Much like a number of other teams in the NFL, the Tennessee Titans have been through quite a few names and identity changes over the years. A lot of this has come from the fact that they haven’t always been based in the state of Tennessee at all.
They are a bit of a nomadic team, to say the least. But that isn’t to say their fans feel any less devotion towards them. As they have travelled across the states, they have picked up and dropped fans but always been a team committed and focused on doing their best wherever they are.
Over the years they have notched up some impressive stats that include 7 league championships and the AFL championship twice in the early sixties.
How it all began
As confusing as all this might be to some, it’s really been quite a simple case of evolution for what we now call the Tennessee Titans. The Genesis of the story began in 1960 in Houston, Texas, a modest 650 odd miles away from Nashville.
They were called the Houston Oilers and owned by oilman and local tycoon Bud Adams. Adams was certainly a very shrewd businessman but he was also a man who desperately wanted his hands on a football team.
When he took charge of his Oilers he tried to get them into the NFL on a number of occasions. The team were part of the first ever AFL championships and won the first one in 1960 when they defeated the Los Angeles Chargers.
They fielded what have now become legendary names such as Billy Cannon, George Blanda, Bob Talamini and the two Charlies, Hennigan and Tolar. Following their win in 1960, they continued their success into the next season and took the AFL title again, this time beating San Diego.
The next year the Oilers were trying for the hat trick and they made their way to the very end only to succumb to the nearby Dallas Texans, dramatically losing in double-overtime in what was then the longest game of all time.
They were becoming a dominant force in the AFL but their owner still had his eyes on the NFL. He even brought over players from the NFL for the first time in the game’s history when he signed Willard Dewveall from the Chicago Bears. Dewveall didn’t disappoint either and became famous for catching the longest pass in the history of professional football when he made a 99-yard touchdown.
The sixties were certainly the best time for the Oilers. They were crowned division winners again in 1967 and, befitting their new status, they upgraded their existing stadium at the Jappesen Stadium within the University of Houston to the all new (but soon to be revealed as cursed) stadium at Houston’s Astrodome.
Finally in the NFL
The owner, the players and the fans had always felt an urge to be part of the more widely acknowledged and well thought of NFL. So when the two leagues merged in 1970, there was cause for much excitement around the Houston Oilers camp.
Sadly this wasn’t matched with results and performances on the playing field. The Oilers sat at the foot of the table and struggled to win games or attract any promising players for a few years.
In 1974, a new coach was duly appointed. Sid Gilman arrived and injected some hope and life into the side, but he was quickly (and somewhat surprisingly) replaced by Bum Phillips, who came from the Chargers.
Bum attracted Elvin Bethea and Billy ‘White Shoes’ Johnson, and the Oilers slowly picked up momentum and eventually found their stride again in 1978 when they reached their first ever NFL playoffs.
A great deal of this was thanks to the efforts of the remarkable young star Earl Campbell. The 23 year old running back from Tyler, who would end up notching up over 9,000 yards for the Oilers in his 6 years with the side, was a formidable force for the team.
The Oilers had so much promise during this time but, on all three occasions that they were in the playoffs, they failed to reach the second round.
Down and up
The Houston Oilers didn’t pick up much during the eighties but continued to battle hard and often gave many of the bigger teams a serious run for their money. The 1981 season is certainly one they would rather forget though.
They might have thought things would go well for them when they won their first couple of games but it would have crushed a few dreams when the following 23 away games in a row ended in defeat.
They needed some new players but it was hard to tempt in the stars when the result were not coming. In 1984 they bagged a coup when they won the bidding war for Warren Moon and he would help them make it to the playoffs again in 1987.
This would prove a turning point, as the late eighties and early nineties saw a dramatic improvement in the Oilers’ form. Between 1987 and 1993, they would make the playoffs every single season and they even won the division title in 1991, which came as a relief for everyone, as the last one had been 24 years previously.
They were one of the most improved and now successful teams in the AFL and, at their home ground, the Astrodome, people were crammed in like sardines. It held the least amount of people in the league with a capacity of only 50,000.
Bud Adams, who still held all the cards, threatened to take his team off to Florida unless something was done in Houston. So the city taxed its residents to breaking point and put up the $67 million to keep the precious Oilers in their city. Sadly, this wasn’t going to be the last time emigration was threatened though.
The start of the nineties would be filled with threats for the Oilers. Their ruthless owner Bud Adams had pumped vast amounts of money into the team and was getting more and more frustrated that they were dipping their toes in the water of success but not getting wet enough for his liking.
He wanted his mitts on the big one: the Super Bowl. So, in 1993, he issued his team the biggest ultimatum of their careers. He told them all that unless they make the Super Bowl he would break up the team. Never has a team responded so complacently to such a cruel and serious threat.
That season the Oilers notched up their best ever playing record in Texas and won 12-4 in total. They won the AFC Central division title too but then lost in the second round playoffs. Many thought this was be enough for Adams and he wouldn’t dare stick to his word. They thought wrongly though, as Adams sold their star man Warren Moon to the Vikings.
The owner got even greedier. Having already been granted the massive extension at the Astrodome, he wanted an even bigger and better stadium. This time though, Mayor Bob Lanier of the city of Houston said enough was enough. This spelt the final straw for the volatile Adams and he immediately went about putting the team on the market.
Finally something Tennessee about the Titans
Receiving a number of suitors for the great franchise, Adams liked the sound of Tennessee man Phil Bredesen’s offer. In 1995, Adams and Bredesen struck a deal and the Oilers were signed away to the city of Nashville for a 1998 season start.
Nashville came to the rescue and put up over $200 million immediately. They were quickly renamed the Tennessee Oilers, but there wasn’t a suitable stadium ready for the team upon arrival so they decided to play their games at Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium in Memphis.
However, this was a huge problem, because Memphis themselves had been trying for years to get their team in the NFL, so when the Oilers barged in, they didn’t take kindly to them. Coupled with the bizarre situation of extensive travelling demanded of the ‘home’ fans for every match, the fanbase rapidly shrunk. As a result, before 1999, the Tennessee Oilers played in front of an embarrassingly small capacity only seen previously in the 1950s.
A new name and a new team
Bud Adams had lost the support of the fans and so, to regain their approval and replenish faith in the team, he announced that he would rename the side in order to represent a new dawn for the new stadium. In December 1998, Adams and his board announced the name the Tennessee Titans.
The Titans were nothing like the Oilers. In 2000, they finished with an NFL best, chalking up a 13-3 record. They continued this form in years to come and reached the AFC championships in 2002, losing to the future Super Bowl participants the Oakland Raiders.
In 2003 they made the playoffs and beat the Baltimore Ravens in the first round but then went out to the Patriots in the next stage. But their form had drastically changed and everyone in the game was starting to sit up and notice them.
A very young team in 2005 saw them dip in form somewhat though, meaning they finished the season with a 4-12 record. Fortunately, things picked back up again in the following year when they levelled their record with 8-8.
Fewer teams have endured such a nomadic and unsettled history and the Tennessee Titans, but the history and the successful is all there in black and white, or rather blue and white. The big question now though is, will they stay in Tennessee for long?
- AFL Championships – Winners (1960, 1961)
- Division Championships – AFL East Winners (1960, 1961, 1962, 1967), AFC Central Winners (1991, 1993, 2000), AFC South Winners (2002)