To the best of my recollection, the 2006 Gordon Wood Hall of Champions induction ceremony was the first I attended.
It was my third football season in Brownwood and, back then, the ceremony was held at the Brownwood Coliseum during lunch time on Football Friday, which didn’t exactly mesh well with my schedule. Now, as many of you know, the event is typically held on a Saturday evening in the spring.
I had planned to attend the previous two induction ceremonies, but the days seemed to, as they still do on Football Friday, get away from me. But on the third go-round, I made sure I had everything in order ahead of time for one specific reason — to hear Bum Phillips speak.
Phillips, the former head coach of the Houston Oilers and New Orleans Saints, died Friday night at age 90.
Perhaps no single individual is more closely associated with the Oilers franchise than Phillips. He’d certainly be on the Mount Rushmore of Oilers lore, along with Earl Campbell, Warren Moon and Billy “White Shoes” Johnson.
And of those four, or anyone else connected to the Oilers for that matter, no one could give a better sound bite than Bum.
With his trademark 10-gallon Stetson cowboy hat and slow, deliberate southern drawl, everything about the Orange native was 100 percent Texan. One of Phillips’ most memorable quotes occurred shortly after the Dallas Cowboys were labeled “America’s Team” by then general manager Tex Schramm. Phillips retorted, “They may be ‘America’s Team,’ but we’re Texas’ team.”
Other memorable lines uttered by Phillips include:
• “There’s two kinds of coaches, them that’s fired and them that’s gonna be fired.”
• “Football is a game of failure. You fail all the time, but you aren’t a failure until you start blaming someone else.”
Perhaps his most famous quote was in reference to Hall of Famer Earl Campbell’s inability to finish a one-mile run, “When it’s first and a mile, I won’t give it to him.”
But Phillips was more than just a mouthpiece for the franchise as he led the Oilers to their greatest successes during the ‘Luv Ya Blue’ heyday of the late 70s.
After taking over as head coach in 1975, he led the Oilers to a pair of AFC Championships, falling to Pittsburgh, 34-5, in 1978 and, 27-13, in 1979. The Steelers went on to win the Super Bowl both seasons.
Phillips, who posted a 55-35 regular season record at Houston, was fired after the 1980 campaign after the Oilers went 11-5 but lost to the eventual Super Bowl champion Oakland Raiders in the wild card round.
Phillips coached the Saints from 1981-85 where we didn’t enjoy near the success he experienced in home state, posting a 27-42 record.
Now Phillips, like the Oilers, is no longer with us.
I’ve never been a fan of Houston sports teams — in fact, the exact opposite — with the exception of the Oilers, perhaps because they were larger than life. No, they never won a Super Bowl, never even played in one, yet there were reasons to cheer the Oilers. Phillips’ personality and Campbell’s punishing running style gave way to Jack Pardee’s run-and-shoot and another run at greatness in the early 90s — all with the powder blue uniforms and the eighth wonder of the world, the Astrodome, serving as the backdrop along the journey.
During the NFL’s 1992 season, a Cowboys-Oilers showdown in Super Bowl XXVII seemed to be a distinct possibility. Instead, the Oilers squandered a 35-3 third-quarter lead in the wild card round to the Buffalo Bills. Buffalo went on to a third straight Super Bowl and suffered a 35-point loss to the Cowboys, who knocked off the Bills in Super Bowl XXVIII, as well.
The Oilers’ fan base never recovered from the heartbreak of the loss to the Bills, and in 1997 owner Bud Adams moved the team to Tennessee.
The Cleveland Browns franchise was left alone to rise from the ashes once the Baltimore Ravens came into existence, yet the Oilers weren’t extended in the same courtesy, and now their history is forever linked with the Tennessee Titans.
Fifteen years ago, the Houston Texans were born. Maybe it’s the unoriginal nickname, the atrocious uniforms or the fact that they flat out aren’t the Oilers, but I cannot root for them. And in 15 seasons, there’s been little reason to. The Texans have yet to play for an AFC Championship and look to be on a downward spiral, throwing more touchdowns to the opposition than their own receivers, regardless of the quarterback.
Fortunately, the memories of the Oilers, and Bum Phillips, will always be with us.
Derrick Stuckly is the editor of the Brownwood Bulletin. His column appears on Sundays. He may be reached by e-mail at email@example.com.