Along with the Oakland Raiders, who we put the spotlight on last week, the Tennessee Titans were founder members of the American Football League which was established by millionaires to compete against the giants of the NFL.
The Titans are also one of several teams that have relocated from the original city where the franchise was founded beginning life in Houston as the Oilers.
Lamar Hunt is credited with setting up the AFL in August 1959, but he was quick to bring Bud Adams into the idea. Both men were sinking in Texas oil money and both had been shut out by the NFL in their attempts to purchase a pro football franchise and both were determined to prove a point by launching the rival league.
The AFL was not the only organisation preparing to take on the NFL in the fifties. The Trans-America League and the International League also had the intention of competing in pro football, but they didn’t have the financial backing from oil. They disappeared while the AFL used its money to compete with the senior league by attracting players and coaches.
At the end of October, Adams announced the franchise for Houston as the Oilers with a budget of $1 million, which even allowing for inflation is not a lot of money compared to the cost of a franchise now. The team designated their home as Jepson Stadium with the intention of increasing its capacity to 45,000.
After the AFL held their first draft they had to battle with the NFL to sign players with many hesitant believing the league wouldn’t survive. Heisman Trophy winner Billy Cannon, halfback out of LSU, was the overall number one pick in the NFL’s draft by the Los Angeles Rams. He had also been selected ten days previously by the Oilers in the AFL draft.
Cannon’s initial reaction to the AFL was negative. “Frankly, I don’t think the AFL will ever get off the ground,” he declared before adding, “And even if it does, I don’t believe that it’ll have many of the good players in it. That doesn’t look like a very promising future to me.” Four weeks later, Cannon signed with the Oiler after being offered incentives he just couldn’t refuse.
The Rams took Cannon to court declaring he was contracted to them and it wasn’t until June 1960 that a federal judge ruled that Cannon was not under contract to the Rams. The judge decided the contract that had been signed were neither signed or filed with the NFL commissioner despite the NFL’s constitution requiring this.
Cannon helped the Oilers win the AFL Championship in the league’s first season catching an 88-yd pass in the final that saw Houston triumph 24-16 while in the NFL the Rams slumped to a 4-7-1 season.
Houston made it to the AFL’s final three straight years winning one more. After the merger with the NFL in 1970, it took six years before the Oilers posted a winning record and nearly two decades before they made it to a Super Bowl.
Next week, NinetyNineYards will look at the Oilers move to Tennessee and their Super Bowl run.
The above image courtesy of the Titans media guide.