“The First Season”
By ED WETTERMAN
Though the inaugural season in Oilers history ended with a championship bang, in many other ways, it evolved as a microcosmic blueprint for many of the franchise’s future seasons, full of many ups, downs, and sideways twists and turns.
In a foretaste of what Oilers fans would come to expect from owner Bud Adams, the first preseason home game in the Houston franchise’s history was not played in Houston but rather in Tulsa, near Adams’ hometown.
The entire escapade turned into a trainwreck: several jerseys went missing, and some Oilers players had to borrow red-and-white Dallas Texans jerseys for the game.
The team missed a parade as it got lost in the large metropolis of Tulsa when the bus driver couldn’t find the proper street.
The stadium’s sound system failed.
Despite the debacle of the first exhibition game, excitement in Houston built as the Oilers split their remaining four preseason games to go 2-3 to finish tuning up for the regular-season opener against the Oakland Raiders in California.
The first touchdown pass in Oiler history was a 43-yard toss from Blanda to Charlie Hennigan, and the first rushing score was by fullback Dave Smith, who also became the first Oiler to rush for over 100 yards in a game.
Blanda threw four touchdowns and one interception, as Houston won the game 37-22 in a shootout.
The Oilers then played their next four games at home, defeating the Los Angeles (later the San Diego and now again Los Angeles) Chargers, 38-28; losing a squeaker to the Raiders 14-13; knocking off the Titans of New York (later the New York Jets), 27-21; and thumping the Dallas Texans (later the Kansas City Chiefs), 20-10.
Despite this burst of initial success, the first four games drew very small crowds, and by October (in another preview of coming attractions) Adams was publicly threatening to relocate the franchise.
Fortunately, attendance improved as the Oilers continued to roll.
They lost to the Buffalo Bills in another one-point squeaker, 25-24; defeated the Denver Broncos in an offensive explosion, 45-25; then were nipped by the Chargers 21-24.
They followed this up with two wins over the Broncos, 20-10, and the Boston (later New England) Patriots, 24-10.
Then with a 7-3 record, another of the franchise’s perpetual themes would be unveiled as the Oilers squared off with the Dallas Texans and laid a goose egg against their in-state rivals, 24-0.
Such outcomes became seasonal expectations among the Oiler faithful for the next three and a half decades.
However, Houston recovered to finish the regular season with wins against the Bills (31-23,) and the Patriots (37-21).
At 10-4, the Oilers had earned the Eastern Division championship and the right to play the Chargers for the first AFL Championship, which set the stage for old rivalries to be renewed on a new stage.
Chargers Head Coach Sid Gillman (the only coach to be inducted into both the Pro Football Hall of Fame and College Football Hall of Fame) had a history with both Oilers head coach Lou Rymkus and Adams, having had a physical confrontation with both in years past (when Adams had played offensive line in college).
Rymkus had worked for Gillman as an assistant coach with the Chicago Cardinals and wanted to defeat his old boss.
Before the game, Rymkus allegedly gave a corny speech about how the northern buffalo faces adversity head on, directly looking into the cold wind of the frozen plains.
At the end, he challenged his team, “Now get out there and show them you are Great Northern Buffaloes!”
Ed Wetterman is a native Houstonian and lifelong Oiler fan/historian. He is a teacher, genealogist, game creator, and writer who lived and died on Sundays with the Oilers. Ed has created many games such as “East Texas University: Degrees of Horror” and written short stories such as “HellFighter,” published by Pinnacle Entertainment Group. Football has always been one of his greatest passions. He experienced the highs and the lows of being an Oiler fan, and like many others, he was crushed when the Oilers left Houston. Writing for Miss Ya Blue! gives him an outlet for his Columbia Blue love.
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