The Oilers, Buddy Ryan, Las Cruces and Me
I was at a Holiday Inn in Las Cruces, New Mexico, the night Buddy Ryan threw a punch at Kevin Gilbride. Sitting on the bed, eating fast food, watching the Oilers and Jets on Sunday Night Football. And I knew things would never be the same.
The only punch as well known in Houston as the Rudy T-Kermit Washington version.
I'd been in Europe for most of that football season, working on my Masters of Law, and trying to follow the team from afar. It wasn't that easy in those pre-Internet days. I'd try to get the scores off of Armed Forces Radio when I could get a signal. Sometimes I'd call my friends working at the Dome during games and have them update me. Usually I had to wait until Tuesday when USA Today would have the scores.
I was a Houston native. I grew up with the Oilers when they were a bad team lucky to win one game a season. Then came Bum and Earl and Luv Ya Blue, then some more bad times. But by the time the late 80s hit, things were right with the world. Warren Moon led a prolific high-scoring offense that was the envy of the NFL, and the defense did just enough and the Oilers were Super Bowl contenders.
But the team couldn't win in the playoffs. There was John Elway pulling off one of his patented comebacks as the Broncos knocked the Oilers out one year. Then the infamous Buffalo game where Frank Reich, the Bills backup, led the greatest comeback in NFL playoff history. Then Bud Adams forced Jack Pardee to hire Buddy Ryan to fix the defense and I was off to Salzburg and then Copenhagen while the Oilers put together another playoff season without me.
I returned to Houston two days before the Jeff Alm incident, but then the team kept winning and it just seemed like nothing would stop them. Then Buddy Ryan slugged Kevin Gilbride in front of a national TV audience and weeks later, Joe Montana did his Joe Montana thing and brought the Chiefs from behind to a last-minute win over the Oilers in the playoffs. And it was all over.
I got to relive these memories the other night thanks to the NFL Network's documentary on that 1993 Oilers season. And I learned about the feuds and egos and wondered how that team, perhaps the most talented Oilers ever, was able to win enough games to even get close to the playoffs.
It was painful to remember -- and to relive those parts I never experienced, having not been around. But it also brought forth thoughts about this current Texans team, this so-called incredibly talented team that has imploded, lost 11 straight games, cost a head coach his job and become beset by infighting between coaches and the front office and between players and coaches and between players.
Wade Phillips didn't want Ed Reed, and if not for Wade Phillips, Gary Kubiak would've probably lost his job several years ago. Nobody takes the blame for signing Reed, who blasted the team and the coaching on his way out the door. GM Rick Smith convinced Bob McNair that the fault was all that of Gary Kubiak, as if Kubiak was the one who has botched the salary cap, and now Smith, who claims to have just been doing Kubiak's bidding despite nominally being his boss, gets to pick a new coach to whom he'll apparently be subservient. Meanwhile Andre Johnson, up there with Earl Campbell when it comes to greatest players in Houston pro sports history, watches another year of his career go down the drain while clowns steer the car into the ditch.
Bob McNair is not Bud Adams. Wade Phillips is not Buddy Ryan and no coaches are going to have fights on the sidelines in front of a national TV audience, though Johnson and Matt Schaub appeared to come damn close. But 2013 is like 1993 as another season fades into disappointment and fans have to wait until next season for glory to be visited upon the team.
I was on my way to Sacramento, California, on the way to where I would live for the next six months, that night that Buddy Ryan went after Kevin Gilbride on the sidelines in front of a national television audience that included a lawyer in a hotel room in Las Cruces, New Mexico. I was still full of hope for my future, having freshly passed the Bar, and on my way to completing my LL.M before embarking on what I was sure would be a lucrative and fulfilling legal career. My life's been pretty much a huge disappointment since that night, never coming close to living up to my hopes and dreams. In that way, I guess I'm much like the Oilers and the Texans, so full of hope, always disappointing.