When we were kids, one of the coolest presents you could find under the tree was an NFL jersey found in the Sears Wishbook Christmas catalog. In 1982, I got a cool Detroit Lions Billy Sims jersey, while my buddy, Pearl, received a Houston Oilers Earl Campbell jersey.
The Campbell jersey was a sweet powder blue with red trim, which was known as their “Luv Ya Blue” uniform. He was a punishing running back who refused to go down easily. One of his iconic highlights was evading a tackler who grabbed ahold of that sweet jersey and hung on for dear life. That wasn’t enough to bring Campbell down, however, so as he ran away, the jersey was ripped from his body.
The Oilers moved to Tennessee in 1997 and two years later changed their name to the Titans. With the mascot change, so too did the uniforms. Gone were the powder blue jerseys in favor of new predominantly navy-blue uniforms.
That was until this season.
In their season opener against the University of Texas-San Antonio on September 2, the University of Houston football team donned uniforms reminiscent of the Oilers’ from the days of Earl Campbell. Instead of an oil drill, the helmets simply said ‘Houston’ on the side.
Cougars fans went crazy, as the jerseys reminded Houston football fans of the glory days of the Oilers. UH went on to beat the Roadrunners 17-14, so the whole day was a big success.
Until the University got a cease-and-desist letter from the National Football League, that is.
The NFL threatened legal action if the University of Houston didn’t stop the allegedly “blatant copying” of the Oilers throwback jerseys. The league also wants the school to “discontinue all sales of merchandise and remove any promotional campaign or social media posts that feature the popular light blue, or Columbia blue, with red stripes color scheme and design.”
According to the letter, written by attorney Bonnie L. Jarrett, the league contends that it informed UH seven months earlier that it did not consent to the use of the Oilers uniforms or similar designs. Despite rebranding as the Titans, the NFL and the Tennessee franchise still retain rights to the Oilers’ history and trademarks.
“The Houston Cougars’ attempt to free ride on the popularity of the NFL and the club violates the intellectual property rights of the NFL and the [Tennessee] Titans,” Jarrett wrote.
School officials say that the jerseys are “part of a nostalgic moment, paying homage to a bygone era in the city’s football history while also recognizing the city’s connection to the light blue that was a recognizable fixture for years in the Houston Police Department.”
And it’s not just Cougar fans that had their hearts broken over the jerseys. Four years ago, the Houston Texans, who joined the league as an expansion team in 2002, floated the idea of donning throwback Oilers jerseys. Titans owner Amy Adams Strunk responded: “Very interesting. Except the Oilers don’t have anything to do with the Texans, so . . . that’s a hard no.”
This season, however, the Titans decided to wear the Oilers throwback jerseys twice: once against the Atlanta Falcons on October 26, and, almost spitefully, against the Texans on December 17.
Talk about giving Houstonians the blues.