September 18, 2000
The Silver Lining
In 1972, the Oilers were knee deep in the franchise’s first dark age, having lost 21 of their previous 30 games. And that was the good news. The bad news was that "Broadway" Joe Namath and the undefeated New York Jets were on their way to town for a week three clash.
Heavy underdogs, the Oilers prepared for the Jets by watching film of Namath rip apart a supposedly good Baltimore defense in week two. The flamboyant, Super Bowl-winning quarterback had thrown for 496 yards against the Colts — at the time, the third highest total in league history. For the Oilers’ young and inexperienced defense (anchored by the likes of Ken Houston and Elvin Bethea), Namath was the last guy they wanted to see step onto the Astrodome floor.
The Oilers’ offense, meanwhile, was led by second year QB Dan Pastorini, WR’s Charlie Joiner and Ken Burrough and a cast of no talent no names. They would score 20 or more points just twice in 1972, while losing 13 of their 14 games. But none of that seemed to matter on a glorious October afternoon, as the Oilers, and not the Jets, played like champions, thrilling a capacity Astrodome crowd with a rare display of great, all-around football.
Early, however, it looked like any other typical Sunday in Houston. The Oilers failed to score in the first quarter, trailing 10-0 after Namath hooked up with Jerome Barkum for a 25-yard score and Bobby Howfield added an 8-yard FG.
The Oilers’ sputtering offense turned the corner on the first drive of the second quarter, however, moving 80 yards in 12 plays, culminating in a 1-yard plunge by Willie Rodgers. On their next series, Pastorini put Houston in front to stay, hitting Joiner on a 38-yard strike before finding Burrough for a 52-yard touchdown.
After Howfield’s second field goal cut Houston’s lead to one, 14-13, Pastorini was sacked hard just prior to intermission, and went to the locker room not with his teammates, but lying motionless on a stretcher. With back-up Lynn Dickey already lost for the season, the 51,423 fans in attendence grew silent. But out came Pastorini, Willis Reed-style, to start the third quarter, limp and all. The Oilers’ defense, feeding off of Dante’s inspiring return, responded by turning in a third quarter for the ages.
Shutting Namath and company out, the Oilers’ defense helped set up three Skip Butler field goals, the only points of the quarter. The first field goal, an easy 12-yarder, came after Ron Pritchard jammed John Riggins and Willie Alexander pounced on the loose football. The second field goal, a 20-yarder, came courtesy of a turnover too, as George Webster smacked Barkum after a 19-yard reception and Benny Johnson recovered the fumble. Bob Atkins then intercepted Namath, and four plays later, Butler nailed another 20-yarder. With three quarters in the books, the Oilers led, 23-13.
Fed up, Namath moved the Jets downfield to open the fourth quarter, hitting Rich Caster on a 10-yard scoring pass. The drive, New York’s best of the day, covered 76 yards in 16 plays and pulled the Jets within three, 23-20. Once again, the crowd grew silent — were the same old Oilers about to rear their ugly heads? Surprisingly, Houston’s offense answered with a 76-yard drive of their own.
It ran nearly seven minutes off the clock and resulted in Butler’s fourth field goal of the day, another 12-yarder. With a six point lead, it would once again be up to the defense to hold Namath in check. They did, on three consecutive big plays, forcing the Jets to punt, and sending the sellout crowd into a frenzy. But Houston, unaccustomed to doing things the easy way, fumbled a handoff while trying to run out the clock, and gave Namath one last chance.
From the Oilers’ 47, Namath hit Barkum for 20 yards. On first down, he looked to the end zone and found Caster wide open. But Namath’s potential game-winner sailed right, and Johnson was able to intercept the errant pass with 1:11 remaining, securing the Oilers’ first (and last) victory of the season, 26-20.
The Oilers of 1972 were, quite honestly, a horrible team. They would win just 2 games over the course of two seasons, registering a combined record of 9-45-2 from 1970 to 1973. Of those 9 victories, only two came against .500 teams, the 1970 Bengals and the 1972 Jets.
GAME STATS Jets Oilers First Downs 19 19 Rushing Yards 97 150 Passing Yards 301 258 Passes 18/38 14/28 Interceptions 2 0 Punts 3/42 3/46 Fumbles lost 2 1 Penalty Yards 40 68
vs. New York
October 1, 1972
Site: The Astrodome
Records: Jets (2-0);
Before Joe Namath’s arrival in NY, the Oilers had owned the Jets, beating them 8 of 10 times. Prior to their 1972 upset, Houston had managed just 2 wins in 9 games against Namath. ————————– After upsetting the Jets, the Oilers hosted the Raiders on MNF in the game that would forever be remembered for the one-finger salute a lone fan gave the national TV audience. ————————– After beating New York, Houston did not win another football game until November 4, 1973, a club record-spanning 18 games.