When you think back about the Houston Oilers of yesteryear many thoughts come to mind. Some think of Warren Moon and the Run & Shoot offense that thrived from 1989-1993. Some think back to those Bum Phillips teams that made the 1978 & 1979 AFC Championships. Others flash back to the days when Earl Campbell was terrorizing defenses while playing for those late 70’s squads. Our CEO remembers them all but really perks up to the style of defense that hit the Astrodome in the 1987 season.
This was the era right before Warren Moon and the Run & Shoot started to make a name for themselves. Under Jerry Glanville, the Oilers became a super aggressive blitzing team. What he was doing was re-creating the “Gritz Blitz” when he was defensive co-ordinator of the Atlanta Falcons back in the late 1970’s. One little known fact about the Falcons under Glanville is they established the league record for fewest points allowed in a 14 game season with 129 in 1977. Better than the Pittsburgh Steelers teams that won 2 Super Bowls before that, the great 1976 Steelers defense, and better than the 1968 Colts who once held the record at 144 on their way to Super Bowl III. Who’s record did they break?? Try the Minnesota Vikings “Purple People Eaters” who gave up 133 on their way to Super Bowl IV.
Yet the rule changes of 1978 changed much of what was happening bef0re. No longer were cornerbacks , linebackers, or safeties able to hit receivers down-field before a pass was thrown. They now had the 5 yard “chuck” rule and it took awhile to adjust but the Oilers took on that tough persona and were an in your face team. They hit hard, talked big, and had a lot of fights during that time. Their defense gave a franchise an identity that had been badly searching for one. The ringleaders were SS #25 Keith Bostic (from Michigan), FS #31 Jeff Donaldson, and LB #93 Robert Lyles.
Yet all that bravado, cheap shots and attempts at intimidation came at a heavy price. The NFL is an eye for an eye league and punishment will be meted on the field of play. By the time the Oilers nicknamed the Astrodome “The House of Pain” they produced bulletin board material for all who played against them. Much like teams facing the Dallas Cowboys and their “America’s Team” mantra, every other team brought their “big boy” pads to dish out some hits on the Oilers as well. It was great theater.
One of the most vicious games in NFL history was when the Oilers went to Philadelphia to play the Eagles in 1988. What preceded the game was the late Toby Caston walking around Veteran’s Stadium with that Army helmet on. Buddy Ryan’s Eagles were ready and both teams passed out highlight reel hits all game long. In the video, you saw #21 Evan Cooper completely knock out Oiler receiver Ernest Givins with a shot to the chest. Apparently time doesn’t heal all wounds because when these two matched up again in 1991, The House of Pain Game, is where a nation got to see it up close and it was brutal. Except the Eagles handed out the best hits in a 13-6 epic.
The Oilers were not great sportsman but they made you watch. Heavy hitting group that played hard. Were they dirty???
Thanks for reading and share the article.