November 8, 1999
Who’ll Buy My Memories?
By Ric Sweeney
I celebrated Houston’s biggest preseason victory in eons by giving my long dormant fan boosters a bit of a test run. It has, after all, been nearly four years since I gave a flip about professional football. My significant other’s father is a Steeler fan, and I, like any self-respecting Oiler fan, hate the Steelers. Why I stay with her in light of this is beyond me, but I digress. After hearing the NFL’s announcement, I immediately sent him a furious email, bragging on how this new Houston football franchise was going to wipe the field with his beloved Steelers come 2002. And as I started to pile on the Kordell Stewart’s “intelligence” and Bill Cowher’s pansy lisp, an uneasy and disconcerting feeling came over me. The whole process felt empty. I took no joy in the trash talking. Maybe it was just a case of such action being more than a wee bit premature. We don’t, after all, even have a name to call this team by just yet, much less, something to brag about. It also could have been that I was out of practice and off my game. Football did, after all, die for me the day the Oilers left town.
But after heady reflection, I realized that perhaps, just maybe, the idea of detesting anything and everything about the Steelers no longer seemed to take a precedent in my life. And what an unsettling revelation it proved to be. Does this mean that all those years I invested in loathing Bubby Brister, Sam Wyche and Bernie Kosar were now for naught? Seems when Bud Adams and his minions crossed state lines in their U-Hauls, they managed to pack away more than just shoulder pads and jockstraps. They took 20 years of my life too.
I was reared on the Houston Oilers. My parents were big fans, dating back to at least 1970, when they purchased two season tickets. In 1978, at the tender age of 7, my acumen for anything and everything Oilers was so great that my parents purchased two more tickets, one for my disinterested sister, the other for me. My full-time coronation into the NFL just happened to coincide with Earl Campbell’s. A hero was born, as was a fan for life.
Over the next two decades, I would rise, but mostly fall, with the Houston Oilers. Now, those years I gave to the team have been sold to the inhabitants of Tennessee, with nary a thought as to their significance in my life. Unbelievably, the Titans’ “history” is littered with references to Earl Campbell this and Warren Moon that. Wasn’t Campbell wearing Columbia blue, and not some NFL Europe reject uniform, the night he ran over and through the Miami Dolphin defense for one of the millennium’s single greatest individual performances on the gridiron? And just who was Moon playing for the day he completed 527 yards worth of passes in 1990? The Volunteers? Those memories belong to me, and are not for sale — sorry, Bud. Well, come to think of it, Tennessee can have most of my memories: 61-7, the Stagger Lee, Ian Howfield, Kevin Gilbride, every playoff loss from 1987-1993.
But no matter how much my hatred for the Oilers grew, I always came back for more. How in the world will I ever be able to reconcile cheering for a team not prancing around in baby blue? A new name and color scheme, not to mention a new division with unfamiliar foes and no sense of rivalry what if I don’t want to give up what I already had? The very idea leaves me more than a tad bewildered and uncertain. Yes, I will embrace this new team, and yes, the thought of my Sunday’s once again having purpose has me excited. But it will take some getting used to.
Until, of course, this new franchise blows its first playoff game. Then it will feel just like old times again.
Ric Sweeney was never the same athlete after season-ending knee surgery in the seventh grade. He never was much of anything prior to the surgery either, but he still has a killer scar to show for his trouble.