Before they moved to Tennessee, the Titans (as the Houston Oilers) were founder members of the American Football League. The league sprang into life in its third season thanks to the 1963 Championship game that went into double overtime. Houston lost that game after winning the previous two championships and life would never be the same again.
The moving of NFL franchises to different cities is not unusual. Income and dissatisfaction over stadiums are the prevailing reasons teams relocate.
On April 12, 1995 with the LA Rams move to St. Louis agreed, and the threat of the Bengals and the Eagles moving, Oilers owner Bud Adams commented “It’s a helluva market out there. My lease is up in two years. I may want to take a look at LA myself. I think all franchises have to look at the market they’re in no matter how long they’ve been there.”
Using the current state of the Astrodome as an excuse, Adams visited Nashville to talk about relocating his team and stating he was seeking a domed stadium for the team.
A month later when the proposed move took on a more serious tone, Texas governor George W. Bush (who later went on to be President) said he didn’t want to see the Oilers relocate to another state. Although reluctant to see them go, Bush was adamant, “The state of Texas is not going to come to sports franchises with a goody basket worth of tax breaks or outright cash grants.”
The projected move began as it appears to be normal with sporting wrangles – in the court room. The Oilers filed a lawsuit against the city of Houston and the Astrodome to bar them from taking any legal or administrative action to prevent the team’s relocation.
After the judge found in the Oilers favour, negotiations with Tennessee intensified and preparations to build a new stadium in Nashville were established. October saw an agreement to move the team in 1998 if the city built a $292 million stadium and sold $71 million in personal seat licences.
With uncertainty within the organisation, the Oilers had to recover from a 2-14 season. Selecting quarterback Steve McNair with their first-round choice as backup to Chris Chandler and with head coach Jeff Fisher firmly in place after being promoted during the previous season, the team improved to 7-9.
February 1996 was an interesting month in the NFL. The Seahawks stated an intention to move to Los Angeles after that city lost both of its teams and the Cleveland Browns announced they would be moving to Baltimore. The Oilers registered their Stadium Development Agreement which was a revised plan to build their new stadium while the local council voted 26-13 to approve the relocation deal.
An attractive feature of the new stadium would be the double amount of toilet facilities for women as opposed to those provided for men. “This will allow women to go and get back to see that touchdown,” commented Senator Thelma Harper when the plan was approved by the State Senate. The headline in the Tennessean Times read, “Senate puts stadium under ‘potty parity’.”
In May, the NFL owners meeting approved the move with the provision that Congress pass no “punitive legislation” towards the league. Again, the league had one eye on the court room, but the way was now open for the move which took another year to complete.
With all the upheaval going on, head coach Jeff Fisher was quietly building and developing a young team through the draft. The final season of 1996 in Houston, saw the team improve to 8-8. Gradually, Fisher was putting together a team that was to compete.
The Tennessee Oilers finally changed their name to the Titans in time for the 1999 season. One fan noted, “It is a name synonymous with strength and force. It is a good neutral name and appeases the problem of team names associated with Native Americans and doesn’t add to the glut of animal names.”
Now equipped with a new name, the Titans also had a new stadium to perform in and they certainly did execute! They went 8-0 in Adelphia Stadium while finishing 13-3. They entered the playoffs for the first time in six years and marched to the Super Bowl XXXIV defeating the Buffalo Bills (14-3), the Indianapolis Colts (15-3) and the Jacksonville Jaguars (16-3) on the way.
The Titans became the first team to make it to the Super Bowl since divisional play began in 1970 not to win their division. They faced the St. Louis Rams and Kurt Warner and fell 16-0 behind before Eddie George punched it over twice from the one on consecutive series. Tennessee tied the game 16-16 with just under two minutes remaining in regular time.
On the Rams ensuing possession, Isaac Bruce caught a 73-yard touchdown pass from the game’s MVP Warner that sealed the first Lombardi trophy for St. Louis. “It was a great throw and catch,” complimented Jeff Fisher. Eddie George set a new NFL post-season record with 449 yards rushing and said, “It was one hell of a ride. It will always be special to me. We just didn’t make enough plays.”
Three years later they were beaten 41-24 in the Conference Final by the Oakland Raiders and that was the nearest they got to another Super Bowl. This year under their new head coach Mike Vrabel, they will play the Los Angeles Chargers at Wembley October 21.
Above Titans image taken from their media guide.