Great Moments: The Night Houston Fell
Over the years I’ve had the privilege of covering some great moments in sports: state championships, NCAA basketball tournaments, college bowl games, and professional and Olympic boxing.
No single moment I’ve ever witnessed stands out more than November 20, 1978. As a fan, I got the thrill of experiencing the birth of Luv Ya Blue.
During my freshman, and only, year at the University of Houston, I was part of the two person sports staff at the Daily Cougar. Jackie Moscarelli, a twenty something perpetual student, was the sports editor and over the previous year we’d become great buds in addition to all the fun and excitement of covering the University of Houston sports scene. She was gorgeous, she had cleavage, she liked sports and she loved beer, which, as far as 19-year-old Dave was concerned at the time, were four of the finest qualities any woman could have. Alas, she was hung up on someone else, so I was just her drinking buddy.
Jackie had somehow gotten season tickets to the Oilers and, since I shared her passion for the team, I got invited to attend a few games. I wore my gorilla mask, hoping to get on TV occasionally, and we would drink our beer and scream until we were both hoarse.
On this particular Monday night however, we got powder blue pom-poms as we came through the turnstiles. Something was definitely up. When we got into the stands, w saw magic happening all around us. Fifty thousand people were waving those pom-poms, and every time they played that Oiler fight song, the cheesiest fight song ever created and literally stolen from the Dallas Cowboys, the place went nuts.
The magic only got better as the game continued.
The 7-4 Oilers were in the thick of the hunt for a playoff spot and that night were playing the 8-3 Miami Dolphins, a team led by the legendary Bob Griese. The game sea-sawed for three quarters, with Campbell plowing in for a pair of touchdowns and Griese throwing for a couple. Entering the final fifteen minutes of play it was knotted up at twenty one all, and there wasn’t a single one of us 50,000 people in the Astrodome who was sitting down.
Moments into the fourth quarter, A.J. Duhe broke through the Oiler line and decked Dan Pastorini in the end zone for a safety, nearly causing Jackie to die on the spot.
Jackie had a major thing for Dante, which may explain why I never had a chance with her. That, or the fact that I could drink beer and dip snuff at the same time. As Robert Earl Keen once noted about snuff users, I never had to worry about long relationships.
As the clock ticked down under five minutes, Campbell answered to put the Oilers ahead 28-23 when he barreled in from twelve yards out. The place went nuts.
Griese wasn’t finished. He marched Miami right back down the field and it appeared things might be over when they pushed inside Oiler territory with less than two minutes remaining. We’re Houston fans after all, we’re used to losing in the final seconds.
It seemed as though linebacker Steve Kiner had different ideas. He picked off a Griese pass at the Houston19 with a little more than one minute remaining. Again, the Astrodome went nuts.
As we look back on it now, we often overlook Kiner’s heroics, after all in the end, his was the play that sealed the victory for Houston. The next down brought the house into a frenzy.
Needing a first down to run out the clock, coach Bum Phillips called a simple pitch play to Earl, who’d already carried twenty seven times that night. Earl took off toward a tackle, then saw a hole and darted through. All of a sudden, he was free and clear. Although visibly exhausted already, he out-footed corner back Curtis Johnson and raced eighty one yards down the sideline for the score that pretty much made things official.
We were sitting in the opposite end zone, watching the play come to us. At first, both Jackie and I said something stupid, like “What the hell are they running outside for? Stay between the tackles and run the clock … and GO EARL, GO!”
If you have never experienced having a gorgeous woman leaping into your arms and hugging you like you’ve just won the lottery, you’re really missing out on things. We both wound up drenched in beer, but it was worth it. You can look back now on pictures of that scene and see what happened in the Astrodome, but it was nothing compared to having been there.
Griese chucked another touchdown pass on the game’s final play, but by that point it was all academic. The Oilers won, 35-30, and in the hearts of every Houston fan, the Luv Ya Blue era was born.
Although the Oilers made it to the AFC Championship game twice in the next couple of years, then again with Warren Moon and the run-and-shoot team, that Monday night game will forever be viewed as the high-water mark of professional football in Houston. The Oilers never got to the Super Bowl, and eventually some in Houston soured on them. That despicable cad Bud Adams took his team to Tennessee and finally made it to the Big One, but that was with hillbillies as fans.
Houston has another team now and admittedly the Texans have struggled. They’ve displayed flashes of brilliance from time to time, but everything hasn’t come together all at the same time yet. But I keep hoping that some day, sometime soon, we’ll rekindle the magic we first witnessed on November 20, 1978.
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