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Routing For The Houston Oilers Football Team

Before the current NFL franchise the Houston Texans existed in the city of Houston, Texas, there was once another team that resided in Houston. Still today, this team has a deep rooted history in the condition of Texas. Many fans may know them currently as the Tennessee Titans. However, before there were the Titans, there were the Houston Oilers. Growing up as a young people in the state of Texas and watching football with my uncles, it was not possible not to find out who the Houston Oilers and Dallas Cowboys were.

There’s no one simple way to answer that question, however, the easy response would be that the Oilers 1993 season was one of sports most eventful seasons ever in team sports. For a team that had the overall talent, yet the volatile group of coaches and players that the Oilers had in 93, the likelihood of success or failure could have been viewed to the flip of a coin. Add that with several off the field incidents that kept media attention swirling around Houston for much of 1993, the 93 Houston Oilers were a team that were a perfect storm for crashing and burning.

The Magic Houston Oilers?

Although the Houston 93 documentary aired in late 2013, I did not actually catch a viewing of it until lately. I walked away with a greater understanding of why the Houston Oilers could never quite live up to their expected potential upon the viewing of what I thought was an incredibly in-depth documentary of the achievements and failures of a team’s individual season.

In order for one to truly understand the importance of the Oilers season in 1993, one could go back only a year to the previous NFL season. The Oilers, under the direction of the head coach Jack Pardee, finished the 92 season with a record of 10-6. The 10-6 record was well enough to get the Oilers into the playoffs. It marked the 6th consecutive season that the team made it to the post season. At the time in which the Oilers accomplished this effort, it was the longest such streak in the NFL.

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The Oilers offense featured several All-Pro caliber players; names that a number of you may remember even today. Among those names were quarterback Warren Moon, running back Lorenzo White, and wide receiver Haywood Jeffries. Moon, White, and Jeffries were all selected to the Pro Bowl in 1992. The Oilers franchise as a whole done some great things in 92, however, there is one playoff game in particular that would vividly define the Oilers season in 92. The referred to playoff game is still remembered by many to this very day more than twenty years later.

The Oilers faced the Buffalo Bills in the 1992 AFC Wild Card Game. The Oilers would start off strong against the Bills, claiming a 35-3 lead at the games’ halfway point. However, in the second half, Bills quarterback Frank Reich would lead the Bills on a 38-3 run against the Houston defense. The final outcome of the game was a 41-38 overtime victory for the Bills, who eliminated an Oilers team that many had predicted to become a favorite to go to the Super Bowl.

The game itself has earned the nicknamed’ The Comeback ‘, and currently remains the largest comeback victory for a team in NFL history. Defensive coordinator Jim Eddy was fired following the Oilers massive collapse against the Bills. There would be what some would call an overhaul of the amendments to take place for the Oilers following 1992. One of the biggest would be the entry of new defensive coordinator Buddy Ryan.

Former Philadelphia Eagles head coach Buddy Ryan was hired to be the Oilers new defensive coordinator following the Oilers defensive collapse against the Bills in the 1992 NFL playoffs. Ryan’s 46 defense proved to be effective for the Oilers, however, Ryan’s blunt and straight forward personality would quickly become a cause of friction among the players and coaches.

Jack Pardee, who was the Oilers head coach at the time, was rather a passive type of leader. In the’ Houston 93′ documentary, several former Oilers players mentioned that Pardee and Ryans’ styles of coaching were different. While Pardee was regarded as the head coach that somewhat shied away from the media, Buddy Ryan’s outspoken personality made many wonder who was really in charge of the team from a coaching standpoint.

Buddy Ryan not only showed a lack of respect for Jack Pardee’s authority, he also clashed with Oilers offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride on many occasions. Ryan was critical of the ‘run and shoot offense’ implemented by Gilbride during the 93 season. Ryan disrespectfully referred to the run and shoot as the ‘chuck and duck’. The tension between Ryan and the other coaches also led to intense exchanges between the Oilers offense and defense at team practices. According to former Oilers defensive end William Fuller in the Houston 93 documentary, Ryan consistently told his defensive players to ignore the game plan of the other coaches. Furthermore, Ryan often encouraged his defense to go after the offense hard. These often resulted in fights between the players.

Former Oilers quarterback Warren Moon stated in the documentary that Ryan’s 46 defense could not stop the team’s run and shoot offense. This was the catalyst for Ryan encouraging the intense practice battles. Speaking of Warren Moon, the veteran quarterback himself would play in a major role in the drama filled 1993 season of the Houston Oilers.

Talks of Super Bowl were once again swirled around the Houston Oilers with an improved defense and the majority of the Oilers core offensive unit from 92 back for another season. However, after starting off the 93 season with a 1-4 record, those talks died down fairly quickly. For some, what was probably even more surprising than the 1-4 start was the decision by head coach Jack Pardee to bench franchise quarterback Warren Moon.

Because of to the high expectations put on the team by owner Bud Adams along with the salary cap issues facing the team following the 93 season, Jack Pardee named Cody Carlson as the starting quarterback for the Oilers week 7 game against the New England Patriots. The benching of Warren Moon was viewed by some as a way for Pardee to take part of the heat off himself. Warren Moon understandably expressed disappointment with the decision as for being benched.

According to the Moon in the’ Houston 93′ documentary, he did not want Carlson to fail, but he also was trying to be the one playing. Ironically, Moon would get his wish in his first game as a backup. Cody Carlson would get injured while running in for a touchdown against New England. Moon would come off of the bench, and finally lead the Oilers to a 28-14 victory over the Patriots.

Moon’s performance earned him the starting job back, however, the biggest story line would be the impetus that the Oilers gained from the win over New England. The Oilers would run off a streak of 10 straight victories following the Oilers victory over the Patriots. Despite the success the Oilers were experiencing, there would be more story lines to form; the sort of story lines that no professional sports team wants to take center stage during a season where expectations are high.

Once the AFL-NFL merger had taken place the Oilers found themselves at the back of their division. This was in the early 70s. By the conclusion of the 70s the team was making it into the playoffs every year. The 80s again proved hard for the team and they didn’t have much success until 1987. However the Houston Oilers would become one of the best AFC teams from 1987 to 1993. The city even made over $60 million dollars in improvements to the Astrodome so that more tickets could be sold for the games.

Bud Adams was getting many of the blame for the Oilers not making it to the Super Bowl. People were aware that he attempted to micromanage the sport team and often overruled the players and coaching staff. After the team lost to the Buffalo Bills when they blew a 35-3 lead in a Wild Card game Adams decided to say to them that if they didn’t make the Super Bowl in 1993 the Oilers would be through. The team managed to go 12-4 and they claimed the Central division AFC title. They were unable to make it to the Super Bowl and Adams traded their star player, Warren Moon. The Houston Oilers would never again be the strong team that they had been for the last 6 years.

Oilers offensive tackle David Williams’ pregnant wife went into labor the Saturday before the game before the Oilers week 7 game against the New England Patriots. However, Williams’ baby would not be born on the Saturday his wife went into labor. Choosing to stay with his wife until she gave birth, Williams was unable to catch a flight to adhere to the team in New England. He would miss Sundays game against the Patriots, and was fined $111, 111 by owner Bud Adams.

Team owner Bud Adams would openly criticize Williams’ decision to stay with his wife during the emergence of their child. According to Adams, Williams decision was viewed as ‘misplaced priorities’. When the mainstream media caught wind of the story, a media circus ensued around the Houston Oilers. The Oilers organization would be surrounded by talk of heated criticism following the spectacle which earned the named’ Babygate’.

While the Babygate scandal wasn’t viewed by the team as a disruption, it had unquestionably become a nationwide distraction to the Oilers. Several of Williams’ teammates expressed support, however, there were also teammates of Williams that did not approve of how he handled the situation. The entire Babygate situation brought to the fore the argument over whether football is more significant than family; a topic that has relevance even today.

On December 14, 1993, a tragic event took place that would leave a ripple effect within the Oilers organization. Oilers defensive tackle Jeff Alm lost control of his vehicle, and participated in a car accident on Interstate 610 in Houston. Alm was the driving force of the vehicle, which was also carrying his best friend Sean P. Lynch. Lynch was thrown from the vehicle upon losing control of the vehicle on a curved exit ramp.

Alm ran across the ramp to find his childhood friend lying 30 feet below him following the crash. Knowing that his friend had probably died from the crash and fall, a distraught Alm took out a shotgun and fired two shots into the atmosphere before shooting himself in the head. According to toxicology reports, Jeff Alm had a blood alcohol-level of.14, which was over the.10 legal limit.

In the Houston 93 documentary that aired on NFL Network, former Oilers running back Spencer Tillman recalled an incident between he and Alm that took place during an Oilers practice. The two players would come to exchange blows. These would lead to Tillman angrily leaving practice. However, before leaving the practice field, Tillman traded some extra verbal jabs with Alm. Nearly a week later Alm would be dead, and in the documentary, Tillman expressed regret over the whole incident between he and Alm.

Despite running off an eleven game win streak and finishing the the season with a first place finish in the AFC Central, the Oilers coaching feud between Buddy Ryan and Kevin Gilbride finally reached it’s peak. If the the pot between the two had been boiling all season, it finally bubbled over in the team’s final game of the regular season.

Now it is one thing for Ryan and Gilbride to have conflict during practice or team meetings. However, a nationally televised broadcast against the New York Jets would be the last place the Oilers organization would wish to see any conflict between coaches boil over. The incident stemmed from a pass play called by offensive Kevin Gilbride just before the half. During the play, quarterback Cody Carlson would fumble the snap, a move that infuriated defensive coordinator Buddy Ryan. Ryan began to yell at Gilbride for the call he made. The two began yelling at furiously at one another on the sideline.

When the two coaches were at arms length of each other, Ryan fired a punch at Gilbride’s face. Several players stepped in to distinguish the two coaches, however, the biggest damage from the incident was that cameras caught the the confrontation. During the Houston 93 documentary, several players stated that although Ryan threw the punch at Gilbride, the punch did not connect due to receiver Curtis Duncan stepping in. Regardless whether or not the punch connected, it was the final straw for the Oilers, who finished the season with a record of 12-4, but would have their playoff meltdown from 92, along with a season full of controversy during 93 hanging over their heads.

In the Divisional Round of the 93 playoffs, the Houston Oilers would lose in an upset to the Kansas City Chiefs. The Oilers jumped out to a quick 10-0 lead, and would carry that lead into the half. However, in the second half of the game, Chiefs quarterback Joe Montana along with running back Marcus Allen helped lead the Chiefs to 21 fourth quarter points. The final score was 28-10. The loss marked the second consecutive season where the Oilers blew a lead to lose a playoff game.

The year 1993 marked the final time the Houston Oilers made the playoffs while in the city of Houston. Owner Bud Adams kept his word from the 92 disappointment, and decided to dismantle the team. Quarterback Warren Moon would be traded to the Minnesota Vikings, while Cody Carlson took over at the team’s starting quarterback. Buddy Ryan left as defensive coordinator for a head coaching job with the Arizona Cardinals. Several key players on the sides of the ball also left the Oilers.

One of the NFL’s best teams from a talent and statistical standpoint was officially done, and so were a lot of the fans of Houston. Owner Bud Adams lobbied for a new arena for the team to play in, but never received the necessary funding. Adams eventually would begin to shop the Oilers for other cities. By the 1996 season, crowds at the Astrodome were fewer than 20, 000. The team was eventually moved to Nashville, Tennessee, where they became the Tennessee Titans. The Titans have have been in the NFL since 1999. The city of Houston would not see another professional football franchise until 2002, when the Houston Texans launched their inaugural campaign.

The move of the Oilers to Nashville, Tennessee was announced at the end of the 1995 season. The Tennessee city had made a promise of posting $144 million for a new bowl and $70 million in ticket revenues. Houston would give no extra money to Adams because this move was deemed to be treacherous by the Houston residents and city officials. The team played their last season in Houston before so few people that the on field conversations could be heard by anyone in the grandstand seats.

What I gathered from watching the The NFL Network’s A Football Life :’ Houston 93′ documentary was that the Oilers organization as whole got in the way of itself. When I say organization, I’m referring not just to the coaches and players, but the front office as well. When it comes to professional football, it’s tough enough to earn a championship as it is. Most would declare that it not only takes having the right team and coaches, but likewise the right set of circumstances.

The circumstances that surrounded the Houston Oilers in 1993 are probably what helped lead to their death. If you take unusual circumstances, controversial issues, feuding coaches and players from within the organization, and you’ve got the recipe for what probably kept the Oilers from reaching their objective of going to the Super Bowl. The added media attention due to issues that were not entirely football related did not help either. Basically, the team as a whole probably was not as focused as they should’ve been, and there was too much division within the organization from top to bottom. The sad part about all of this was in essence, the Oilers position within the city of Houston rested on this one season. Things were never the same for the Oilers following this season.

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