Category Archives: Houston Oilers

Final Post

I am shutting down Titans Tracker permanently.

 

I will always have a passion for and support the Tennessee Titans franchise I became fond of as a teenager, when the then-Houston Oilers held its training camp in my hometown of San Angelo, Texas.

It was, is, and always be about the franchise, regardless of which city calls it home.

I hope Mr. Bud Adams gets a chance to hold the Lombardi Trophy, so coach Mike Munchak, his coaching staff, the front office and players better get to work.

Sincere thanks to my readers and sponsors over the past four seasons.

Goodbye, God bless, and as always, Go Titans!

Profile: Robert Brazile

Brett Favre is not the only NFL legend with the middle name “Lorenzo” to make his mark on the league. According to JW Nix, Houston Oilers linebacker Robert Brazile was a trailblazing 3-4 linebacker who retired after a family tragedy and deserves to be in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Robert Brazile
6’4″ 244
Linebacker
Houston Oilers
1975 – 1984
10 Seasons
147 Games Played
13 Interceptions
7 Pro Bowls

Robert Lorenzo Brazile, Jr. was a first round pick by the Houston Oilers in 1975. He was the sixth player picked overall. Picked just before him was his college teammate Walter Payton.

Brazile was rated as the premier collegiate linebacker in 1974 while playing at Jackson State. He started his collegiate football career as a tight end, but switched to linebacker during his sophomore year. Brazile was called “Mr. Versatile”, a moniker he earned because of his ability to excel at either the inside or outside linebacker slot.

He helped lead Jackson State to two Southwestern Athletic Conference championships in 1972 and 1973. Brazile is a member of the Jackson State Sports Hall of Fame, the SWAC Hall of Fame, and the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame.

Brazile was part a deal former Oilers coach Sid Gillman had made at the end of 1973. The Oilers acquired Kansas City’s 1975 first round selection, along with nose tackle Curley Culp, for defensive end John Matuszak.

New head coach/general manager Bum Phillips switched Houston’s base defense from the from a 4-3 to a 3-4. Brazile is credited by many to be most important in making the 3-4 popular by his ability to rush the quarterback from his outside linebacking position.

Brazile was the NFL’s Defensive Rookie of the Year award in 1975. He was named to the Pro Bowl in each of his first seven seasons. Brazile was a key member of Oilers teams that went to back-to-back AFC Championship games in 1978 and 1979.

In 1984, Brazile’s wife died in a car wreck. He retired immediately from the NFL. Brazile was chosen on the 1970’s NFL All-Decade Team. He is the only linebacker from that team not in Canton.

Many may remember his moniker in the NFL. Brazile was nicknamed “Dr. Doom” by his team mates after being tossed out of a game in his rookie year for hitting Washington Redskin Quarterback Billy Kilmer in the head. Some may recall the time he bulldogged Dallas Cowboys Hall of Fame Running Back Tony Dorsett by the facemask.

Brazile was a vicious hitter. He was equally excellent is pass coverage and run support as he was rushing the passer. He didn’t always play on good teams, so he wasn’t given the nation wide notice, during that era, he deserved.

Since the NFL did not record sacks as a statistic until 1982, his impact on the game may not be fully realized by newer fans. Those who saw Brazile play knew he was always one of the better defensive players in the NFL in his era year in and year out. Robert Brazile deserves to be inducted into the NFL Hall of Fame. Ask his peers.

See Crazy Canton Cuts for more profiles of gridiron legends.

Profile: “White Shoes” Johnson

Billy “White Shoes” Johnson brought smiles to many fans’ faces during his tenure as a kick returner and receiver for the Houston Oilers. Johnson’s endzone dance probably wouldn’t be acceptable to today’s referees and conservative NFL fans. JW Nix, who believes Johnson should be in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, allowed me to reprint this tribute to this entertaining and talented player.

William Arthur Johnson was a 15th round draft pick by the Houston Oilers in 1974. He was the 365th player picked overall despite the initial objections of GM/Head Coach Sid Gillman who didn’t want a “midget” on his team.

He had played at Widener College in Pennsylvania, where he was a stand out. He is also a member of the College Football Hall of Fame.

He and his college team mate, Joe Fields (a long time NY Jets offensive lineman), both retired in 1988 and are the last players from Widener to have played in the NFL. Johnson was so good that he ended up averaging over 250 all-purpose yards per game at Widener.

He made the team as a return man and stood out immediately. He was given the moniker “White Shoes” in high school when he wore the white cleats, as opposed to most wearing black cleats.

In his first four seasons, he returned five punts for touchdowns, as well as two kickoffs for scores. In 1975 he tied an NFL record with four kick returns for touchdowns in a season.

He would celebrate his touchdowns with the “Funky Chicken” dance. This dance, coupled by his shoes, made him a fan favorite across the league. He was used as a third-down slot receiver in multiple receiver sets mostly.

He caught 116 balls with seven touchdowns his first three years. He was mostly used as a possession type due to the teams offensive scheme, but he also ran the ball for a touchdown.

Johnson caught 20 balls his fourth year for three touchdowns at a 20-yards per catch average. He also took a reverse 61 yards for a touchdown, the last rushing touchdown of his career.

In 1978, he blew out his knee during the fifth game. He only managed two games the following season due to its lingering effects. In 1980, he returned to be used only as a third wide receiver. He caught 31 balls for two touchdowns.

Disenchanted with his role, “White Shoes” bolted for the Canadian Football League to play for the Montreal Allouetttes. That year in Montreal, Billy caught 65 passes for 1,060 yards and five touchdowns.

Johnson returned to the NFL in 1982 by signing with the Atlanta Falcons. He played nine games that year and only caught two passes. He was able to return 24 punts at an impressive clip of 11.4 YPR.

“White Shoes” was used as the Falcons full time punt returner in 1983. He also started at wide receiver. He caught a team and career high 64 passes while scoring five touchdowns total. One touchdown was via a punt return.

He won the Pro Bowl MVP that year when he took a punt 90-yards for a touchdown, as well as accumulating 159 total return yards. Both are still Pro Bowl records.

He got off to a good start in 1984 by catching 24 balls for three touchdowns, as well as a touchdown on a punt return. He was injured the sixth game of the year and did not return until 1985.

Johnson was used very sparingly as a punt returner in 1985, instead focusing on his wide receiver duties. He caught 62 passes for a career high 830 yards to go with five touchdowns.

He was hurt the following year and caught only six passes and took eight punt returns in four games. He came back to play 12 games the following year and returned 21 punts and caught eight passes.

Johnson left the Falcons, but tried to play for the Washington Redskins in 1988. He played only one game and fielded four punts, returning three of them for 26 yards. He then retired.

Billy “White Shoes” Johnson was named to both the NFL’s 1980’s All-Decade Team, and to the 75th Anniversary All-Time Team.

He set seven team records in Houston and four in Atlanta and held the NFL record for punt return yardage when he retired. He is still ranked third all-time in NFL history for punt return yardage and still holds the Oilers / Titans franchise record for punt return yardage.

Johnson may be known to many fans as an innovators of the touchdown dance. He is credited as being one of the first, but certainly his can stake claim to having been the best ever.

Celebrations with more choreography may have been employed since then, but it is much like the students trying to emulate the master. He was not just a crowd pleaser with his dance.

He was a premier return specialist who took eight kicks to the end zone in his career. He also worked hard to become a threat at wide receiver. Others, like Terence Mathis, Troy Brown, and Derrick Mason, have followed similar steps in their careers.

Johnson was a very special player who battled through injuries and came back to produce. One must remember that knee injuries in those days ended, or slowed down, most careers. The surgical procedures used then are a far cry from today’s advances in medicine.

It took even more determination to return, and a lot longer of a rehab session. “White Shoes” may not make every ones list of guys who should be inducted into Canton, but he is on the All-Time NFL Team as the only return specialist.

This fact, coupled with his stats and the fun he brought to the game, make it a no-brainer that he should be inducted into Canton.

See Crazy Canton Cuts for more profiles of gridiron legends.

Profile: Isiah Robertson

Note: Much has been made of the Earl Campbell-Isiah Robertson collision. Campbell is a Hall-of-Famer and his story is well-known. But what about Robertson?

Here is a profile of Robertson written by JW Nix. Nix makes the case that Robertson, too, should become a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame fraternity.

Isiah Robertson
6’2″ 225
Linebacker
Los Angeles Rams
1971 – 1982
12 Seasons
168 Games Played
25 Interceptions
15 Fumbles Recovered
4 Touchdowns
6 Pro Bowls
1971 Defensive Rookie of the Year

Isiah B. Robertson was a first round draft choice by the Los Angeles Rams in the 1971 NFL Draft. He was the tenth player chosen overall. Robertson hailed from Southern University, where he became the school’s first College Division All-America selection as a senior in 1970.

He is a member of the school’s athletic Hall of Fame, the Southwest Conference Hall of Fame, the Greater New Orleans Sports Hall of Fame, and the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame. Robertson still holds the school record of returning an interception 102-yards for a score.

While at Southern, the football team was stacked with future NFL players. Some of his teammates included Hall of Famer Mel Blount, Harold Carmichael, Al Beauchamp, Ken Ellis, Ray Jones, Richard Neal, Jim Osborne, Alden Rouche, Lew Porter, Donnel Smith, and Harold McLinton.

When Robertson joined the Rams, the famous “Fearsome Foursome” front line was nearing the end of their glory days. They still had Hall of Famers Merlin Olsen and Deacon Jones, as well as Pro Bowler Coy Bacon, but Jones would leave the Rams at the end of the season and Bacon would join him with the San Diego Chargers in 1973.

Los Angeles just lost legendary linebacker Maxie Baughan, who should be in Canton, to retirement. Robertson stepped into that vacant spot and stood out right away. He got a career best four interceptions and was named to the Pro Bowl. He was also named the NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year, beating out such future Hall of Famers like Jack Ham and Jack Youngblood, as well as legends like Jack Tatum, Lyle Alzado, Phil Villapiano, Mike Wagner, and Dwight White, for the honor.

He returned to the Pro Bowl in 1973, as well as earning a First Team All-Pro honor. He scored once off of three of his interceptions that year. It was the first of five consecutive Pro Bowl seasons for Robertson.

Known for blazing speed mixed in with high intelligence and a knack for always being around the ball, Robertson became one of the NFL’s top outside linebackers in the 1970’s. He matched his career best total of four interceptions in 1975, yet gained a career high 118 yards. One swipe went 76-yards for a score, the longest ever by a Rams linebacker.

The 1976 season was his last being named First Team All-Pro, but he went to the Pro Bowl one last time the next year. He was hurt much of the 1978, causing him to miss three games, as well as eight starts. They would be the only games of his career that Robertson missed.

The Rams traded Robertson to the Buffalo Bills just before the 1979 season. Buffalo signed him to a contract extension that made Robertson one of the highest paid linebackers in the league. He picked off two balls that year, both of which happened in one game against the Cincinnati Bengals. He took one ball 23 yards for the last touchdown of his career.

The Bills had a young linebacking unit with Jim Haslett, Lucius Sanford, Shane Nelson, and Chris Keating. All would be key ingredients in the Bills resurgence, and Robertson served as their mentor.

Buffalo had not won their division since 1966, when they were members of the American Football League. The 1975 season was the only time they had made the playoffs since the AFL merged with the NFL in 1970, but they lost in the first round. The Bills won 11 games in 1980, which was the most wins they had since winning the 1964 AFL Championship.

The Bills won their division again in 1981, helped by a pair of interceptions by Robertson. Buffalo would win their first playoff game since winning the 1965 AFL title before losing to the Bengals, who eventually reached Super Bowl XVI, that year.

The 1982 season is best known for losing seven games to a players strike. Robertson started in all nine games, picking off a pass. He informed Buffalo that he was retiring at the end of the year, so Darryl Talley was drafted to take over.

Once clocked at 4.5 in the 40-yard dash, Robertson was more than a linebacker with blazing speed. It is no coincidence that most of the defensive units he suited up for ended up being amongst the best in the NFL yearly.

The Rams were ranked first in defense in both 1974 and 1975, and gave up the fewest points. Los Angeles would reach the NFC Championship Game thrice in his eight season with them. His reuniting with Chuck Knox was no mystery. Knox, who took over as the Bills head coach in 1978, was Robertson’s head coach with the Rams from 1973 to 1977. Knox knew Robertson would help Buffalo start winning again, which they did.

Sacks and tackles were not recorded statistics in his era, but Robertson was often seen crashing off the edge to lay into the opposing quarterback. He was also superior in pass coverage, often seen shutting down a tight end or running back all game. A sound technician, Robertson also was known for bone-crunching hits at high speeds.

He had a knack for the big play much of his career. In a 1974 playoff game against the Washington Redskins, he picked off a pass thrown by Hall of Famer Sonny Jurgensen. Robertson then proceeded to hurdle several men and break four tackling attempts on his way to a 59-yard touchdown that sealed a 19-10 win for the Rams.

Hall of Famer Les Richter is the only Rams linebacker who appeared in the Pro Bowl more than Robertson. His six Pro Bowls is tied with five other Rams as the most in team history. Robertson is the only Rams linebacker ever to be named First Team All-Pro twice.

No other Rams linebacker has more interceptions or yards returned off of interceptions than Robertson, as well as his having the longest interception return ever by a Rams linebacker. His two scores off of interceptions is second to Jack Pardee as the most ever.

He is fourth, behind Richter, Pardee, and “Hacksaw” Jack Reynolds, for having the most fumble recoveries ever by a Rams linebacker. While he played just four years in Buffalo, only five Bills linebackers have more interceptions than him.

Consistent, dependable, tough, fast, and smart. Though Hall of Famers like Ham, Ted Hendricks, and Bobby Bell were chosen on the 1970s NFL All-Decade Team, Robertson was worthy as well. Bell went to one Pro Bowl in 1970 and none more until he retired in 1974. Hendricks went to four Pro Bowls that decade.

The 1970’s had some of the greatest outside linebackers in NFL history. Ham, Hendricks, and Bell are joined by Chris Hanburger and Dave Wilcox enshrined into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Yet it is a neglected position in Canton as well. Men like Baughan, Robert Brazile, Chuck Howley, and Matt Blair join Robertson on hoping Canton awakes and finally inducts them.

What makes the situation sadder is to see one-dimensional outside linebackers like Andre Tippett, Derrick Thomas, and Rickey Jackson get inducted in the last decade while a long list of equal or better players like Robertson still wait. Though worthy, they basically spent their careers rushing the passer while the more well-rounded players are now going three or four decades since they retired.

If you want the big play, Robertson provided it. Of you want steady consistency that never came off the field and could cover all aspects of defense, Robertson provided it. If you need accolades, he provides that as well.

Since retiring as a player, he has created a message called “Run To Win” in a long-term resedential recovery program for men he named “House of Isaiah”. It helps youths keep clear of drugs. Robertson also works with the Special Olympics. If you want to see some rare video football of him scoring touchdowns, laying out crushing tackles, as well as doing spectacular things while possessing the football, visit http://www.isiahrobertson.com.

There is little to no argument about the worthiness of his inclusion into Canton. When one looks at his whole body of work, it is easy to see that Isiah Robertson should be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

See Crazy Canton Cuts for more profiles of gridiron legends.

A tribute to Drew Hill

JW Nix, a prolific sportswriter who publishes the blog Crazy Canton Cuts wrote a thoughtful tribute to the late Houston Oilers wide receiver Drew Hill. The tribute has been published on multiple websites, but I was so impressed by Nix’s sense of football history and appreciation for the wide receiver that I’ve asked his permission to share it here at Titans Tracker.

I’ve extended an invitation for Nix to contribute more articles about the Oilers and Tennessee Titans. I hope you enjoy this article on Drew Hill.

Drew Hill: Titans, Rams and NFL Fans Say Goodbye to a Legend
When the Los Angeles Rams took a flier on wide receiver Drew Hill in the 12th round of the 1979 draft, they knew they were getting a 5’9″ player with excellent speed.

It was also a long shot that he’d make the team, having spent much of his time at Georgia Tech University blocking for running back Eddie Lee Ivory.

Ivory was the Green Bay Packers’ first-round draft pick that year. Offensive linemen Kent Hill and Roy Simmons were the only other Tech offensive players drafted that year. Hill happened to be the Rams first-round selection and would be Drew Hill’s teammate his entire career except for the 1985 season.

Hill made the team as a kick returner. He took a return 98 yards for a score in his second season and led the league in returns in his third. He was rarely used as a receiver in his first three years, as the Rams leaned on veterans like Ron Jessie, Preston Dennard and Bill Waddy.

Yet he did help the Rams reach their first ever Super Bowl as a rookie. After missing the entire 1983 year because of injury, Hill returned with luster. Los Angeles finally used him more on offense, where he teamed with Pro Bowler Henry Ellard and Olympic sprint Gold Medalist Ron Brown to comprise of a very exciting receiving trio.

Though the Rams leaned on Hall of Fame halfback Eric Dickerson and his then-record 2,105 yards off a whopping 379 carries, Hill averaged an amazing 27.9 yards on 14 receptions. Brown averaged over 20 yards and Ellard averaged over 18 yards per catch as well that season.

Despite just 60 receptions in five years, Houston traded two draft picks to acquire Hill to help out Warren Moon, who was signed in 1984. Moon, a future Hall of Fame quarterback, came to the Oilers with new head coach Hugh Campbell and quickly bonded with Hill.

Moon and Campbell won five Grey Cups together with the Edmonton Eskimos of the Canadian Football League. Campbell won nine CFL titles total with the Eskimos. He was focused on stocking the defense in the draft. Campbell drafted two players, Steve Tasker and Mike Golic, who went on to help other teams.

Hill caught 64 balls his first year as an Oiler, while gaining a career best 1,169 yards. The nine touchdown catches he had that year would be the second best total of his career. Campbell was fired before the season ended, replaced by Jerry Glanville.

Glanville began getting Moon and Hill players on offense by drafting wide receivers Haywood Jeffries, Ernest Givens and Curtis Duncan in the 1987 draft. Kent Hill had come over from the Rams in 1986 to help Mike Munchak, Bruce Matthews and Dean Steinkuhler form an excellent offensive line. Munchak and Matthews would later be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

The Oilers reached the playoffs in 1987 for the first time since 1980. They would go to the playoffs every year until 1993. Though they lost in the first round four times and reached the second round just thrice, their “Run and Shoot” offense was prolific.

Though Hill weighed 170, he was the inside receiver for Houston. While he often would stretch the seam of defenses, he was tough enough to go over the middle and was a good blocker. He soon became the guy Moon could rely on most.

“Drew was a great receiver, one who knew the offense and was always in the right spot,” Moon said. “I always knew exactly where Drew would be. He had a low-key demeanor. He didn’t get upset. He was always cool under pressure.”

While the 1987 season is most noted for losing four games because of a players strike, Hill was still able to pile up 989 yards on 49 receptions. He then followed that up the next year with perhaps the finest season of his career.

While obtaining his first Pro Bowl nod, Hill set a career high mark of 10 touchdown catches while grabbing 72 passes for 1,141 yards. He got dinged up with injuries the next year, missing four starts but still was able to gain 938 yards on 66 receptions and eight scores.

The 1990 season was his last Pro Bowl year after Hill caught 74 passes. He followed that up with a career best 90 receptions the next season despite being 35 years old. Hill also has a knack of making his fellow wide receivers better too.

His leadership and influence helped Jeffries, Givens and Duncan all become Pro Bowl players as well. The quartet caught 315 passes as a group in the 1991 season. Hill and Jeffries had 190 by themselves. He left the Oilers after that year to go back to his home state and join the Atlanta Falcons.

He was the Oilers leader in career receptions and receiving yards when he left. He still ranks fourth in receptions and second in receiving yards and touchdowns. Hill caught 94 balls in two tears with the Falcons before retiring after the 1993 season.

Though he was a humble man who shunned the spotlight, Hill had over 1,000 yards receiving in five of his seven years with Houston. His 15.6 yards per catch average shows his ability to get deep into a defense despite working through the heart of the defense most of the time.

While he was old school, just doing his job in a steady fashion that was as reliable as the sun rising and setting, Hill never made waves or wanted superfluous attention. Yet his 634 career receptions for 9,831 yards and 61 touchdowns show he was beyond spectacular.

Former teammates said he lived his last years as an avid golfer who ran a business in the Atlanta area. Alonzo Highsmith saw Hill in December, saying Hill told him he was doing well. Yet he had two massive strokes Friday and passed away. News of his passing has slowly been trickling out at a low-key pace since.

Even in passing, Hill has found a way to temporarily avoid the spotlight. Yet now is the time for any fan anywhere, especially those blessed enough to actually get to watch him play, to take a moment of silence and appreciate the gridiron exploits of Drew Hill.

Mike Munchak hired to coach Titans

Houston Oilers Hall-of-Fame guard and Tennessee Titans offensive line coach Mike Munchak is the new head coach of the Tennessee Titans.

The man known as “Johnny Oiler” during his playing days (actually, Munchak and teammate Bruce Matthews were both tagged with the slightly-derogatory nickname which hinted at their dedication to their craft and to the team — thanks, John McClain) has spent his entire professional career with the franchise.

Munchak by the numbers:

  • 1: Number of touchdowns scored (1986)
  • 2: Number of times names First Team All-Pro (1987, 1991)
  • 8 (pick number of the Houston Oilers in the first round of the 1982 NFL draft)
  • 9: Number of Pro Bowl appearances
  • 15: Number of Oilers/Titans head coaches preceding Munchak
  • 63: Munchak’s jersey number
  • 156: Number of games started

Drafted out of Penn State in 1982, Munchak was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame for his exemplary play as an offensive guard. Munchak is also a member of the National Polish-American Sports Hall of Fame.

Munchak has received ringing endorsements from former teammates, coaches and colleagues. Last week, Oilers legend Earl Campbell said he had not paid much attention to the Titans since the team moved from Houston, but he would like to get involved with the team if Munchak is hired.

I recall reading about Munchak and Matthews in 1983, as a local sports article described how the two men would be cornerstones of the Oilers’ offensive line for many years. I support Mike Munchak as he attempts to establish unity, stability, discipline, and a winning culture in Nashville.

Go Titans!

Sources:
John McClain, Houston Chronicle
Pro Football Hall of Fame
Pro-Football-Reference.com

Respect the fullback

NASHVILLE, TN - AUGUST 09:  Fullback Ahmard Hall #45 of the Tennessee Titans gets off the ball while taking on the St. Louis Rams during a pre-season game at LP Field on August 9, 2008 in Nashville, Tennessee.  (Photo by Doug Benc/Getty Images)

http://view.picapp.com//JavaScripts/OTIjs.jsSince this is the third article in a row with fullbacks as its primary subject, it should be crystal clear that I’m a big fan of the running game, and that I wish fullbacks were featured more prominently in NFL offenses.

My heart literally skips a beat whenever a fullback is allowed to carry the football. Ridiculous, huh?

Perhaps the most emotional moment during Emmitt Smith’s Hall of Fame induction speech was his tearful tribute to fullback Daryl Johnston. Johnston was a key contributor to Smith’s success with the Dallas Cowboys in an era when the fullback’s role had been diminished and devalued.

There was a time when fullbacks used to run the football. As a small time, I was a Cowboys fan (most Texans are Cowboys fans by default) and enjoyed watching number 44, Robert Newhouse, who served as more than just a lead blocker for Preston Pearson and Tony Dorsett. In 1975, Newhouse carried the ball 209 times for 930 yards. He rushed for 4,784 yards during his 12-year career.

Not to be forgotten is big Tim Wilson, who carried the ball 126 times for the Oilers during Earl Campbell’s rookie season in 1978.

In the late 1970s, the NFL put new rules in place that made it easier for teams to execute in the passing game. Soon, teams frequently use formations with multiple wide receivers which took the fullback off the field and the ball out of his hands.

Wikipedia correctly notes that Jim Brown, Franco Harris and Larry Csonka were fullbacks. All three players are in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Roger Craig, the tremendous receiver and runner who made his mark with the San Francisco 49ers, may become the last player who played significant snaps at fullback to be inducted into the Hall of Fame.

Recently, fullback Mike Alstott concluded his career in 2006 with 5088 yards rushing. Baltimore Raven Le’Ron McClain had an anomaly of a season in 2008 as he rushed for 902 yards.

Will we see the triumphant return of ball-toting fullbacks? I doubt it. But the next time you see Chris Johnson, or any other running back, breaking long runs and scoring touchdowns, remember the man leading the way who will only get a handful of carries and very little glory.

Respect the fullback.