Missing Rings: 1979 Houston Oilers – Luv Ya’ Blue

When the gun sounded to end Super Bowl L, much of the attention turned to Peyton Manning and his upcoming decision to continue playing or retire.  Pundits waxed philosophical on where Denver’s defensive performance placed them in history and Manning’s overall legacy. However a small contingent thought of Wade Phillips and the culmination of another legacy. That of the coaching family he hailed from and his father…the late Bum Phillips.

Coach Phillips and Eddie Biles giving instruction to standout linebacker Robert Brazile.

Coach Phillips and Eddie Biles giving instruction to standout linebacker Robert Brazile.

It’s a rich legacy with Bum Phillips and the late 70’s Houston Oilers. Where a father gave a young Wade his first NFL job in 1976 coaching the defensive line. Bum had arrived the year before to resurrect a moribund franchise that hadn’t made the postseason in nearly a decade. Aside from back to back AFL championships in 1960 & ’61, the team mired in mediocrity without any players of distinction.

In an era where most NFL coaches were still emulating the status quo fire and brimstone approach of a Vince Lombardi or a Don Shula, Phillips was more of a player’s coach. Opting for reasoning and taking more of a personable approach, Bum got to know his players and was known for having laid back practices.

Phillips was one of the first to employ the 3-4 defense as a full time tactic which the Miami Dolphins had made famous during their Super Bowl years in the early 70’s. Shula and Bill Arnsparger used the defense part time to maintain an edge when they were ahead. It was actually a variation of the old Oklahoma 5-2 of the 1950’s however the defensive ends were replaced with quicker outside linebackers.

To make it lethal the Oilers drafted Robert Brazile to man the weakside linebacker spot. He was a 5 time all pro between 1976 and 1980 along with his defensive rookie of the year award. He was the prototype size and speed of the 3-4 outside linebacker the Giants made famous 5 years later with Lawrence Taylor. He was the focal point to a defense that led the Oilers to a 10-4 record in ’75 where they narrowly missed the playoffs.

In ’75 QB Dan Pastorini and WR Ken Burrough each made the Pro Bowl. However over the next two years the offense bogged down without a serious running threat. They struck gold in 1978 when they drafted Heisman Award winning running back Earl Campbell out of Texas. Now they had a focal point on the offensive side of the ball. A one man wrecking ball that punished defenses while toting the rock 30 times a game. 

dan_pastorini_drew_brees_nflpa_08302011Having to look up in the AFC Central standings to the perennial champion Steelers, the Oilers seemed to be ready to make their move. They finished 2 games behind the Steelers in ’77, yet it looked like Pittsburgh had come back to the pack having failed to reach the AFC Championship for the first time in 4 years.

The NFL was abuzz with the exploits of Campbell, who was leading the league in rushing, and the state of Texas seemed to be gravitating to this new team on the block. Midway through the ’78 campaign, winners in 4 of their last 5 including a 24-17 win in Pittsburgh, the Oilers played their signature game of the era. A Monday Night match-up with Don Shula’s Miami Dolphins.

This Monday Night matchup would become the showcase where the Oilers proved they belonged among the NFL’s elite. Also it would solidify Earl Campbell’s chances to win rookie of the year honors. After all he came into this week 12 contest with 944 yards rushing.

In one of the transcendent games of the ’70’s the Oilers prevailed 35-30. Campbell became the first rookie to lead the NFL in rushing (1,450 yds) since Jim Brown in 1957. The Oilers finished 10-6 to make the playoffs as a wild card. There they beat the Dolphins in Miami 13-7 and beat New England 31-14 to make it to the AFC Championship Game. There they fell to the eventual Super Bowl champion Steelers 34-5 who taught them how far they had yet to go.

Yet make no mistake… with the strides they made in 1978 it looked like ’79 would be their year.

The verve and spirit were still there the following season yet this team had the weight of expectation upon them. Campbell again led the league in rushing with 1,697 yards and 19 TDs. They stood toe to toe and slugged it out with the Steelers for supremacy of the AFC Central and wrested control with a 20-17 win in week 15. However a loss in the final week gave the Steelers (12-4) the division and the Oilers would have to go in as a wildcard at 11-5.

A shadow of doubt crept in as the Oilers were right back where they had been the season before. Except this time they would have to play the AFC Divisional against the high flying San Diego Chargers. In the wild card round they lost QB Pastorini, Campbell, and WR Burrough. Without their top passer, rusher and receiver they had to face the #5 defense to go along with San Diego’s #1 offense on the road. What would happen??

In The Chancellor of Football’s estimation, Oiler Safety Vernon Perry turned in the greatest defensive performance in NFL history. Perry wound up making 8 tackles while grabbing a playoff record 4 interceptions and blocking a field goal returning it 57 yards. The Oilers needed every one of these plays to escape with a 17-14 upset. One of the biggest in NFL playoff history.

Surprise! The Oilers would be headed to Pittsburgh for the AFC Championship for the 2nd straight year. Unlike the ’78 game where the Oilers were overwhelmed playing in their 1st championship game, this one they were embroiled in a dog fight. With the Steelers up 17-10 and the Oilers driving late in the 3rd quarter, Dan Pastorini lofted a pass for Mike Renfro when…

Sentiment finally came full circle when the refs admitted to the blown call in private but the company line was towed publicly. On that day, a young Chancellor learned about momentum and why the ’79 Championship was tainted by the referee’s blown non call. The officials weren’t allowed to view instant replay in the stadium where we at home clearly saw Mike Renfro in. It lead to a rule change when six years later instant replay was instituted in the NFL.

However that was too late for the Oilers who fell 27-13 that day in which they were clearly cheated. It cast a pall on a day when it seemed as though the game wasn’t settled on the field.

To make that call even more painful, the Oilers never threatened for a Super Bowl again. The following season saw the Oilers deal away starting QB Dan Pastorini for the late Kenny Stabler in an attempt to “kick it in.” This was the adopted slogan for the 1980 season to finally kick the championship door open and make it to the Super Bowl.

Ironically it was Pastorini who won a Super Bowl ring as an injured member of the ’80 Oakland Raiders. In a twist of fate, their first postseason step was a 27-7 win over Stabler and the Oilers in the wildcard round.

It was the last hurrah as 3 losing seasons followed. Bum Phillips had been dismissed in the aftermath of the ’80 Wild Card loss to Oakland. The magic was gone and an era of “Luv ya’ blue” faded into lore. An improbable team with the unlikeliest of characters is still revered in a city where the Oilers left to become the Tennessee Titans, and a new Houston team occupies the city. However the heart of the city of Houston will forever remain with that team of the late 70’s.

“Luv ya’ blue” a legacy indeed…

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NFL Playoffs & Historically Bad Calls

For the second time in the 2014 post season, the NFL has everyone talking about what should not be. The games have been marred with questionable calls and bad officiating at the critical juncture of two games. It has overshadowed some very good football games and for all of us long term purists and historians, given us much to banter about for years to come.

Dez Bryant catchLast week on my social media things took off with the interference/ non interference call between Dallas LB Anthony Hitchens and Detroit’s Brandon Pettigrew. The controversy didn’t begin until the refs picked up the flag reversing their call. In truth the ref should have either explained the reason the flag was being picked up or not to have thrown the flag in the first place.

Now we fast forward to yesterday’s NFC Divisional between the Green Bay Packers and Dallas Cowboys. In the waning moments down 26-21 and facing a 4th down, Romo lofted a pass toward Dez Bryant when apparently he caught the ball and it would be 1st and goal. Once the Packers challenged the play the controversy began.

What we received was a poor carrying out of the rule was as it was written. This rule was adjusted after the 1999 NFC Championship Game when Bert Emanuel caught an apparent pass late in the game and the tip of the ball touched the ground. This was a diving play and the ball hitting the ground in the middle of the catch. We didn’t see that on the play with Bryant.

During Bryant’s catch, had he been in the middle of the field caught the ball and been hit after two steps, it would be a catch and fumble meaning he had possession. So now he catches the ball, rotates his body, cradles the football with one hand, takes several steps and dives for the goal line and the explanation is he hadn’t made a football move. This was and should have been ruled a catch once he took the two steps with no bobble of the football. Not the diving catch that the rule was written for.

As The Chancellor of Football I said it at the time… this was the worst call in NFL playoff history and changes are coming. Yet you do realize the instant replay that robbed Dallas of this game was borne from bad referee calls in playoff games prior. The first comes from 1972 when the Steelers faced the Raiders when the nonexplainable happened to the naked eye with :22 to go.

Since it was such a bang – bang play the officials had to confer and did so for more than 5 minutes before they signaled touchdown. Don’t tell me feelings don’t linger. John Madden refused to be interviewed for A Football Life – The Immaculate Reception citing for years the Raiders were cheated in that playoff game. At the time a ball couldn’t bounce from an offensive player to another without a defender in between. A hail mary could not be thrown back then…but had the ball hit Fuqua or Tatum of the Raiders??

“Why can’t the referee watch the replay on television?” became a cry from fans at the time. It seemed blasphemous to NFL rule makers to aid the officials in getting it right. It would be taking it out of the refs hands…the human element would be removed from officiating was the sentiment maintained by the league.

Those same Oakland Raiders found themselves in the same position in the 1977 AFC Championship in Denver. With the Broncos maintaining a 7-3 lead, they were poised to take a commanding lead over the defending Super Bowl champions. From the 1 they had a 1st and goal when Craig Morton turned and handed the ball to the late Rob Lytle when

Sentiment started to lean toward fans who clearly saw Lytle fumble. Just because the referee didn’t see it doesn’t mean it didn’t happen. Talk after the game centered on the nun fumble call from the Raider locker room to fans across the country. The Raiders would have seized the momentum.

This touched off a brutal rivalry that lasted for most of the 70s where Pittsburgh became Team of the Decade. As the rivalry began to subside with Oakland, a new one emerged with division rival Houston. Pittsburgh beat them in the 1978 AFC Championship 34-5. It was not even close. However in the ’79 AFC Championship Game they were embroiled in a dogfight. With the Steelers up 17-10 and the Oilers driving late in the 3rd quarter, Dan Pastorini lofted a pass for Mike Renfro when…

Sentiment finally came full circle when the refs admitted to the blown call in private but the company line was towed publicly. So the same as they can parade out the official’s brass to explain a terrible interpretation of the rules, I know better. Six years later instant replay was instituted in the NFL.

Just like “The Tuck” rule in 2001 and the Bennie Barnes “incidental contact interference call in Super Bowl XIII, the referee would have been better served calling it to the spirit of what he saw. Deal with the rule book interpretation later. The ref knew Brady wasn’t throwing that football…call it that way. The ref knew that Bennie Barnes and Lynn Swann tripped over each other looking for the football…call it that way.

However several seasons had been ruined by terrible calls that instant replay could have helped but in this instance it worked against. Had I been the referee I would have called it in the spirit of the play. I keep hearing folks talk about the letter of the law as though it’s black and white. Once you leave the field its too late, stick to the spirit of the game and what you saw.

The Oakland Raiders and Dallas Cowboys could have become back to back champions. The Steeler dynasty may never have taken off totally and or it could have ended with 3 Super Bowl victories had the Oilers seized the momentum. Now we don’t get to see if the Cowboys could go up and dethrone the Seattle Seahawks as we have argued on social media for weeks.

The other elephant in the room is the NFL not only needs to move to full time referees, they need to have complete officiating crews work these games. Not all star crews. If the best teams make the playoffs have the best team of officials calling it.  We wouldn’t have had the nonsense of refs not explaining their actions in Dallas and yesterday could have been different as well. Dez Bryant’s catch was nothing like Bert Emanuel’s diving catch in the ’99 NFC Title Game.

Get ready for more change…

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The Soul of The Game: Earl Campbell

When it comes to great hitting in the NFL, the first vision that comes to mind are those of defenders teeing off on offensive players. Yet some of the most frightening collisions were those that took place when Earl Campbell ran with the football. His aggressive style of play burst onto the NFL scene in 1978 and for the next four seasons was the most dynamic force the league had seen since Jim Brown’s retirement more than a decade before.

In the lineage of great power backs he was Larry Csonka’s successor in the 1970’s while raising the profile of the Houston Oilers. He was used as a bludgeoning weapon to hammer defenses into submission. The only defense he couldn’t beat down with regularity was the Steel Curtain in Pittsburgh. In back to back AFC Championship Games in 1978 and 1979, they kept Campbell short of a deserved Super Bowl visit. Yet against Atlanta’s Gritz Blitz, Denver’s Orange Crush, or even Dallas’ Doomsday Defense, he was the Oilers complete gameplan. Some of his best games came against the best defenses of his day.

In 1977 the Atlanta Falcons had set the record for fewest points given up in a 14 game NFL season with 129. They’re “Gritz Blitz” of Jerry Glanville had first shot at the former Heisman winner in game one of 1978. Campbell smashed off tackle for a 73 yard touchdown in the 1st quarter en route to 137 yards for the game. The fact they were behind for much of the game is why he only carried 15 times. He showed he belonged.

Against the Dallas Cowboys in 1979, a national televised audience tuned in on Thanksgiving to see Earl Campbell vs. Doomsday at Texas Stadium. Again he broke off tackle trampling Cowboys on the way to a 61 yard touchdown that set the tone for the day. His 195 yards rushing was the most ever given up (at that time) in the history of Texas Stadium. He was the star of the game.

Yet when you think of Earl Campbell, it was the collisions that come to mind. He was the most physical runner in NFL history. You’d have to give him the nod over Jim Brown because of the size of the fronts he faced. In the 1960s Brown faced defenses that averaged 250 lbs on the defensive line. He outweighed the linebackers of the time and the contemporary talent was fractured with so much defensive size being displayed over in the AFL. Campbell was facing defensive linemen in the 280 lbs range with middle linebackers outweighing his 225 lbs.

He was able to produce more force than both Brown and Larry Csonka because of the additional room taking the ball on pitches and handoffs back in the I formation and not from a fullback setting. Who was the most punishing runner in NFL history in your eyes?? The Chancellor’s vote is in.

Legendary Days: Rookie Earl Campbell Rushes For 199 Yards on Monday Night

One of the biggest travesties that has taken place over the last ten years was the move of Monday Night Football to cable television. In fact it’s only trumped by the proliferation of too many channels carrying NFL football. When you go back to the last generation of us fans, many of our seasons were remembered by tremendous performances on Monday Night.

One great performance there and you were a made man in the eyes of all NFL fans, for every single one of them were watching the same exploits.  ABC was accessible to the rich and the poor, the young and the old, which allowed generations of fans to watch the same game as well.

The "Luv Ya' Blue" Houston Oilers of the late 1970's was a team that almost won it all.

The “Luv Ya’ Blue” Houston Oilers of the late 1970’s was a team that almost won it all.

Well on one memorable Monday Night in 1978, every NFL fan watching witnessed one of the transcendent games of the 1970’s. The Houston Oilers were 7-4 and hosting the 8-3 Miami Dolphins in the marquee game of the week.

You have to understand the Oilers had been one of the NFL’s bottom feeders their entire existence up to that point. They had only appeared in 1 postseason game in their entire 19 year existence. A 40-7 loss in the 1967 AFL Championship Game. So even that hadn’t gone so well….

Enter Earl Campbell

Every year the NFL has it’s share of rookies who are supposed to live up to press clippings. The “Tyler Rose” stepped onto the field with the Oilers from day one and showed he belonged. Having won the Heisman Trophy his senior season at Texas, he came in as a marked man. Although he had lifted the lowly Oilers into playoff contention, the majority of America had only read of his exploits in newspapers. This Monday Night matchup would become the showcase where the Oilers proved they belonged with the NFL’s elite. Also it would solidify Earl Campbell’s chances to win rookie of the year honors. After all he came into this week 12 contest with 944 yards rushing.

Just as the late Bum Phillips recalled in the clip above, it was one where the crowd noise helped carry the game past a good game into one of great remembrance. Campbell, being cheered on by a raucous crowd, put on a performance for the ages that trumpeted his arrival as well as the Oilers as a force to be reckoned with. It was a back and forth game Houston won 35-30.

This may not have been one of Don Shula’s Super Bowl teams from half a decade before but they were an 11-5 AFC East Wild Card participant that year.  In fact, the Oilers would defeat them again 13-7 down in the Orange Bowl for Houston’s first ever postseason win. Who was the AFC East Champion that year?? The New England Patriots who were rocked 31-14 as Campbell powered the Cinderella Oilers to the AFC Championship Game.

Campbell leapfrogging Patriot cornerback Raymond Clayborn in the '78 playoffs.

Campbell leapfrogging Patriot cornerback Raymond Clayborn in the ’78 playoffs.

Alas they fell to the Steelers in the championship game and would do so again in 1979. Yet it was this performance that put Earl Campbell on the map for good in the eyes of all football fans, not just the NFL. You have to realize the majority of America was down to just NBC, CBS, and ABC when it came to college football and most hadn’t seen him play at the collegiate level. Campbell wound up rushing for 1,450 yards to lead the league in rushing. It was the first time a rookie had done so since Jim Brown in 1957.

Of course he would go on to the collegiate and Pro Football Hall of Fames and ushered in the era of the big super back. George Rogers, Herschel Walker, Bo Jackson, and Keith Byars would follow from college to pro. However none captured the imagination of the football world the way Earl Campbell did that November Monday Night.

As their careers are forever attached, Campbell and Phillips exit Three Rivers Stadium after the 1979 AFC Championship Game.

As their careers are forever attached, Campbell and Phillips exit Three Rivers Stadium after the 1979 AFC Championship Game.

This article is dedicated to the memory of former Houston Oiler Head Coach Bum Phillips (September 29, 1923 – October 18, 2013) A coach who nearly made it to legendary status yet is remembered for the family atmosphere he fostered on those teams. He was the quintessential Texas gentleman that called games for the Oilers for years on radio as well. NFL fans everywhere will miss him.

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Greatest Defensive Performance in an NFL Game – Vernon Perry

Vernon Perry of the Houston Oilers was a solid strong safety.

Vernon Perry of the Houston Oilers was a solid strong safety.

When it comes to great performances in the NFL we tend to think of superstars having spectacular days. However there are times when a player finds himself totally in tune with a situation and turns in the game of a lifetime.

Such was the case with SS Vernon Perry of the late 70’s Houston Oilers. He was the college teammate of the late Walter Payton and Oiler teammate Robert Brazile at Jackson State. After a stint in Canada, Perry only played five seasons in the NFL (1979-1983) and the only distinction he gained was being named 2nd team All Pro in 1980.

In 1979, the Oilers were chasing perennial champion and division rival Pittsburgh, to whom they lost the 1978 AFC Championship Game to. Perry’s rookie year helped solidify a secondary that picked off 34 passes for the season. They were built as a run heavy team behind legendary Hall of Fame running back Earl Campbell. In week 15 the Oilers beat the Steelers 20-17 to give them both identical 11-4 records. A loss to the Philadelphia Eagles in the final week relegated the Oilers to the wild card role and the Steelers the division championship.

The wild card game was one of the most physical games in NFL history. The Denver Broncos “Orange Crush” defense battled tooth and nail in the 13-7 loss to the Oilers. They knocked out Earl Campbell, leading receiver Ken Burrough, and starting quarterback Dan Pastorini.

So a team that had serious aspirations of reaching Super Bowl XIV, or at least a rematch with the Steelers, would have to do so without Campbell’s 1,697 yards in the divisional round. Since the game would be on Saturday and not Sunday, they would be without Pastorini and Burrough as well.

Air Coryell - Dan Fouts, Charlie Joiner, John Jefferson, and Kellen Winslow

Air Coryell – Dan Fouts, Charlie Joiner, John Jefferson, and Kellen Winslow

Picture the 1990’s Dallas Cowboys going into a playoff game without Troy Aikman, Emmitt Smith, and Michael Irvin all not being in the game. This was that equivalent.

Their opponent was the AFC West Champion San Diego Chargers who also had Super Bowl aspirations. In 1979 they became the first team since the merger to make the playoffs passing more then they ran. Dan Fouts had thrown for 4,082 yards which was an NFL record at the time. They too finished with a 12-4 record to tie Pittsburgh for best record in the conference, and had their confidence boosted in week 12 with a 35-7 blowout of those Steelers. They had Pro Bowlers in John Jefferson (61 rec. 1,090 yds 10TDs), Charlie Joiner (72 rec. 1,008 yds 4TDs) along with Hall of Fame DE Fred Dean and DT Gary “Big Hands” Johnson.

The Chargers finished winning 6 of their last 7 and had held 4 of their last 5 opponents to 7 points or less. For the year, finished 5th in the NFL in defense and were healthy and home for the divisional round. This was a Super Bowl ready group… All they had to do was get past an Oiler team without it’s starting quarterback, running back, and leading receiver.

Naturally the Chargers scored on their first possession to take a 7-0 lead and were driving to take a two score lead when Vernon Perry struck…

The Chargers were undaunted but found the Oiler defense was tougher than anticipated. Once they drove inside the red-zone on the next drive, they stalled at the 7 yard line. They were up 7-3 when they lined up for a 26 yard field goal in the second quarter when:

A pensive crowd started to sit on their hands as their high-flying Chargers were clinging to that same 7-3 lead and couldn’t increase it. The Oilers were also struggling to finish drives. The Chargers were coming out with 3:24 to go and they were sure they’d score on the last drive of the half when Vernon Perry decided to undercut Charlie Joiner crossing the middle.

Thanks to the field position caused by Perry’s 2nd theft, the Oilers scored to take a 10-7 halftime lead. With a team that scored 411 points, 2nd most in the NFL in 1979, it was only going to be a matter of time before the Charger juggernaut got rolling.

Or so San Diego fans thought.

Truth be told they had moved the football early and it was becoming clear the Oilers weren’t going away. The team traded 3rd quarter touchdowns and the Oilers were on top 17-14 after Mike Renfro’s 47 yard touchdown. From that point on an upset seemed imminent and the Chargers started pressing. With just over 3:00 to go in the game, Fouts led his team into field goal range when:

Complete disappointment had set in when the San Diego offense took the field with 1:00 to go. Even though they were only behind by 3 and needed a field goal, their body english was that of a defeated team. Yet with under 10 seconds to go, Dan Fouts could get them into field goal range or hope for a pass interference when he heaved his last pass…

After the game Oiler Head Coach Bum Phillips addressed his team “We were short on man power but we were long on guts” was an understatement. Not once can our CEO remember where a team had to go into a playoff game missing 80% of their season’s offensive production due to injury.

Behind Vernon Perry’s NFL playoff record 4 interceptions, 8 tackles, 2 passes defensed, and a blocked field goal he returned 57 yards, the Oilers pulled off the biggest upset since Super Bowl III. Not only did it come when the Oilers desperately needed it in a playoff game, he set up the Oilers’ first 10 points which gave the team confidence believing they could win.  It was the best defensive performance in NFL history by an individual in The Chancellor of Football’s estimation.

It set up an AFC Championship rematch with the champion Pittsburgh Steelers. Armed with their hot rookie safety they made it to the gunlap in the race for Super Bowl XIV. Once there Perry got the Oilers off to a great start early in the game.

Yet alas the Oilers fell 27-13 in a game made famous by the Mike Renfro no touchdown call that sparked the instant replay debate. At the time the score would have been tied 17-17 late in the third quarter and the Oilers would have had the momentum in a quiet Three Rivers Stadium. However that is another story for another day. For it was the week before when Vernon Perry made NFL history that was the story of the 1979 playoffs and a game for the ages.

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Taylor Blitz Times new logo!!

Taylor Blitz Times new logo!!

The Soul Of The Game: The Late 80’s Houston Oilers

houston-oilers-authentic-pro-line-throwback-full-size-helmet-3350235When 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, https://taylorblitztimes.com/2011/06/10/death-becomes-of-the-run-shoot-on-a-monday-night/  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???

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