Love 'Ya, Blue: The 10 Best Players in Oilers/Titans History
With all of the hype and promise surrounding Chris Johnson, Vince Young, and an exciting defense, it is sometimes easy to forget the long-lost days of lore. Their 37 years in Houston makes it almost seem like it was a different franchise altogether.
From the wide-open new-frontier days of the nascent AFL to the free-wheeling 1970s, when oil derricks and cowboy hats were the norm, the organization has a richer history than most would imagine.
Here, at the dawn of their 50th season, is a look back at the key players that helped shape the franchise.
All but three are in the Hall of Fame, but each and every one left their indelible mark not only on the team, but on NFL history.
No. 10: Billy Johnson
After a promising start, the Houston Oilers fell on rough times in the mid 1970's. In 1974, they drafted lightly regarded speedster named Johnson, and neither he nor the franchise looked back.
In many ways, he was a groundbreaker of sorts, given his sometimes flamboyant footwear and touchdown celebrations (his favorite: "The Funky Chicken").
But, much to the joy of teammates, coaches and fans alike, he found the end zone often enough to curb any potential eye-rolling skepticism at his over-the-top demeanor.
In fact, his talent and antics helped infuse life into a sagging franchise that was mired in mediocrity at the time.
No. 9: Mike Munchak
Munchak, a nine-time Pro Bowler, earned the starting left guard position in his rookie year. For the next 12 seasons, he was an anchor on one of the best offensive lines in football.
His enviable combination of brains and brawn were a key cog in the high-powered Oilers offenses of the late 80s/early 90s.
His blocking and durability were nearly unparalleled, in spite of chronic knee problems. He was voted to the Hall of Fame in 2001.
Without a doubt, he was worthy of his high draft position (eighth overall). These days, he's putting his knowledge to use as coach of the Tennessee Titans' offensive line.
No. 8: Ken Houston
While most of his career was with the Wasington Redskins, Houston's time playing for the Oilers would have arguably been enough to get him to the spot he now enjoys in Canton.
The 1967 ninth-round pick out of Prairie View was a perennial Pro Bowler whose ball hawking skills were second to none. His contemporaries, such as Jack Tatum and Mel Blount, may have gotten all the headlines, but few could convert turnovers into points like Houston.
He remained productive in Washington, D.C., but never was able to find the end zone like he did in the red, white and Columbia blue.
No. 7: Bruce Matthews
Not to take away from the legendary Mike Munchak, but Matthews' career pretty much established him as the Jerry Rice of offensive linemen.
Virtually every record in every category of significance belongs to him. Then again, when you play for 19 seasons at a high level, good things tend to happen.
Matthews was perhaps the most durable player—let alone offensive linemen—of his era, with fourteen Pro Bowls to boot.
He is one of the few players who has bridged a gap between two distinct eras. When he was drafted in 1983, the blue flames and dancing T-Rac were but a twinkle in Bud Adams' eye. He cut his teeth blocking for Earl Campbell, taking on the likes of Jack Lambert.
Yet by the time he hung up his pads for good, he was effectively keeping Steve McNair safe from the grasp of Joey Porter and Ray Lewis.
After laying low for a few years, the 2007 Hall of Fame inductee apparently has the competitive itch again, taking an offensive assistant job with the Houston Texans.
No. 6: George Blanda
After wearing out his welcome with the Chicago Bears, the retired Blanda not only revived his career—which would go on for decades—but gave life to a newborn franchise when he came to the Oilers.
The Oilers came out of the gate fast, posting winning records in their first three seasons. Blanda won AFL Player of the Year honors in 1961, with double duty as both a quarterback and a kicker.
As was the case with the good majority of his unprecedented 26-year career, his total production was a bit of a mixed bag. His clutch performances also came with a penchant for interceptions that would make even a 2008 Brett Favre look good.
Yet the fact remains he was in the right place at the right time, and the Oilers had the right man to kick start their fledgling franchise into legitimacy.
No. 5: Eddie George
George and Bruce Matthews are perhaps the only two players in franchise history who were dominant as both Oilers and Titans (Steve McNair didn't come into his own until later).
From the get-go, the former Heisman Trophy winner out of Ohio State didn't disappoint, posting an impressive 1,368 yards his rookie season.
Like Matthews, his durability was uncanny, especially given the violent, mercurial nature of his position.
During his eight-year tenure with the Oilers/Titans, he never missed a start due to injury.
His inspired running in the second half of Super Bowl XXXIV led Jim Brown to say that that was the closest he's ever seen anybody come to Walter Payton.
While time will tell if it's good enough to get him to Canton, his mark on the franchise is carved in stone.
No. 4: Earl Campbell
Along with Billy Johnson, Earl "the Tyler Rose" Campbell was the face of the Oilers' mid-1970's revitalization. His bruising running style struck fear into the heart of linebackers and defensive backs across the league.
YouTube is littered with "no WAY that happened" clips of his exploits. While never labeled as "lightning quick," he did possess deceptive speed once he was in open space.
Disappointingly enough, his confrontational "north/south" approach took its toll early. The 1979 Offensive Player of the Year began his decline all too early, as he retired after just eight years in the league.
But to this day, the way he played the game influences generation after generation of players.
Not only were his numbers impressive, but his positive influence on a lagging franchise looms large.
No. 3: Warren Moon
In terms of numbers, there has never been a greater Oiler. From 1984 to 1993, very few quarterbacks enjoyed the excessive numbers that he posted.
But more important is the fact that he knew how to win. He held the franchise record for wins, with 70, until Steve McNair broke it in 2004.
In the late 1980s and early 1990s, the Oilers were mainstays of the playoffs.
It could be argued that if his supporting cast were better, he would have won several Super Bowls in the prolific run n' shoot offense.
And who knows what would have happened if the debacle at the hands of the Buffalo Bills in the 1993 playoffs wouldn't have transpired? On Jan. 3, Houston saw a 28-point lead vanish, with the Bills prevailing in overtime.
But regardless of that day, Moon, the first black quarterback to be enshrined in the Hall of Fame, forever has his place etched in Oilers and NFL history.
No. 2: Elvin Bethea
As is the case with many players on this list, durable consistency (along with HoF numbers) seems to be the norm for this blue-collar franchise player.
Bethea, a 2003 Hall of Fame inductee, played his entire career with Houston, racking up 105 career sacks in the process, still a team record. In addition, his 16 sacks in 1973 remain unmatched.
Granted, it's not official, given that sacks weren't an NFL statistic until 1982.
But the fact remains that he was an underrated defensive force. Throw in the fact that he never donned another team's colors and it makes him all the more endearing to the franchise.
He was named to eight Pro Bowls, and perhaps most importantly was just as respected off the field.
No. 1: Al Del Greco
No. 1: Steve McNair
Where to begin?
Of all the key attributes and criteria bestowed on the players on this list, McNair is the one who has them all.
First and foremost, he won. A lot.
The only quarterback to take the franchise to a Super Bowl, (and lose by a hair), he also possesses the all-time win mark for the team.
His durability was unmatched, as well. True, other players may have more consecutive starts or games played, but few were as gritty as McNair. Truth be told, his toughness was more on par with Jack Youngblood's. He was tough by any player of any era's standards, not just quarterbacks.
And when it mattered, he had the stats. In his early years, he was known as more of a running, gimmicky quarterback. The "Dare McNair" defense was commonplace in the old AFC Central.
Yet he developed his game enough to be MVP of the league in 2003 (an honor which he shared with Peyton Manning).
Some naysayers may question the decision to put him at No. 1, citing the fact tragic death tends to fan the flames of legend.
While we certainly wish he was still with us, his numbers—and his legacy—stand alone. The franchise is better for him.