The Luv Ya Blue Era Was Something Special
“The Houston Oilers became a family not just with us, the players, but with the city itself.” – Tight End, Mike Barber
“Wherever we went on the road, people loved the Oilers. They loved the Oilers because the stars aligned. If you remember, that was during the time of Urban Cowboy. That was during the time when the fashion in New York City was Western chic. And so, here we’ve got a man who’s our head coach, who’s a real cowboy.” – Defensive Back, Willie Alexander
Billy “White Shoes” Johnson added in the We Were the Oilers: The Luv Ya Blue! Era documentary that the Houston Oilers didn’t just energize NFL fans, even opposing players, got wrapped up in the Luv Ya Blue excitement. “We’d be playing games and half or midway during the game a guy would ask, ‘Hey man, my contract’s up next year, tell Bum to look for me.’ And I’m not the only one that has had people come up and tell them, ‘Hey man, what’s it like next year? My contract’s up. You think Bum would pick me up?’ That’s how special that team was.”
The Oilers Trade for First Overall Pick in the 1978 NFL Draft, Earl Campbell.
The height of the hysteria started in 1978. Not in the autumn, but in the spring. The Oilers made a trade with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to obtain the first-overall pick in the NFL draft. Every football fan in America knew what player Houston would select, Heisman Trophy winner, Earl Campbell, from Texas.
Earl Campbell was an instant hit, even before he arrived. He paid immediate dividends and scored the Oiler’s first touchdown of the 1978 season, in his first regular-season game, in the first quarter.
Coach Bum Phillips Inspires in His Cowboy Hat and Coat
The city of Houston just fell in love with the Oilers and their head coach, Bum Phillips, a man who owned a ranch, raised cattle, and wore cowboy boots and a Stetson hat on the sidelines during an era when most coaches wore suits and ties. (You can see a photo of Bum Phillips in a cowboy hat in the slideshow at the end of this article.)
Defensive back Willie Alexander spoke about the team’s confidence in tight games and their coach, Bum Phillips. “When you talk about not quitting, the key to it is having confidence. We had confidence that we could win. We had confidence that if there was time on the clock if we were behind, we could come back. Or, when we were ahead, we were going to maintain the lead. And that was just what I guess you could describe as the team’s swagger. We were just a very confident group. We were very talented and we played together as a team. And I’ve got to give Bum the credit for that…”
The Oilers Had Perhaps the Most Supportive Fans in the NFL
After playing in the 1978 and 1979 AFC championship games, the team returned home to a packed Astrodome. Fans came out to celebrate the Oilers and the season they had, even though the team had just lost the AFC championship game that first year. In 1978, they came home to an estimated 40,000 fans, and the next year it was estimated to be 60,000 or more.
Think about that! Jubilant fans showed up to cheer and celebrate a team that had lost earlier in the day. In contrast, the Los Angeles Rams returned home after winning the 1979 NFC championship game and they were greeted by an estimated 3,000 fans. That shows you how beloved those Houston Oilers were.
Houston’s defensive coordinator, Ed Biles, told the story. “Nobody wanted to go there (to the Astrodome after the AFC Championship loss). We’re thinking, well, we’re going to go and there will be 200 people there. We land, get on the buses and it was kind of strange going down the interstate, getting there with all the people lined up. When they open up the door, we went down that ramp and the place was packed. And that was probably one of the greatest things. You remember the fans and the goosebumps you got.”Embed from Getty Images
Experience a game-by-game account of the magical 1979 Houston Oilers season in the book Red, White, and Columbia Blue: Chasing the Dream with the 1979 Houston Oilers.