A Brief History of … Houston and the Super Bowl

“When you’re talking Houston, you’re talking Super Bowl” – a paraphrased quote from the “Houston Oilers #1,” fight song of the late-1970s, aptly describes this week as Super Bowl 51 descends upon the Bayou City.

Super Bowls and Houston have rarely walked hand-in-hand. The Oilers won the first two American Football League championships before the AFL/NFL merger agreed upon in 1966 birthed the first Super Bowl. The Oilers lost the 1967 AFL Championship Game to the Oakland Raiders, missing out on a trip to Super Bowl 2.

Houston’s football team couldn’t provide the city with a Super Bowl, but the NFL awarded Super Bowl 8 to Rice Stadium in Houston, the first Super Bowl ever played in Houston. The Miami Dolphins pounded the Minnesota Viking 24-7. In The Game before the Money: Voices of the Men Who Built the NFL, Dolphin quarterback Bob Griese stated he thought the Dolphins team that won Super Bowl 8 was even better than the undefeated 1972 Dolphins of the previous season.

The Super Bowl wouldn’t return to Houston for a very long time. Super Bowl dreams, however, vividly painted the minds of Houston Oiler fans in the late-1970s. Known as the “Luv Ya Blue” era (featured in our new documentary, We Were the Oilers: The Luv Ya Blue Era), the Houston Oilers captured the hearts of fans across the country. As the “Urban Cowboy” fashion fad gained popularity, the Oilers featured a real cowboy as head coach, Bum Phillips. The Oilers also had one of the league’s most exciting running backs in Earl Campbell, and the flamboyant Dan Pastorini at quarterback. The Oilers became so popular that starlet Farrah Fawcett called Pastorini after a game, leading to a brief romance.

The Oilers came within one game of the Super Bowl two years in a row – in 1978 and 1979. Hall of Fame Defensive End Elvin Bethea recalled not having dry jerseys to change into at halftime during the icy 1978 AFC Championship in The Game before the Money, and humorously remembered teammates’ parkas catching fire on the sideline in We Were the Oilers.

Although the Oilers lost both AFC Championship Games to the Pittsburgh Steelers, an estimated 50,000 fans packed the Astrodome each time to greet the Oilers after the team returned home. The frenzied crowds waved Columbia Blue pom poms and danced to “Houston Oilers #1.” After the 1979 AFC Championship Game, Bum Phillips famously told the crowd, “One year ago we knocked on the door. This year we beat on the door. Next year, we’re gonna kick the son-of-a-*!#$# in!”

The Oilers would never kick the door in, however. The franchise didn’t make the Super Bowl until after the team moved to Tennessee in 1998. Houston wouldn’t host the Super Bowl again until February of 2004, when the New England Patriots battled the Carolina Panthers in Super Bowl 28.

The Patriots and Panthers provided fans with a thrilling fourth quarter. The Panthers outscored New England 19-18 in the game’s final frame, but it wasn’t enough, and Tom Brady‘s Patriots prevailed 32-29. The game’s excitement, however, lost its thunder to the halftime show. Justin Timberlake’s and Janet Jackson’s performance yielded the famous “wardrobe malfunction,” and unfortunately, most viewers remember that, instead of a game that turned out to be pretty good.

Super Bowl 51 marks the third time the Super Bowl has visited Houston. The Big Game’s popularity, as well as the National Football League’s, has grown tremendously since Houston hosted the Dolphins and Vikings. Last year’s Super Bowl had an estimated 167 million viewers, more than triple the estimated viewership of Super Bowl 8.

 

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Thinking Out Loud: The 1970s Pittsburgh Steelers vs Houston Oilers Rivalry

 

The privilege of working with the Luv Ya Blue era Oilers for We Were the Oilers led to a lot of research and subsequently much thinking.

If memory serves me correctly, a lot of the talk around the Dan Pastorini for Ken Stabler trade between the Oilers and Raiders pointed out that “Stabler’s beaten the Steelers, Pastorini’s lost two years in a row.” Over time, a generally accepted theory has been that Pastorini and the Oilers simply couldn’t beat the Steelers. There’s hinting that perhaps if the Oilers had a better quarterback, maybe they would have won.

Looking back as objectively as I can, here is my own new theory about this. First, the Steelers lost only 1 home game between 1978 and 79 – a Monday Night Football loss to – Dan Pastorini and the Houston Oilers. Second, the Steelers only lost 6 games total in 78 and 79. Who was the only team to beat them twice? Yep. The Pastorini-led Oilers.

Turns out Terry Bradshaw and company only lost 1 home playoff game throughout the entire 1970s – the 1972 AFC Championship to the undefeated Miami Dolphins. Not to start any greatest ever arguments, but those 17-0 Dolphins were one of the greatest teams in NFL history.

While it’s easy to point out that the Oilers didn’t beat the Steelers in two straight AFC Championship Games at Three Rivers Stadium in Pittsburgh, the facts are that nobody was beating the Steelers there. Especially in 78 and 79. In reality, Houston was the only team to win at Pittsburgh during that time.

History doesn’t always have the best memory. Dan Pastorini and the Oilers may have actually been the biggest threat to the back half of the Steeler dynasty. Agree or Disagree? Friendly comments welcome.

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“We Were the Oilers, Luv Ya Blue!” — film to celebrate 1978-79 Houston Oilers

We are excited to announce our first video documentary, We Were the Oilers — Luv Ya Blue! Filming began last weekend, and former Oilers Dan Pastorini, Willie Alexander, Billy Johnson (aka Billy “White Shoes” Johnson), Robert Brazile, Andy Dorris, Gregg Bingham, Mike Barber, and Ed Biles were interviewed.

The film looks to run as a one-hour episode on Fox Sports Southwest in the weeks leading up to Super Bowl 51 in Houston. We’re also exploring ways to get sponsors involved and make the documentary available to fans in other mediums.

Stay tuned for more info.

dan2

 

Discussing the Oilers playoff years with Dan Pastorini

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This Might Surprise You: Steve Largent

Several players held the NFL’s all-time reception after 1970. Don Maynard, Charley Taylor, Charlie Joiner and Art Monk are among the names who claimed the title before Jerry Rice. Steve Largent is another receiver who held that distinction.

OLD SCHOOL THINKING

Largent played his entire career with the Seattle Seahawks. He told Seahawks.com he appreciated his accomplishments on the gridiron, “But the thing I’m most proud of from my career in Seattle was that I played my entire career in Seattle….It gave me a special connection with the city and the people and the team that you just don’t find very often with professional athletes today.”

IT ALMOST NEVER HAPPENED

Largent made his way to the Seahawks by happenstance. The Houston Oilers drafted Largent in the fourth round of the 1976 NFL Draft. He didn’t impress the Oilers, and found himself on a bus headed home to Oklahoma after four preseason games. He thought his football career was over.

Jerry Rhome, a Seahawk assistant coach, had coached Largent in college at Tulsa. Rhome convinced the team to give Largent a second chance. The expansion Seahawks traded an eighth-round pick in the 1977 draft for Largent’s rights. Largent made the Seahawks front office look like geniuses.

WHAT MIGHT HAVE BEEN

Don’t be too quick to praise the brilliance of Seattle’s front office. They followed up the Largent heist by trading their 1977 first-round pick to the Dallas Cowboys. The Cowboys drafted Tony Dorsett with the second-overall selection. The Seahawks scored multiple draft picks in the deal, but drafted no one of NFL significance. The thought of Tony Dorsett and Steve Largent on the same offense is enticing. Might they have challenged for the AFC title with the Hall of Fame duo on offense?

A second double threat would have paired Earl Campbell with Largent, if the Oilers had held on to Steve. The Oilers had several playoff opportunities, and faced the Steelers in two straight AFC Championships. Perhaps Largent would have put the Oilers over the top, especially in the much closer second matchup.

Whether Largent would have pushed the Oilers further in those years or not, he certainly would have finished his Oiler career with Warren Moon. Although the Oilers didn’t become top contenders until after Largent’s retirement, Moon-to-Largent would have shaken a few AFC secondaries.

SUMMARY

Had the NFL expanded by adding the Seahawks and Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 1977 rather than 1976, the world outside of Tulsa, Oklahoma might never have heard of Steve Largent.

Largent retired the NFL’s all-time leader in receptions, yardage, and touchdowns. Interestingly, he never once led the NFL in receptions or touchdowns in a single season. In fact, he never placed higher than third in receptions, a feat he accomplished only once. His next highest finish was sixth. Still, both fans and opponents highly respected Largent’s talents, and the Pro Football Hall of Fame made an inarguable decision to enshrine him. The Houston Oilers, however, weren’t nearly as wise.

Here are some amazing Steve Largent highlights via YouTube: