Oral History of "The Comeback"

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With the Super Bowl days away surebud takes you on a journey many Houston sports fans won’t want to go on: An oral history of “The Comeback.”

We jump into the wayback machine to January 1993, the Houston Oilers had qualified as a wildcard team in the playoffs and traveled to Buffalo to take on the Bills. The Oilers were an original AFL team owned by Bud Adams and won the first two AFL titles in 1960 and ’61. Luv Ya Blue captured the hearts and minds of southeast Texas in the 70’s. Two heartbreaking AFC title game losses to the Steel Curtain Steelers did little to temper the excitement and love the city had for its team. Bum Phillips, Earl Campbell, Dan Pastorini, and Elvin Bethea were all household names.   The early 80’s were largely a miss by the franchise until the run-and-shoot offense made the Oilers must see TV in the late 80’s and early 90’s. It all started when the Oilers signed a Candian League quarterback named Warren Moon. 

The Oilers, led by Moon and a high-octane offense, were a dominate team. According to the website Football Outsiders the Oilers were the best team in football entering the 1993 playoffs. Fresh off a late season victory over the Bills, the Oilers traveled to the northeastern United States to take on the AFC juggernaut Bills.

The Bills were the two time defending AFC champions. They had however lost to the Giants on a Scott Norwood miss and been blown out by the Redskins in their two Super Bowl appearances. The Bills limped into the playoffs having lost starting quarterback Jim Kelly the week before in their loss to the Oilers.

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The Oilers were no strangers to playoff disappointment, however the overwhelming feeling was that 1993 would be different. Moon was at the top of his game and the defense, always a tricky proposition had solidified to the tune of being 9th best in the NFL. The perception was that this year would be different.

(Killer – was in High School in 1993, native Houstonian) On this team this year, I loved Curtis Duncan. He was an unassuming guy who made big catches. Haywood Jeffires, Ernest Givens, and Webster Slaughter got all of the attention, but Curtis moved the chains.

(Derek- Was 12 years old in 1993, named for the Oilers logo) I had been an Oilers fan all of my life.  I was named after the Oil Derrick on the side of their helmets.  On December 10th 1979 (aka: the night I was born) the Oilers beat the Steelers on Monday night football 17-20.  I’ll never forget it. The all time greatest Oiler is Ray Childress.  That is not an opinion.

Eugene Seale

Eugene Seale

(Killer) Warren Moon, threw the prettiest spiral in NFL History. Seriously, go back and watch film. An underrated, and unknown favorite Oiler was LB/Special teams assassin, Eugene Seale. He was listed at 5’10” 250 lbs and was a bowling ball of fury on kick coverage.

(Cordell – Oklahoma Native who would relocate to Houston later that year) In the few games I watched, I loved Webster Melvin Slaughter. His last good year was the 93 season, and he was just fun to watch. This is vague, because I was here for such a small amount of time, but in 1996, we went to the Oiler/Panther game, along with 20,000 other people, that was it. Houston was pissed they were leaving and it showed. But little Kyle was ok, because he got to go down to the front row, high five the Derrick Dolls, act like he was on the field, and see McNair play.

(Gardale – Was in his freshman year of college in Stephenville, Texas) I was/am a Cowboys fan, but I like the Oilers because I liked Warren Moon. My dad always had a policy that we rooted for the Texas team and we kind of stuck with that. So I rooted for the Oilers. 

(Killer) My favorite Oilers memory was seeing the Oilers vs Redskins, my two favorite teams, play a MNF game during the Astrodome’s House of Pain years.

(Derek) One thing I remember from that year was Lamar Lathan. He wore a visor, so yeah pretty cool.

(Gardale) My favorite all-time Oiler was Ray Childress.  I watched him when he was in college. I was like most kids and I did the Billy White Shoes Johnson dance in the school yard. My favorite player on the ’92 team had to be Warren Moon.

(Killer) As a high school receiver at the time, I loved the Oilers receiving Corps. Haywood Jeffires was the big strong outside receiver who was great at fades and jump balls. Ernest Givens was the small, elusive, inside receiver. I loved his Electric Slide touchdown dance. He was also a very flamboyant dresser. Curtis Duncan was my favorite. He was nicknamed The Priest, because you never heard from him. He was a quiet, religious guy who just made plays. This was his best season as a pro also. I hated Webster Slaughter because of his time with the Browns, but he made us a better team. It was a great, dependable group.

(Derek) The Ernest Givins’ “Electric Slide” is the only touchdown celebration that I believe should be recognized.  Sorry Ickey.

(Killer) We had the number 1 passing attack in the NFL combined with a good running game led by Lorenzo White. We also had the #3 ranked defense. Oh, and we had 9 Pro Bowlers. This was definitely our year.

(Gardale) I disliked them (the Bills). I thought they needed to be done after losing the previous 2 Super Bowls.

(Killer) I hated the Bills. They always seemed like the bad guys in a movie before the good guys showed up. They were clearly good as they had been to 2 straight Super Bowls, but they weren’t good enough, as they couldn’t win the big one. The best word for them is frustrating.

(Cordell) Thurman Thomas from Oklahoma State was playing there (Buffalo) and he was a great running back in college and I knew Jim Kelly was a hell of a quarterback.

Mark Kelso

Mark Kelso

(Gardale) I dislike Bruce Smith for no reason at all. They had that one guy, Mark Kelsey (Kelso) who wore two helmets. I thought that was an unfair advantage.

(Derek) On January 3rd, 1993 I prepared to watch the Oilers “take care of business” against the Bills.  Joined by my dad we settled in for the formality of this quick stop off on the Oilers certain Super Bowl run.

(Killer) I was a senior in high school, in Houston, glued to the TV watching the most painful football game I’ve ever experienced. The highs were incredible; the lows were scarring!

(Cordell) I was living in Tulsa, Oklahoma. We had just heard we were moving down to Houston and I was excited to have a team to root for.

(Gardale) I think I was at my parent’s house, watching with my dad.

The Oilers dominated the first half, building a 28-3 lead. Moon completed 19 of 22 passes for 220 yards and 4 touchdowns in the first half, while the Oilers held the ball for 21:12, keeping the Bills' high-powered offense off the field for most of the first two quarters.

(Gardale) Total Domination. I thought it was worse than the score. The bills looked old to me. It was a crowning of the Run-n-Shoot. Teams were starting to use it more and more.

(Cordell) I remember Warren Moon played lights out, almost completing all of his passes. Jeffries and Slaughter were catching anything that was thrown their way. I remember most of the scoring coming in the second quarter. I remember thinking that this team was unstoppable and I could not wait to get to Houston to watch them more.

(Killer) It only confirmed that we were going to the Super Bowl. We were amazing and the Bills were done.

(Derek) Moon was perfect in the first half.  He had been hurt a lot that season and it was like he was putting it all together that game.

(Cordell) I remember sitting in my parents room, watching the game, so excited that we were moving to an NFL city, because we were no where near one up in Oklahoma. I watched as the Oiler receivers were playing out of their minds, Moon picked apart the Bill defense, and our Oiler defense would not let the Bill offense do anything, making Reich look like he had never played the sport before.

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(Derek) I had missed that weeks episode of Beverly Hills 90210 so after the first half I was thinking about popping in the VHS taped recording that my mom had made for me.  This game was over.

Halftime came with the Oilers holding to a 25 point lead. Head coach Marv Levy told his team, "You've got thirty more minutes. Maybe it's the last thirty minutes of your season. When your season's over, you're going to have to live with yourselves and look yourselves in the eyes. You'd damn well better have reason to feel good about yourselves, regardless of how this game turns out." The pep talk didn’t work, Reich threw and interception to Bubba McDowell returned it for a touchdown and a 35-3 lead.

(Killer) I liked our chances against Jim Kelly; I LOVED our chances against Reich. He was a career back up who almost never got to play. There was no way he could defeat those Oilers. Everything was lining up perfectly.

(Gardale) I actually bugged out after the McDowell TD, the game was over the Oilers were going to win, I was hoping for an Oilers/Cowboys Super Bowl.

chron.com

chron.com

(Derek) After the Bubba McDowell pick 6 I was I was like “Mom! Can you come help me adjust the tracking on this episode of 90210?”

(Cordell) After the first half, I didn’t really watch until the end of the 3rd quarter. We were up by so much, that I didn’t really care.

(Killer) Painfully I watched the second half. My thoughts and memories about Bubba: Pretty solid safety out of the U. You always hoped he was better. He kind of sucked you in with flash plays that looked great; then he’d miss the easy tackle or coverage. I also always thought he had a really big forehead.

(Cordell) Jim Kelly was a great QB, and with him on the bench, I thought there was little to no way they could climb out of such a big deficit.

(Gardale) I've never gotten over that they did all that with Frank Reich at quarterback.

The Bills began the climb back into the game in the 3rd quarter. Buffalo then drove 50 yards in 10 plays, including a pass to Pete Metzelaars that went right through the hands of linebacker Eddie Robinson, and scored with a 1-yard touchdown run by Davis, cutting the deficit to 35–10. Steve Christie then recovered his own onside kick and the Bills scored on the fourth play of their ensuing drive with Reich's 38-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Don Beebe. 35-17.

(Killer) The onside kick was the start of my worry. I thought that we needed to kill their momentum immediately. If anything positive happened for the Bills, they would start believing they could win.

(Derek) After the onside kick I was thinking "At least they are showing some heart." I was kinda happy for them. Like the way your happy for the captain of the debate team that gets the nerve up to ask the cheerleader to prom. It's cute but it's never going to happen.

(Killer) I hated it. I hated Don Beebe, which is ironic, because if I ever made it to the NFL, the best I could hope for was to be Don Beebe. Incredible special team player/slot receiver catching a touchdown against your team is not a good sign.

(Derek) After Beebe’s touchdown I started to worry.  That was when I knew The God’s were angry. Beebe stepped out of bounds and came back in to make the catch.  I had never been so mad about a rule I didn’t know existed.

chron.com

chron.com

Andre Reid caught a 26 yard touchdown pass to cut the lead to 35-24. In a span of 10 minutes in the third quarter, the Bills had run 18 plays, gained 176 yards, and scored 21 points. The Oilers ran 3 plays during the same span.

(Derek) Andre Reed was a phenomenal player and he killed us in that half.  Best half of football I’ve ever seen a receiver have.

(Cordell) Always thought Reed was a great receiver. He was quick and great hands, but just did not get a lot of attention because of the team he played for.

As the third quarter wound to a close, the Bills had trimmed the Oiler lead to 4. All the momentum was theirs. Reid’s next touchdown would give the Bill’s the lead. A lead they would hold shortly as Al Del Greco tied the game and forced overtime.

(Gardale) I was gone for all of this. I don’t remember what I was doing, but I came back in the house and my dad said, “You see the score” it was the start of the 4th and it was 35-31. I thought it was a misprint.

(Killer) I really just remember my emotions. I was angry, hot, in disbelief. I also may have been hyperventilating. I was wondering what happened to my team.

(Derek) I just remember thinking "how did we get here?"

(Cordell) After Reid scored, we still had time to drive it down to score a touchdown, not kick a field goal, but score a touchdown.

(Derek) Sure, they had Al Del Greco.

(Cordell) Loved his name, that’s about it.

(Killer) He was a very good kicker and a better golfer.

(Derek) Solid as a rock.

(Gardale) I honestly don’t remember anything about Al Del Greco other they he was in a commercial about Italian American football players. When he tied it I thought, this is going from the worst game in Oiler history to the oddest.

Overtime started with a Warren Moon interception by Nate Odomes. On the return Jeffries committed a 15-yard facemask penalty while making the tackle, giving the Bills a first down on Houston's 20-yard line. Steve Christie finished the Oilers off with a 32 yard field goal.

(Derek) PASS INTERFERENCE!

(Cordell) It was a penalty, pass interference. I seem to remember the receiver not being about to get his hands up to make a play on the ball.

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chron.com

(Gardale) Givens got mugged. Men have gone to prison for less.

(Killer) I remember being so angry, taking off my Oilers shirt and throwing it across the room. I knew it was over at that time.

(Gardale) Steve freaking Christie.

(Killer) I felt exhausted, betrayed, lied too. I’m not sure how that applies, but I felt it! Disappointed, frustrated. I hated losing that game.

(Derek) Afterwards I remember I was holding a Nerf ball the entire game and when it ended I threw it against this wall in our living room that had fake wood paneling,  It made this super loud boom and my mom almost had a heart attack.  It was the most visceral reaction I had ever had to a sporting event.

(Cordell) I think I stared at the TV for a while. I could not believe it happened. I will never forget the blimp shot of the stadium with the score imprinted on the screen. I had just picked my NFL team weeks before, only to watch the, go down in flames.

(Gardale) The worst part was watching the Bills celebrate. And you knew it was coming for them. You knew they’d get torched by somebody in the Super Bowl.

In the aftermath the Oilers fired Defensive Coordinator Jim Eddy, allegedly before the plane landed in Houston. Blame was plentiful for the Oilers part, the Bills would advance to another Super Bowl only to lose 52-17 to the Dallas Cowboys.

(Killer) To me it’s the 2nd most significant sports moment behind the Rockets back-to back, Clutch city championships.

(Derek) Houston is known for bad playoff performances but there has never been anything like this.  I feel like if you were to play that game 100 times then Houston would win 99 of them by 2 touchdowns or more.  That game was an outlier.

(Cordell) I try not to watch them (the highlights). When I do, I think that our defense got out played. We walked into the third quarter ready for the next game, and when they scored so quickly, we had no idea what to do.

(Gardale) Seriously can’t watch the highlights. Makes me sick.

(Killer) I get sick to my stomach, and I am half expecting us to hold on to that first half lead.

(Derek) When I see highlights of that game I can feel Nerf in my hands and sweat on my brow.

(Killer) I have to blame Jim Eddy most of all. He was the D coordinator, after all. But after that I blame all the players for letting up and not finishing the job.

(Gardale) I remember Jim Eddy was hired as a linebackers coach for the Cowboys after that and I was worried he would jinx us.

(Derek) The Refs won the game for the Bills. Too many bad calls went their way.

(Gardale) I’m still not convinced that Jack Pardee had his headset plugged in.

(Killer) I loved Jack Pardee. He seemed like this very nice grandfatherly figure who always used modern, fun passing attacks. It was a little oxymoronic. Also, looking back, it looked like he might have lacked that killer instinct as a coach. Too much of a nice guy.

(Cordell) You still have to use your gameplan and do not be scared. No reason to back off.

(Derek) I think giving up 32 points in less than 2 quarters is aggressive. They could have taken a knee every offensive possession with a 32 point lead and won by 10.

(Killer) I loved this team so much. I can't believe they lost.

(Derek) Do I miss the Oilers? My son can sing the Houston Oilers fight song.  He is 3.  No, I never think about them.

(Gardale) Even with the Texans, you’ve lost the history of Luv Ya Blue. And those were the best uniforms in the NFL. I wish they would get the rights back to the name and the colors

(Killer) I really miss the Oilers. I love the Texans, but I grew up wit the Oilers - that's a special bond that can't be replaced.  

(Cordell) They were an original team with so much history. The baby blue uniforms, the Houston Oiler theme song, the Dome, so much about them were great. We could have been up there with the Steelers, or Redskins as a team with rich history if the leprechaun looking Adams wouldn’t have taken the team away from us.

 (Derek) Here's a thought, lets never talk about this again.

Posted on January 31, 2013 and filed under Sports.