 luxury boxes. Adams’ constant demands going forward definitely come into play later.
In 1991 the Oilers won their first division title in 25 years. But this is where the pain comes back. With two minutes left in the divisional round game vs the Denver Broncos. John Elway led the Broncos 80 yards for the game-winning field goal. In 1992 (a game that still hurts even today) the Oilers blew a 32 point halftime lead. The Buffalo Bill came all the way back in the AFC wild-card game that is known as ‘The Comeback“. In 1993, the Oilers finished 12-4 the best record in franchise history at the time but yet again lost in the playoffs. This time to Joe Montana and the Kansas City Chiefs.
Final years in Houston
Adams again tried for a new stadium. Harris County leary of a new stadium so soon after improvements did not agree to a new stadium. Adams, sensing that he was not going to get the stadium he wanted, began shopping the Oilers to other cities. After the 1995 season, Adams announced that the Oilers would be leaving for Nashville. The last few years were a disaster were most games did not even get broadcast locally.
Football is back!
In 1999 Houston finally had football back when Robert Mcnair was granted an expansion team for 1 billion dollars. On Sept. 8th, the Texans become the first NFL team in 41 years to win their expansion debut. Stunning the Dallas Cowboys 19-10 before 69,604 at Reliant Stadium. QB David Carr throws two touchdown passes, including a 19-yarder to TE Billy Miller for the club’s first-ever touchdown. DT Seth Payne sacks Cowboys QB Quincy Carter in the end zone for a safety to clinch the victory.
The Texans struggled in the 2000s but finally made their first playoffs in 2011. There have been division championships since 2011 but never further than the division round. 2019-2020 is the next chance to take the next step.
Maze famous Joy and Pain song really sums up a lot of Houston sports fans experience through the years. An NFL champion in Houston would bring joy to a city that is consumed with football. The upcoming season will feature Deshaun Watson, Deandre Hopkins, and JJ Watt and I will be previewing the season in my next article.
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