January 24 , 2000
Same Old, Same Old
By Ric Sweeney
I was born and raised in Houston, Texas, not Nashville, Tennessee. And I spent two decades cheering for the Houston Oilers, not the Tennessee Titans. There is a definite synergy between the two ideas — an unbreakable connection that I refuse to deny. I gave the Oilers twenty years of my life because I was born into them, because my parents passed their love/hate relationship with them down to me, because they went into battle and defended, amid the carnage and blood that is the NFL, an important part of my life that can never be replaced: my hometown. That’s what sports is supposed to be about — the one constant above the owners, above the coaches and above the players. It is war and they are our soldiers; we stand behind them through thick and thin as they march into enemy territory. Such fanaticism used to be a given — it’s not anymore, and if, by remaining true to a city, I’m part of a dying breed, so be it. That’s why I felt nothing before, during or after Tennessee’s AFC Championship Game victory.
But I’m not heartless. I truly am happy for stand-up guys like Bruce Mathews, who witnessed one too many Oiler failures. But I was also happy for Sean Jones in 1996 when he finally won a Super Bowl with Green Bay. And I didn’t have to be a Packer fan to appreciate his moment. And for me, that is what being a fan is all about — putting the team first. Did any of you follow George Blanda from Houston to Oakland? Or Bum Phillips and Earl Campbell to New Orleans? Or how about Warren Moon when he was shipped off to Minnesota? No, you stayed with the Oilers because Houston stayed with the Oilers. The only other constant in this fan equation is Bud Adams, and I’m pretty sure you rooted for the Oilers in spite of that human monstrosity.
Honestly, Lamar Hunt might as well have been presenting the trophy that bears his name to Georgia Fontaine on Sunday — my emotions would not have been any different. Do I feel a twinge of regret? A tad. I watch Eddie George with thoughts of “What if…” I admire Jevon Kearse, and wonder, “What might have been…” But in a general sense, deep inside my heart that will forever pump Columbia Blue, I know those men in the funny NFL Europe uniforms didn’t wage battle, and ultimately triumph, on my behalf. If anything, Tennessee’s victory allowed me to have closure with the Oilers. Watching the celebration, detached and uninvolved, settled what little doubt I had about my feelings regarding this whole mess: it’s over.
I own a lifetime of memories from the Oilers, and I cherish them all — even the bad ones. But sometimes, no matter how much it hurts, you have to accept separation if it’s the right thing for all parties involved. And it seems to have worked out for both of us. The Titans left behind whatever curse plagued the franchise in Houston, while their departure left the city a dedicated, respected, and, above all else, committed new owner in Bob McNair. And while I’m not yet convinced that the Astrodome was built on some ancient Indian burial ground (though if the Astros move into the Brick House and win a pennant this year…), I do know that the Oilers had run their course. I now look forward to starting fresh and moving on, of forging new memories and of worshiping new heroes — all of whom will represent the city of Houston, my hometown.
And if the year 2002 is permanently etched on your frontal cortex too, then deep down inside, you agree with me. And this run by the Titans is nothing more than a filler rather than some exorcism. Because if, in 2002, you’ll run back to the Houston Whatever’s, and embrace them unconditionally, then any satisfaction you derive from Tennessee’s Super Bowl march is really empty and false — and you’ll realize that in three years. Because you, like me, have invested in a city. And only a downtown parade off Main Street will truly soothe the wounds of far too many playoff collapses. The Oilers are dead. Houston Pro Football is in remission, and none of this weekend’s action really matters. I promise.