The 20-year Oilers/Titans Cycle
In September of 2019, I recorded my audio book Red, White, and Columbia Blue: Chasing the Dream with the 1979 Houston Oilers commemorating the 40th Anniversary of the Houston Oilers 1979 season. I told the recording engineer, “The Oilers/Titans have had their best seasons on a 20-year cycle. If you see the Titans in the AFC Championship Game this year, you heard it here first.”
1960 marked the first year in Houston Oiler history and the Oilers won the first American Football League Championship with a win over the Los Angeles Chargers. 1979 marked the team’s 20th Anniversary and also a second straight trip to the AFC Championship after a miraculous Divisional Playoff win over – yep, the Chargers (at that point, the San Diego Chargers). Twenty years later, 1999 was the team’s 40th season and gave the now Tennessee Titans the famous Music City Miracle in the Wildcard Round and the franchise made the Super Bowl for the first time. Here we are in 2019, the Oilers/Titans 60th year. The Tennessee Titans surprised the football world by making the AFC Championship Game against the Kansas City Chiefs.
The Coincidences in Oilers/Titans Miracle Teams
The Oilers/Titans miracle teams had a few coincidences. George Blanda quarterbacked the 1960 Oilers and led the AFL in yards per completion. Who led the league in yards per completion in 2019? The Titans’ Ryan Tannehill. The 1979 Luv Ya Blue Houston Oilers were piloted by quarterback Dan Pastorini and the 1999 Titans flew under the leadership of Steve McNair. Both quarterbacks were selected third overall in the NFL Draft – Pastorini in 1971, McNair in 1995. Tannehill also went in the first round in 2012 (eighth overall to the Miami Dolphins).
The running game provided real firepower to all four teams. The 1960 Oilers featured a fierce rushing attack led by Dave Smith and Billy Cannon. Charley Tolar and Ken Hall bolstered the ground game (more on Hall later). In 1979, the Oilers’ Earl Campbell won NFL MVP honors and tied the league record for most rushing TDs in a season. The 1999 Titans gained traction behind workhorse Eddie George and his 1,300 yards rushing. In 2019, Derrick Henry set a playoff record with 377 rushing yards over two playoff games. Historically to date, the Titans are an eyebrow raising 13-0 in games that 2015 Heisman Trophy winner Derrick Henry has rushed for over 100 yards.
Both the 1979 Oilers and the 1999 Titans added unforgettable excitement to the NFL playoffs with some of the most memorable plays in NFL history. The Mike Renfro Play in the 1979 AFC Championship Game likely sped up the implementation of instant replay in the NFL. The aforementioned Music City Miracle, also called the Home Run Throwback, made the NFL 100 top-five listing of greatest plays ever. The Titans’ Kevin Dyson landed “One Yard Short” of the end zone at the end of Super Bowl 34 as time expired.
Will the Stars Line Up Again?
Do the stars simply line up every 20 years for the Oilers/Titans? Maybe. Whatever the answer is, all four teams posted legendary excitement in pro football history. Time will tell if the 2019 Tennessee Titans will beat the Kansas City Chiefs in the AFC Championship and play in Super Bowl 54.
The Titans finished the regular season at 9-7. The first team to make the Super Bowl with a 9-7 record was the Los Angeles Rams in 1979 to make Super Bowl 14 — yep, the same year those Luv Ya Blue Houston Oilers made the AFC Championship Game for the second straight season.
- All three teams in the playoff era – the 1979 Houston Oilers, 1999 Tennessee Titans, and 2019 Tennessee Titans – entered the playoffs as a wildcard
- All three teams knocked off the AFC’s #1 seed on the road
- The Music City Miracle win was against the Buffalo Bills, coached by Wade Phillips, an assistant on the 1979 Houston Oilers and son of then Oiler head coach Bum Phillips
- Vernon Perry’s four interceptions at San Diego in the 1979 NFL Divisional Playoffs still stands as a record for most interceptions in a playoff game.
- An estimated crowd of 50-70,000 fans welcomed the 1979 Oilers back to the Astrodome after losing the 1979 AFC Championship Game to the Pittsburgh Steelers
- Ken Hall (aka “The Sugarland Express”) held the national high school rushing record for nearly 60 years. Who finally topped him? Derrick Henry.