- The Houston Oilers became the Tennessee Oilers after relocating to Nashville in 1997.
- The Tennessee Oilers became the Tennessee Titans two years later to “reflect strength, leadership, and other heroic qualities.”
You NFL fans out there might have tried adjusting your television sets on Oct. 29, 2023, as the Tennessee Titans wore uniforms in the colors of their predecessors, the Houston Oilers, in a nod to the team’s beginnings. So, why did the Oilers change their name anyway?
As football historians know, the Oilers switched cities and got a new nickname following a falling-out between the late team owner Bud Adams and the city of Houston. Here’s how it all went down…
The Houston Oilers changed names in 1997 after a move from Texas to Tennessee.
Back in the mid-1990s, Adams wanted a new downtown stadium to replace Houston’s Astrodome, which was expensive to rent and sorely needed renovations, as Chron.com reports. But the Astrodome’s landlord refused to give Adams a better deal, and the oil mogul fell out of favor with Houston’s political and business leaders, so he started looking for another host city.
Adams eventually found a new home for the Oilers in Nashville, Tenn., meanwhile, where voters had OK’d a referendum for the city to build a $292 million stadium. Then NFL owners voted in favor of the Oilers moving to the Volunteer State, and thus the Houston Oilers became the Tennessee Oilers in 1997.
“This is an historic move for all of us,” said Paul Tagliabue, then commissioner of the NFL, according to Chron.com. “We’re the first major sports franchise in Tennessee.”
The Tennessee Oilers changed names again in 1999, becoming the Tennessee Titans.
When the Oilers moved cities, Adams wanted to find a new nickname for the team, as did football fans who realized that oil is more a Texas thing than a Tennessee thing, as CBS News reported in 1998. But former Oilers like Earl Campbell objected to a nickname change, so the team continued to play as the Tennessee Oilers for two more seasons.
Ahead of the 1999 season, though, Adams put together an advisory council of Tennesseans that included a historian, a university president, and local businessmen, and the group brainstormed new monikers for the team.
They considered calling the team the Pioneers, the Tornadoes, the Copperheads, the Vipers, and the Fury. But the winning name, of course, turned out to be the Titans.
“We wanted a new nickname to reflect strength, leadership, and other heroic qualities,” Adams said as he announced the change, per CBS News. “Titans come from early Greek mythology, and the fact that Nashville is known as the ‘Athens of the South’ makes the Titans name very appropriate.”
Houston’s next NFL team, the Texans, began play in 2002.
After the Oilers’ departure, it didn’t take long for Houston to get another NFL team. In 1999, the NFL owners gave the late businessman Bob McNair the green light to start a new franchise in Houston, and that franchise was officially named the Houston Texans the following year, according to the organization’s website. The Texans started playing in 2002 and became the first NFL team to win an expansion debut in 41 years.