Going Back to Houston: Like So Many of America's Sports-Hungry Cities, Houston, Tex., Saw Its Longtime National Football League Team Move to Another Region of the Country, Only to Have It Replaced by Another Franchise

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TEXAS has long been football crazy. After all, the Lone Star State was the sole locale in which the National Collegiate Athletic Association housed a major Division I league (the old Southwest Conference) featuring eight teams--Texas Tech, Texas A&M, Texas, Houston. Rice, Baylor, Southern Methodist, and Texas Christian universities--that all hailed from within the same borders.

Texas' Dallas Cowboys and Houston Oilers, meanwhile, each joined football's professional ranks, ironically enough, in the very same year: 1960. Dallas was part of the established National Football League while Houston was a member of the upstart American Football League. When the circuits merged in 1970 under the NFL umbrella, the league formed two conferences, the NFC and AFC, with the Cowboys in the former and the Oilers in the latter.

Dallas has gone on to play in eight Super Bowls, winning five times. Houston, on the other hand, was the lone original AFL franchise failing to qualify for that prestigious title game. Even more maddening, at least as far as former Oiler fans are concerned, was the fact that after Houston bolted town in 1997 in favor of Tennessee, the club finally reached the Super Bowl a few seasons later, although it lost to the St. Louis Rams.

Interestingly, the Rams (formerly of Los Angeles, and, way back when, Cleveland) are one of a small handful of franchises to abandon one city for another, but retain their old nickname, uniform colors, and logo. Joining them were the Colts (from Baltimore to Indianapolis), Cardinals (from St. Louis to Arizonal and Oilers (who weren't called the Tennessee Titans until their second season in Nashville), By the way, the present-day New York Jets--who actually play their home games in New Jersey--were known as the Titans during the early days of the AFL.

The Houston Oilers-Tennessee Titans. though, were not the first to acquire a new nickname upon moving. A few years earlier, the Ravens had replaced the Colts in Baltimore, but there were all sorts of extenuating circumstances accompanying that move and eventual renaming of the franchise. The Ravens, formerly the Cleveland Browns, had relocated with time still left on their Municipal Stadium lease. The city obtained a court injunction forcing them to stay put--at least until the case went to trial while threatening to sue the NFL over the loss of its beloved Browns. A compromise ensued. It was decided that the Ravens could reside in Baltimore while the next expansion franchise would be awarded to Cleveland. Moreover, the new Browns-to-be would retain their name as well as their old team records and colors, an unprecedented accomplishment for an expansion franchise. There was no need to make an issue of the Browns' logo since they really don't have one. Cleveland is the only NFL team that plays sans symbol on its helmet, although the Pittsburgh Steelers do leave one-half of their headgear blank.

With Cleveland's clever legal tactics earning the Great Lakes city an expansion entry, Houston's prospects of securing a franchise appeared dim, especially since the league had been pining to place a team in Los Angeles--a highly lucrative television market--ever since the Rams skipped town and the Oakland-Los Angeles-Oakland Raiders returned to Northern California. The trouble was, even if a new club could be secured to join the San Diego Chargers in Southern California, it would have nowhere suitable to play, as the ramshackled Los Angeles Coliseum was run down beyond repair. Moreover, no one seemed able to secure the financing necessary to build a new, modern-day, NFL-calibre stadium in the City of Angels. Houston seized the opportunity and promised to construct (and delivered on that promise!) the world's first retractable-roof football stadium; thus, the Houston Texans were born. And their new home, Reliant Stadium, will be the site of Super Bowl XXXVIII, on Feb. 1, 2004. Houston previously played host to football's ultimate contest in January, 1974, when Super Bowl VIII was held at Rice Stadium. …