The Tennessee Titans recently unveiled throwback uniforms for the upcoming season. In a teaser video, star running back Derrick Henry, cornerback Kevin Byard, defensive lineman Jeffery Simmons and quarterback Ryan Tannehill sport powder blue jerseys, white pants with blue/red striping, and a white helmet featuring the iconic blue oil derrick — a logo and color scheme that will look very familiar to Houston Oilers fans.
The uniforms worn by those Titans players are the same ones worn (and owned) by the Houston Oilers during their heyday in the 1980s and 1990s (the Oilers wore the uniforms from 1981-1996). The NFL says the Titans will be wearing these throwback uniforms in at least two games this season. It’s the first time they’ve donned them in a Titans home game. But why are the Tennessee Titans using colors and branding associated with Houston? The answer involves some important Houston history.
The Houston Oilers were founded by owner Bud Adams in Houston, Texas. They played in Houston from 1960 to 1996. Coach Bum Phillips was the head coach from 1975 to 1980. He took over a team that hadn’t been a winning team for eight seasons and made it a contender. Phillips took the Oilers to the AFC Championship Game in 1978 and 1979.
But after he was fired in 1980, the Oilers suffered through three losing seasons.
In the mid-1980s, the Oilers rebounded. Under coach Jerry Glanville and Jack Pardee, they made the playoffs every season between 1985 and 1993. The Oilers won their second division title in 1993. But after they lost in the second round of the playoffs, owner Bud Adams threatened to hold a fire sale of the team. He traded quarterback Warren Moon and fired Pardee after a 1-9 start to the 1994 season.
Then Bud Adams decided to skip town. Adams reportedly became unhappy that the city of Houston wouldn’t build a new stadium for the Oilers. Adams wanted a football stadium downtown that could be shared with the Houston Rockets but that was a non-starter. So, Adams began looking for greener pastures. He settled on Nashville after being offered a “relocation package” worth $292 million.
The lease was supposed to last through 1997, but Adams pulled the plug and bought out his lease early. On May 1, 1996, NFL owners approved a move to Nashville. The team’s final game in Houston was on Dec. 15, 1996. (They lost.) And by the end of the next season, Adams had hightailed it out of Texas and taken the Oilers with him.
The team was called the Tennessee Oilers in 1997, playing under that name for two seasons before they became the Tennessee Titans in 1999. But the Titans still own the records, uniforms and branding of the Houston Oilers. Bud Adams’ daughter Amy Adams Strunk now owns the team (and its colors). “Oilers history is Titans history,” Strunk said last year. “We know our fans feel passionately about showcasing that legacy on game day, and we’re actively working on making throwback jerseys possible in the near future.”
People were indeed passionate about the uniforms. The Titans started trending on Twitter Sunday night, as users shared their takes on the uniforms. Texans fans weren’t thrilled with the look: former Texans defensive end J.J. Watt said it pained him to see the Oilers throwbacks in Tennessee, and one user complained on Twitter: “This is an example of why when a pro team moves, they should be forced to relinquish the name. There’s no way the Texans shouldn’t be the Houston Oilers right now.” But while the Texans fanbase is upset by the move, Titans fans are thrilled. NFL reporter Ari Meirov called the uniforms “gorgeous,” and some Titans fans have already labeled them the best throwbacks in the league.
This uniform controversy amplifies an already strong rivalry between the Houston Texans and Tennessee Titans. The two teams will face one another on December 17th at Nissan Stadium in Nashville, TN and again on New Year’s Eve at NRG Stadium.