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Houston Oilers

Losing our sports history

This is sad.

The original championship banners for the Rockets and the WNBA’s defunct Comets remain on display at Toyota Center, as do banners saluting both teams’ representatives in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.

After that, Houston’s legacy of pro sports banners gets a little fuzzy.

The latest collection of banners to depart the city left in 2013 with the Aeros. The minor hockey team was moved by the NHL’s Minnesota Wild to Des Moines, Iowa, when the team could not reach agreement on a new Toyota Center lease with the Rockets.

Team officials said the Aeros’ 2011 banner for winning the American Hockey League’s Western Division title is on display at the Wild’s training center in Des Moines.

As for the other Aeros banners, they are presumed to be in storage in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area, although team officials could not provide details on their location. A team spokesman, in fact, was not familiar with any banners that existed other than the 2011 flag.

Regardless, Toyota Center once was home to banners commemorating the 2003 Calder Cup title, the 1999 International Hockey League Turner Cup title, the 1974 and 1975 Avco Cup titles won by the World Hockey Association team, and the retired No. 9 jersey worn by Hall of Famer Gordie Howe, who played for the WHA Aeros.

[…]

NRG Park spokeswoman Nina Jackson, asked this week about the location of the Astros memorabilia, said, “Nobody knows anything about any banners.”

There was no indication whether the banners were sold during the Astrodome “garage sale” in 2013 and, if not, whether they still are stored somewhere within the building.

Similar questions surround the Oilers’ championship banners and retired number banners. The Oilers left Houston after the 1996 season for Nashville, Tenn., and a spokesman for the Tennessee Titans said the Oilers banners have not been seen in storage in Nashville.

So thanks to two relocated (and renamed) franchises plus one that changed its home stadium, a lot of tangible pieces of Houston’s sports history are at best in unknown locations. The obvious solution to this would seem to be a local sports museum, whose first task would be to try and track down these things that no one will admit to having at this time. Maybe this story will be a catalyst for someone with the money and the inclination to pursue that. Until then, at least we still have people who remember that these things did once happen.

RIP, Bum Phillips

A sad day in Houston.

Oail Andrew “Bum” Phillips Jr., who spent half his adult life as a football coach and every waking moment as the personification of all things Texan, died Friday at his ranch in Goliad.

Phillips was three weeks past his 90th birthday and more than three decades removed from his heyday as head coach of the Oilers from 1975 through 1980. But he will be remembered as the personification of a time, a place and a team that remains deep in the hearts of everyone who saw them play.

The end came on a cool autumn football weekend as Houston’s current pro team, the Texans, prepares to play Sunday with his son, Wade, serving as defensive coordinator. Family members said Wade Phillips visited with his father before rejoining the team for its trip to Kansas City.

“Bum is gone to Heaven-loved and will be missed by all -great Dad,Coach, and Christian,” Wade Phillips, whose Twitter handle is @sonofbum, tweeted shortly after 10 p.m.

Bum Phillips was a product of a family that traced its roots to Texas’ frontier past, and he did his job dressed in boots, jeans and a white Stetson – except at the Astrodome, since his mama told him it was impolite to wear a hat indoors.

He was, said one admirer, the “Will Rogers of the NFL,” justly famous for such sayings as, “There’s two kinds of coaches: them that’s been fired, and them that’s gonna be fired.”

But it was his relationship with his players – and theirs to him – and his ability to relate to fans that cemented his place among the legends of Texas football coaches with the likes of Darrell Royal, Tom Landry and Gordon Wood.

“Bum Phillips’ Oilers succeeded in a way that will never be measured by percentages and trophies,” wrote former Chronicle columnist Ed Fowler in a book about the team. “They symbolized a city rather than merely representing it.”

They called it “Luv Ya Blue,” and from 1978 through 1980, it was the biggest thing in Houston sports. In truth, the city has not seen anything to top it.

There’s a ton more out there – here, here, here, and here for starters, but if you only read one other thing about Bum Phillips, make it Dale Robertson’s column, which includes many of Phillips’ famous quotes. Sometimes, sports icons don’t live up to their billing. Sometimes you find out, often years later, that they weren’t at all the person you thought they were from what you’d seen and heard. If anyone had anything bad to say about Bum Phillips, I’ve not seen it. By every account I’ve come across, he was exactly who he seemed to be. He will be missed. Rest in peace, Bum Phillips.

RIP, Jack Pardee

A sad day for Houston sports.

Jack Pardee

Jack Pardee, a legend of Texas football from the six-man playing fields of Christoval to the barren wasteland of Junction to the Astrodome in Houston, has died of cancer, his family disclosed today.

Pardee, 76, was diagnosed with terminal gall bladder cancer in November.

“My dad was committed to football, but he was always close to his family,” Pardee’s son, Ted Pardee, said. “He had a lot of love to give. He was a sweet guy who was never afraid to give us a hug and kiss. He fought a tough battle, and we’re going to miss him.”

Pardee recently moved to a hospice facility in a Denver suburb, where two of his daughters reside.

Pardee’s family moved to Texas from Iowa in the mid-1940s so his father, Earl, could receive treatment for rheumatoid arthritis in Christoval’s mineral baths. Pardee scored 57 touchdowns for the town’s regional six-man champions in 1952 and then played three seasons for Texas A&M, enduring coach Bear Bryant’s infamous training camp in Junction in 1954 and winning all-Southwest Conference honors in 1956. He then played for the Rams and Redskins, with a two-year break in 1965-66, from 1957 through 1972, winning NFC Defensive Player of the Year honors in 1972.

He went on to coach the World Football League’s Florida Blazers (1974), the Chicago Bears (1975-77) and Redskins (1978-80) and, in 1984-85, the run-and-shoot Houston Gamblers of the United States Football League, winning coach of the year honors in 1984. After the USFL disbanded, he succeeded Bill Yeoman at UH, where quarterback Andre Ware won the 1989 Heisman Trophy, from 1987 through 1989.

In 1990, he returned to the NFL with the Oilers, leading the team to the playoffs in his first four seasons before losing his job following a 1-9 start in 1994. His career NFL coaching record is 87-77.

Pardee’s Oilers were ultimately a frustrating team to watch, and if you were in Houston in January of 1993 you probably still bear the scars of that playoff game, but they sure were fun. Paredee’s teams featured some iconic players from the Oilers’ history, and his run of success came after a multi-year run of futility. He made an indelible mark on football history here in Houston and in Texas, and he will be missed. Rest in peace, Jack Pardee.

How cursed is Houston as a sports city?

What curse?

So another Super Bowl is history, and as you might have noticed the Houston Texans were not be playing in the game. This continues an unbroken streak of Houston football teams not making it to the Super Bowl, some in particularly heartbreaking fashion. The Astros have never won a World Series, having only won one pennant in fifty-plus years of existence. Were it not for two NBA titles by the Rockets in the 90s, the city of Houston would be completely championship-free for the major sports. You may be wondering how Houston compares to other big league sports cities in this department. I was, so I did a little research to find out. I limited myself to the last 40 years, mostly because ancient history is only of so much comfort to most fans. (For what it’s worth, Bill Simmons uses a 35-year period for assessing true wretchedness.) With that in mind, here’s what I found. Let’s start with the cities that have had nothing to celebrate in that time span.

Cleveland

Franchises – Browns (two versions, NFL); Indians (MLB); Cavaliers (NBA)

Championships in the last 40 years: 0

Buffalo

Franchises – Bills (NFL); Sabres (NHL)

Championships in the last 40 years: 0

San Diego

Franchises – Chargers (NFL); Padres (MLB)

Championships in the last 40 years: 0

Seattle

Franchises – Seahawks (NFL); Mariners (MLB)

Championships in the last 40 years: 1 – SuperSonics (NBA), 1979

Any discussion of cursed sports cities has to start with Cleveland. Their last title of any kind was a pre-Super Bowl NFL championship by the Browns in 1964. Since then, they’ve had The Drive, The Fumble, the relocation of their team to another city where it then went on to win a Super Bowl a few years later plus another this year, and all that is before we discuss the Indians (last World Series win 1948) or the Cavaliers. See here, here, here, and here for more. Really, there’s no question about it. No other city is in Cleveland’s class when it comes to sheer sports misery.

Buffalo is first runnerup, though I doubt anyone in Houston will offer much sympathy to them. Besides the Bills losing four consecutive Super Bowls, not to mention the Music City Miracle, the Sabres are oh-for-two in Stanley Cup finals, with the most recent loss being as controversial as it was gut-wrenching for their fans. They’re not quite in Cleveland territory, but they’re closer than anyone else. San Diego has lost two World Series, both times getting swept by teams of the ages (1984 Tigers and 1998 Yankees), and one Super Bowl, but it’s hard to think of anyone in San Diego as being cursed. Seattle managed to never win a pennant despite fielding teams that featured as many as four future Hall of Famers plus Jay Buhner; I include them here since their one title was won by a franchise that has since relocated.

And here are the teams that have won one or two titles, thus putting themselves in a similar class as Houston:

Atlanta

Franchises – Braves (MLB); Falcons (NFL); Hawks (NBA)

Championships in the last 40 years: 1 – Braves, 1995

Phoenix

Franchises – Cardinals (NFL); Suns (NBA); Diamondbacks (MLB); Coyotes (NHL)

Championships in the last 40 years: 1 – Diamondbacks, 2001

Kansas City

Franchises – Royals (MLB); Chiefs (NFL)

Championships in the last 40 years: 1 – Royals, 1985

Indianapolis

Franchises – Colts (NFL); Pacers (NBA)

Championships in the last 40 years: 1 – Colts, 2007

New Orleans

Franchises – Saints (NFL); Pelicans (NBA)

Championships in the last 40 years: 1 – Saints, 2010

Minneapolis

Franchises – Twins (MLB); Vikings (NFL); Timberwolves (NBA); Wild (NHL)

Championships in the last 40 years: 2 – Twins, 1987 and 1991

Tampa

Franchises – Rays (MLB); Buccaneers (NFL); Lightning (NHL)

Championships in the last 40 years: 2 – Buccaneers, 2003, and Lightning, 2004

Milwaukee

Franchises – Bucks (NBA); Brewers (MLB); Green Bay Packers (NFL)

Championships in the last 40 years: 2 – Packers, 1997 and 2011

Houston

Franchises – Astros (MLB); Texans (NFL); Rockets (NBA)

Championships in the last 40 years: 2 – Rockets, 1994 and 1995

Out of that group, I’d probably rank Minneapolis and Kansas City as more cursed than Houston. The Vikings are also 0-4 in Super Bowls, with several other heartbreaking playoff losses, the Twins can’t get past the Yankees, the North Stars won the Stanley Cup after relocating to Dallas, and the Timberwolves watched Kevin Garnett win two NBA titles with the Celtics. Both Kansas City teams have been poorly run for years, though the Royals are a little better these days. New Orleans would have had a decent claim to superior cursedness before their Super Bowl win; as long as Drew Brees can play at his level, they’ll have a chance. The other cities for the most part don’t inspire much sympathy. Atlanta may have the hapless Hawks and the feckless Falcons, but they also had Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine. Indianapolis replaced Peyton Manning with Andrew Luck and rebuilt a contender after one season. Tampa and Phoenix haven’t been big league long enough to inspire real misery. No city that roots for the Packers can truly be cursed.

So, putting it all together, I’d probably rank Houston as the sixth most cursed city, following Cleveland, Buffalo, Seattle, Kansas City, and Minneapolis. Your mileage may vary, but that’s how I see it. How would you rank the losers?

“Bum Phillips: The Opera”

Would you like to see an opera based on the life of legendary former Houston Oilers head coach Bum Phillips? Of course you would. And you can make it happen.


BUM PHILLIPS is a world premiere operatic work inspired by the life of retired National Football League coach, O.A. “Bum” Phillips, and produced by Monk Parrots, a New York-based nonprofit performing arts organization.

In 2011, I presented the idea for this opera to nationally renowned playwright Kirk Lynn. My company, Monk Parrots, wishes to commission Kirk Lynn and acclaimed composer Peter Stopschinski to provide the libretto and score. This dynamic trio was introduced in Austin, Texas by the success of two contemporary musical-plays, Stopschinski and Lynn’s I’VE NEVER BEEN SO HAPPY, and my direction of David Lang and Mac Wellman’s THE DIFFICULTY OF CROSSING A FIELD. Our new, unconventional opera inspired by Coach Phillips seeks to challenge the form and advance the careers of burgeoning artists.

In 1975, O.A. “Bum” Phillips became head coach of the Houston Oilers, one of the worst teams in the NFL at that time. Phillips quickly converted the Oilers into a winning franchise resulting in a “Shangri-La” era in the city of Houston and a citywide phenomenon of devoted fans dubbed “Luv Ya Blue”. This humble hero’s triumphs came with sacrifices, as his obsessions affected his relationship with his family. A devastating termination from the Oilers in 1980 propelled him toward a spiritual quest that he later said he had avoided his entire life. Sunday mornings, previously a time for football and the military (Phillips had enlisted after the events of Pearl Harbor on Sunday, December 7, 1941) became a time for church. As such, Bum Phillips uses the question, “What to do on a Sunday?” as a unifying principle in which to examine themes relevant to contemporary audiences, such as ethics, family, faith, and happiness.

The first fundraising priority is to raise enough money to commission the score and libretto . We must raise $10,000 by Sunday, April 29, 2012 in order to cover the commission fees. Should we raise more than $10,000, any additional monies will be applied to the overall production budget, currently $85,000. The first draft is due by January 2013, in preparation for a concert reading and workshop production, followed by a second workshop and the premiere in fall 2013. Please join the making of this bold new work by contributing to our fundraising campaign today. Your generosity will be proudly acknowledged in the production playbill. Thank you for your support.

For more information about Bum Phillips and Bum Phillips Charities, please visit http://www.bumphillipsbook.com.

I heard about this through my friend Stephanie Stradley. It sounds like an awesome idea to me, so I went ahead and made a pledge. If you agree, please consider doing so as well. Thanks very much.

RIP, Steve McNair

What a tragedy.

Former Oilers quarterback Steve McNair was found shot to death in Nashville, shocking former teammates and NFL personnel around the country.

McNair, 36, and a woman were found dead inside a condominium Saturday afternoon by the Nashville Police Department. Police identified the woman as Sahel Kazemi, 20, owner of the condominium.

CNN reported Saturday night a law enforcement source close to the investigation said the woman is McNair’s girlfriend. Witnesses said McNair was a frequent visitor there, according to the report.

The police said in a statement that they received a call at 1:35 p.m. They then went to the residence in downtown Nashville and found both victims dead. McNair was shot multiple times the Nashville Police said. Kazemi was shot once in the head and the pistol was found near her body. The department’s homicide detectives are investigating the deaths.

“I don’t have any answers for you now as to what’s happened, who’s responsible,” Nashville Police Department spokesman Don Aaron told the Associated Press. “There are persons who were around the complex today, visitors, who have been taken to headquarters for questioning, just to see what they know, what they may have seen. No one is in custody right now.”

McNair, the No. 3 overall pick by the Oilers in 1995, spent two seasons in Houston before the Oilers were moved to Nashville and renamed the Titans. He retired in 2008 after 13 NFL seasons.

By all accounts, McNair was a well-liked and respected player who would have become a legend in Houston had the Oilers franchise remained here. My thoughts and prayers go out to his family and friends. Rest in peace, Steve McNair.