The NFL’s Lost Franchises

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The NFL could really use the Houston Oilers right about now.

Things feel a little stale to me these days. We’re so saturated with Brady, Belichick and the Patriots that we can’t even summon a meaningful level of outrage over their most recent and blatant bust for cheating. “Yawn, it was only for the Bengals game, so does it really matter? Yawn.”

We’ve got ten teams within a game or two of .500 as the league’s long-stated goal of parity becomes more and more a reality, and the NFL’s answer to fan concerns over too sterile and impersonal a product?

Choreographed touchdown celebrations.

Can I really be the only fan that detests these painstakingly rehearsed touchdown celebrations? Give me Jim Brown stomping over four defenders on the way to a go-ahead touchdown, and then calmly handing the ball to the ref as he does that slow trot of his back to the sideline, where he’ll drink water from a paper cup and wait to go back out and run over some more guys in opposing jerseys.

Give me more grit in the form of forearm shivers, turf stuck in face-masks, and games played in the rain and snow. Make every team go back to playing on converted baseball diamonds like the Raiders still do (or at least did), and figure out how to computer simulate Pat Summerall’s voice for the play-by-play. Do something, NFL, before we finally have that season where everybody finishes 8-8, except for the 14-2 Patriots (with 49-year-old Tom Brady at QB), and the 2-14 Washington Football Club.

A couple of buddies and I were sharing photos of various sports memorabilia collections earlier today, and a Warren Moon-autograph Oilers helmet popped into my I-phone text messages. The wave of nostalgia that accompanied that pic caused me to pause and remember those good old NFL days, and how much fun they were, in comparison to the league today.

Let’s start with this one — has there ever been a more enormous drop in character and cool factor than when the Houston Oilers moved to Tennessee twenty-two seasons ago?

I don’t think so. Even when the Titans were really strong, their best players were bland as hell. I mean, c’mon, Eddie George grinding his way toward a thousand yards rushing year after year, getting there via an unimaginative 3.2 yards a carry? Steve McNair never truly getting to that next level of greatness (you know, like a Warren Moon level), despite having all those physical tools?

Yeah, the old Oilers may not have ever made the Super Bowl, but give me Earl Campbell and his impossibly monstrous thighs, making defensive backs wince and opt for arm tackles when they saw him rumbling downfield. Meanwhile there was Bum Phillips, looking like a million bucks with his shades and ten gallon hat, shooting us all that sly, prison warden smile of his from the Oilers sideline.

Today’s NFL needs more Oilers and less Titans (Tennessee Titans, that is, not the 1960-1962 AFL version, which we’ll get to in just a minute).

So all this got me to thinking (always a dangerous thing), what are the Top Five NFL franchises we miss the most these days, when character and guts are in short supply, lost to the corporate enterprise and prescribed sterility of today’s No Fun League?

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  1. Houston Oilers — Quick, name the five coolest Tennessee Titans off the top of your head. Okay, how about in the entire history of the Tennessee Titans, not just this year’s team. Yeah, I thought so. Oilers? Well, we can start with Earl and Bum, but then we’ve got Dan Pastorini, Billy “White Shoes” Johnson, Elvin Bethea, Curley Culp, Warren Moon, hell, even Bubba Smith did a stint in Houston at the end of his career. When we speak of NFL Cool, there’s little that rivals the Mean Joe Greene, Immaculate Reception Pittsburgh dynasty of the 1970’s, but those powder blue and white bad asses from southeastern Texas gave the Steelers everything they had in their mid- to late-’70’s street fights, and their oil rig helmet logo was simply best in class. The gold standard.

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2. The Steagles — The 1943 NFL had a problem in Pennsylvania. Because so many players had been lost to the war, both the Eagles and Steelers were struggling to put together a full roster. And thus were born the Steagles. Were they the Philadelphia Steagles or did they represent the city of Pittsburgh, you ask? Welllll…not sure exactly, although they did play four home games in Philly compared to only two in Pittsburgh. But that’s not really the point here, folks. The NFL put two flagship teams together and made it into one, and hardly anybody talks about it today. Here’s a quick SportsAttic idea — how ’bout we try this concept out in 2020 with the two New York City football franchises? We could call them the Jents. Catchy, huh? Problem is they’d still only go 6-10 at best. The Steagles? They went 5-4-1, and here’s the best part — they did it with co-Head-coaches! You can look it up.

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3. Baltimore Colts — Yup, the coolness factor of this team was off the charts. From the awesome simplicity of the white helmet with the blue horseshoe, to Unitas’s buzzcut and black, hightop shoes, the Colts oozed character. Add to it a classic and timeless blue collar city that loved football and the players who were lunchpail members of their Baltimore neighborhood, drinking with them at the corner bars and greeting them at their offseason restaurants. That very real bond makes it all the more tragic the way Bob Irsay absconded with this community treasure under the dark of night, skulking off to Indianapolis, of all places. The Colts D-line of the ’50’s was really the first to create its own identity and capture the imagination of a fanbase. Gene “Big Daddy” Lipscomb (an enormous for the day 6’6, 284 pounds), raspy voiced Art Donovan, and WWII vet Gino Marchetti collapsing pockets Sunday after Sunday and terrorizing quarterbacks across the NFL. That’s how this proud franchise should be remembered. Yeah, the Indy version owns a Lombardi Trophy, but the Baltimore Colts gave us the Greatest Game Ever Played and Lydell Mitchell.

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4. Cleveland Rams — Before the whole Los Angeles to St. Louis and back to Los Angeles saga defined the Rams, the franchise was actually born in Cleveland. Incredibly, the Rams were NFL champions in 1945, and then they moved to L.A.! To this day, the Rams remain the only major sport champion to relocate for the following season. Now when you consider the city in question is Cleveland, it begins to make a bit more sense, but get this —  the very next year following the desertion of their Rams, the Cleveland Browns were born. And Paul Brown’s All American Football Conference entry became an immediate dynasty, winning AAFC titles in the league’s first four seasons of existence, and then winning the title again in 1950 after joining the NFL. For good measure, Brown’s Browns won two more titles in 1954 and 1955. For those counting, that’s eight titles in eleven years. For Cleveland football clubs. And one final note about that Cleveland Rams championship team of 1945 — their QB was a guy by the name of Bob Waterfield, who’s results included 14 TD’s against 17 interceptions, while completing 52% of his passes. And he was named 1st Team All-Pro! Today those stats get you benched and booed off the field.

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5. The Titans of New York — You know there may be a problem on the field when your biggest star is your head coach, who last threw a pass in competition in 1952. NFL icon Sammy Baugh led the precursor to the New York Jets during the AFL’s first two seasons of 1960 and 1961, finishing 7-7 each year. One of a select few franchises who’s home city actually followed the team nickname, the Titans performance on the field was as forgettable as their drab navy and gold unis, which resembled a small college’s practice tear-aways. The Titans did give us future Hall of Famer Don Maynard, who would go on to become Joe Namath’s favorite target during the Jets’ glory days of the late-1960’s. The Titans slipped to 5-9 under Bulldog Turner (SportsAttic aside — the NFL could also use more coaches named Bulldog in today’s game) in 1962, and ultimately the franchise decided to change names, uniform colors and start anew. Still, despite the lack of stars and on-field success, we’ll take these Titans of New York over today’s bland Tennessee offering, and not even pause to think about it.

There you have it — the SportsAttic Five — five franchises that stand for something meaningful in the game’s rich 100-year history, nostalgic reminders of the game at its best for fans to ponder while waiting for yet another New England playoff run in today’s antiseptic and watered down NFL.

Let’s Go Steagles!

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