Bruce Matthews - Titans - Oilers - Houston
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The Not-So-Great Debate – Part 2: Titans Organization, NFL, Players or Fans?

Who Impacts Whether Titans “Give” the Oilers Legacy to Houston? The Tennessee Titans organization – Not the fans, not the players and not even the mighty NFL.

National Football League

When the Oilers decided to make a name change to the Titans, Commissioner Paul Tagliabue agreed to retire the Oilers nickname, preventing any future Houston franchise from using the name. Why is that important? It signifies that the owner (Bud Adams) of the Titans franchise wanted to maintain the Oiler legacy, the NFL was on board with that decision and that city of Houston had no future rights to that legacy.

The Cleveland Browns argument – If the Oilers were so imbedded in Houston culture, the city should have challenged the decision to retire the nickname in an attempt to receive both the Oiler name and legacy. The Cleveland Browns continue to be the Cleveland Browns because they legally fought for the rights to do so. The resulting compromise between Cleveland, the NFL and the owner (Art Modell) was the first in North American professional sports. That ruling shows how infrequently a legacy remains with a city as opposed to a franchise, but it also provided the perfect blueprint for Houston to follow…one, short year later. Had the city and its season ticket holders been as passionate as those in Cleveland, the Houston Oilers may still be in existence today. The only way this legacy debate makes sense is if the Houston Texans had become the Houston Oilers.

The NFL could certainly get involved again, but why would they do so now? The Oilers moved to Tennessee 20 years ago – The new Houston Texans organization was established 18 years ago. The same time (18 years ago) that the Oiler franchise became known as the Titans. If there were ever a good time to “give” a legacy not belonging to a city, to that particular city, it would have been then (20 years ago), not now.

Oiler Players

Let me start by saying that the Tennessee Titans franchise has done the Houston Oiler players a disservice by overly appeasing the Tennessee fan base in an attempt to better connect with them and establish a committed following. No offense intended to the Tennessee fans or the ownership group (more on this in a later post).

Former Oiler players have mentioned a lack of affiliation with the Titans – Houston would make better use of the legacy and players feel strange receiving recognition in Nashville.

I have the utmost respect for Bruce Matthews, Warren Moon and the rest of my childhood (and adult) idols, but…the Texans have their own legacy now and wouldn’t it be equally uncomfortable to receive recognition from a completely different organization and fan base?

Houston Would Make Better Use Of The Legacy

The Texans organization has 18 years (and growing) of their own legacy to recognize and the fans have had 20 years to re-evaluate their alliances. How would Houston make better use of the Oiler legacy? Would they desire to do so?  

Bruce Matthews has been a proponent of “giving” the Oiler legacy to Houston. His desire makes perfect sense (for him) as his personal connection is aligned with the city of Houston, rather than the Titan organization despite playing nineteen seasons with the franchise and five of those in Tennessee. He feels the same geographical pull that Johnny Unitas felt in Baltimore when the Colts departed to Indianapolis. There’s nothing wrong with that, but what about the players that have a personal connection with the organization?

Eddie George, Steve McNair, Blaine Bishop, Brad Hopkins, etc. were all Oilers prior to becoming Titans, but they maintained an alliance with the organization. They are to Bruce Matthews what Bert Jones (Baltimore Colts QB) and Lydell Mitchell (Baltimore Colts RB) are to Johnny Unitas – The alliances of Jones and Mitchell remained with the Colts franchise instead of the city of Baltimore despite never playing a down in Indianapolis.

Insufficient Recognition in Nashville

“Strange – I’m standing there with my family and thanking everybody, but except for them seeing me on television, they probably never saw me play in person” – Warren Moon

Based on proximity, Moon is correct – Long time Houston residents probably have seen him play “in person” more than those located in Tennessee. Does that matter?

  • He received a standing ovation in 2006 when Tennessee retired his number. Is “in person” attendance required to be a fan? I hope not, as a fan that lives in California and followed him as closely as anyone. I was fortunate to see Moon “in person” numerous times, but it was the effort to drive & fly to various venues, search for locations to watch each game on TV (accessibility has improved), spend Sundays scouring every highlight show in existence and Monday morning newsstand raids for every available newspaper (supplemented with Sports Illustrated, Sporting News, Oiler Report, etc. of course) that solidified my validation as a fan, IMO. Honestly, it would have been MUCH easier to drive up the street and watch him “in person”…Would that have made me more or less of a fan?
  • Star athletes get warm receptions everywhere – The “strange” feeling was more than likely self imposed. If the reception itself was less than desired, time may have been a factor – Some of the fans, whether in Tennessee or Texas, that watched Moon “in person” are no longer with us…No offense Warren, but the above quoted event took place 17 years after your retirement from the NFL and 24 years after your last snap for the Oiler/Titan franchise. When that much time lapses and an aging athlete becomes less relevant (to the younger generation – we old folks still dig you), it’s occasionally awkward – More so in our present day world where the attention | | span is extremely…

  • Isn’t receiving recognition in front of a Houston Texans crowd even more strange than in Tennessee? Apparently not (Moon above, right). Moon still has a presence as an NFL announcer with fans everywhere thanks to a Hall of Fame career that included stops in one CFL and four NFL cities. Despite that, it’s understandable that he feels somewhat uncomfortable in Tennessee because his career didn’t occur in Nashville, but he never played a snap for the Texans organization either – Recognition from a completely different organization in which a player has absolutely no affiliation seems equally “strange” to me…

Despite sympathy for all of the Oiler players (Matthews, Moon, etc.) that haven’t or don’t receive the acceptance and/or recognition that they deserve, they are still allowed no more than an opinion on the matter. Unfortunately, the situation isn’t ideal from any perspective and is therefore inconclusive…Like an instant replay that doesn’t contain enough evidence to over rule a call made on the field – The original decision stands and the Oilers legacy belongs to the Titans.

Oiler & Titan Fans

More to follow…

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