Hope everyone got a good look at the old Houston Oilers throwback uniforms when the Tennessee Titans defeated the Buffalo Bills. That's because those uniforms from the inaugural 1960 championship season for the Oilers are heading for the mothballs, not likely to be brought out again.
The columbia blue and white uniforms were dusted off in honor of the 50th anniversary of the American Football League and worn by the Titans four times this year — twice at home (blue jerseys), twice on the road (white ones). The team last wore the home uniform against Buffalo on Nov. 15 and previously against the Bills in preseason, and against the Jets and Patriots (a game nobody wants to remember).
But if the idea behind these throwback uniforms bearing the trademark oil derrick was to sell merchandise, it doesn't appear to be working, but then it depends on who you ask.
“I think the whole league initiative has worked out very well, meaning we were one of eight teams to wear the throwbacks and celebrating the 50th anniversary,” said Don MacLachlan, Titans executive vice president of administration and facilities. “Individually from an Oilers perspective, it’s worked out very well. When you consider that a lot of people were buying that merchandise, we were the first ones out of the chute for everybody to see it at the Hall of Fame Game, and national television.”
However, while Nashville and Tennessee have embraced the Titans and claim them as their own, for some, seeing the Houston Oilers gear again is a painful reminder of the acrimonious breakup in Houston, not to mention the cries in Tennessee for a name change and a fresh start after the team arrived in Tennessee in 1997 — eventually settling into a downtown stadium in 1999.
“I think we just should let the past stay in the past and celebrate what we have in Tennessee over the past 11 years,” said Ademir Alagic of Antioch, referring to the franchise’s time under the Titans banner. “I pretty much feel there are too much heartaches with those jerseys, like the 35-3 game, losing to Buffalo.”
Alagic was referring to the 1992 NFL playoffs when the Oilers squandered a 32-point lead in the AFC playoffs and lost to the Bills and backup quarterback Frank Reich.
It also seems that fans in Houston, who have had some of the old wounds salved by the arrival of the expansion Texans in 2002, continue to fight through bitter memories of the breakup as well.
“The worst thing about it [is] you don’t see Baltimore [Ravens] sporting around in old Colts uniforms. That’s completely separated,” long-time Oilers/Titans fan Ivan Menendez of Houston said. “Why couldn’t they do the same for the Houston area? That just adds more insult.”
Certainly, in terms of marketing, the Titans have had a harder path in that regard than some of their original AFL brethren, given that the franchise has only been in Tennessee for 13 years, and that many Tennesseans have taken a don’t-ask, don’t-tell approach to the team’s previous history in Houston.
Still, some inroads were made in the area of merchandising.
“We carried a good bit of it at the beginning,” said Austin Cavalier, a manager at the Sport Seasons store in Rivergate Mall of the retro wear. “It didn’t necessarily explode off the shelves, but the people that appreciated the history of the franchise bought it.
“As far as some of the younger fans, they never really got it until you pointed it out. But overall, it sold pretty well.”
According to the NFL, Oilers gear sales are running sixth among the eight original AFL teams. Interestingly, the Dallas Texans (now the Kansas City Chiefs) are last in merchandise sales.
“Of course, the teams that have been in the same cities have a definite advantage in that regard,” said NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy of the throwback sales.
One would have thought that the Oilers merchandise might have enjoyed a revival of sorts in the Houston area. But the gear was hardly marketed in retail outlets there. That likely was fueled in part by the “new spouse” reaction of the Texans, who apparently wished not to have their territory encroached upon by the “ex” who left years ago.
“I [don't] have much of it around here,” Menendez said. “I have two sons, and they’re both big Vince Young fans, and called all around the area and couldn’t find it. I finally had to go online to get it.”
That was by design, according to the NFL.
“Most of it was made available online at NFLshop.com,” McCarthy said. “It was primarily sold there and at retail outlets in the cities where the teams currently play.”
Most of the items apparently that are available for the Oilers in Houston are centered around players who played when the team was there.
For instance, Champs Sports in the Galleria Mall in Houston had Oilers throwback jerseys. But they were not of Chris Johnson or even Houston’s favorite son, Young. Rather they were of old-time Oilers Earl Campbell and Warren Moon.
“We have a little bit of the Oilers stuff. We carry a Warren Moon jersey and an Earl Campbell jersey in the throwbacks,” Champs manager Kenny Canales said. “They’ve sold OK, but not really that many, because they’re expensive.”
But what about Titans players and coaches, who have had to wear the stuff?
For players, the uniforms mostly got a “thumbs up,” and they meant more to some than others.
Fullback Ahmard Hall, who hails from Angleton, Texas, about 30 miles south of Houston, said it was a thrill for him to put on the uniform of a team he grew up watching as a kid.
“I used to go to the games. When I went to my uncle’s house, I could walk right to the Astrodome,” Hall said. “Tickets were cheap back then, and the House of Pain was rocking. So I caught a few games in the House of Pain.
“I told some guys that it might seem mythical or whatever, but I felt a lot of energy putting the Oilers uniform on. It meant a lot to me because I watched those guys play and I rooted for them.”
Center Kevin Mawae said it was fun to don the old-school uniforms and hoped that long-time fans of the franchise could appreciate it.
“I know some of the fans have enjoyed seeing them, especially the old Luv Ya Blue fans,” Mawae said, adding that it’s not the uniform that makes the man, so to speak. “It doesn’t matter what kind of uniform you put on. It’s the product you put on the field.”
And there again, the Oilers uniforms come into play. For some fans, the Oilers digs are wonderful in one sense, but painful in another. They remember the bad luck of the baby blue uniforms in years past — the horrible seasons with only one or two wins. And even the good times spoiled by the Steelers, Broncos or Bills in the postseason.
Todd Newlin, who grew up in Houston and remains a Titans fan from the faraway perspective of Portland, Ore., knows all too well of the painful memories. And this year’s 0-6 start, the worst of which came with the Oilers uniforms on in the 59-0 loss at New England, only accentuated the matter.
“I truly think the old Houston Oilers uniforms are one of the best, if not the best, uniforms ever made, but with the caveat that they bring painful memories,” said Newlin, who bought a Chris Johnson throwback jersey. “After we started 0-6, some of us on TitansCentral [a fan-based Titans Web site, www.titanscentral.net], discussed burning them, because it made us feel like Oilers fans again.
“All the bad memories of Frank Reich and the comeback with John Elway came back. I haven’t burned the jersey yet, but I’m afraid to wear it on Sunday, because I’m afraid it will curse our team.”