I gave up football in 1993, a sport I loved playing and watching. For many years, I blamed the Houston Oilers.
On January 3, 1993, I was walking around Edgewater Mall in Biloxi, Mississippi,. I was a young airman stationed at Keesler Air Force Base, and spent the weekends using my new credit card at the mall while checking out the girls. While strolling around, I caught part of the Oilers-Bills wild card game on television. The Oilers were playing better than they had in previous years. The first part of the 80’s weren’t good for them. They lost coach Bum Phillips in 1980, who had helped them make it to the playoffs in the late 70’s during the “Luv Ya Blue” era.
Earl Campbell was aging, and had been traded off to the New Orleans Saints in 1984. I was still loyal to the Oilers. I wasn’t going anywhere. My older brother Gilbert was a Cowboys fan, a team who had made it to the Super Bowl more than once. He’d laugh at me when the Oilers would lose, which was often.
The end of the 80’s saw a comeback for the Oilers. They were doing better with Warren Moon as quarterback and Mike Rozier as running back. My hopes of seeing the Oilers go to the Super Bowl seemed possible. But those hopes got shattered, year after year. Just when they’d make it to the playoff, they’d get their asses kicked.
The Oilers led the Bills 28-3 by half-time. This was it, I thought, the Oilers are finally gonna make it to the Super Bowl. I returned to my stroll through the mall, back to checking out the girls, feeling joy that the Oilers had won.
I arrived to my dorm at Keesler and bragged about the Oilers. My friends looked at me as if I was joking. When they realized I wasn’t, they informed me of the Bill’s comeback. The team who I looked up to for over a decade—who I grew up with, supported, and remained loyal to even though many of those years they were easily defeated and many fans had abandoned them—had let me down, again. But this time it hurt. This time I felt personally let down. Something was different about how their loss affected me. Like those before me who had abandoned the Oilers, I joined them. I turned my back on them and also on the NFL, and promised never to watch football again.
Yesterday I watched the 30 for 30: Four Falls for Buffalo which documented the Bills four consecutive losses at the Super Bowl from 1990-1993. There was a part where they talked about the Oilers-Bills game, known as “the Comeback“. It brought back memories of my passion for football and how I stuck with a team I loved through their victories and losses. I related to the Bills fans who saw their team lose Super Bowl after Super Bowl four times in a row, and how they still remained loyal.
At that moment I realized I had set free the grudge I carried towards the Bills, who I hated for many years, and happy that they lost the Super Bowls. I changed my perspective and learned to appreciate their perseverance to win every year, regardless of the past. It was a life lesson to apply in my own life, to never give up, that life is made up of such victories and losses to help us grow and keep moving forward.
Thinking about the Oilers, it’s those great memories that come to mind, not their 1993 loss: watching football with the family and yelling like football fans do; carrying a 3 ring binder with the team’s logo to school; the Oiler’s Christmas song; being proud to be an Oiler fan. After a couple of decades removed from NFL football, I now feel I could return to watching and enjoying the game.