As we recounted last week, the Houston Oilers were big rivals of the Pittsburgh Steelers back in the days of the AFC Central division. The team moved to Tennessee where they began the 1999 season as the Titans.
In the NFL records book, the Oilers statistics are still included with those of the Titans. Overall, the Steelers own a good record against their opponents with 46 wins and 31 defeats. After the move to Tennessee, the Titans edge the meetings 9-8 with the Steelers winning the last one by 40-17.
The worst Steelers defeat playing the Titans was the painful 34-31 overtime loss in the 2002 season playoffs. After knocking out the Browns in the wild card game, the Steelers advanced to Tennessee where SteelerNation’s hearts were broken after their team had fought so valiantly.
AFC Central division nostalgia
If we look back over the earlier history between these two teams, the 1988 meeting in Houston is surely one of the most exciting contests between the rivals.
The game pitched the usually reserved gentleman Coach Noll against Jerry Glanville, the brash, arrogant coach of Houston. One preview of the contest noted, “We know the head coaches dislike each other. I see no mercy either way,” and so the game proved.
With Houston -10.5 favorites and playing in front of their home crowd where they had won ten straight, everything pointed to the (3-10) Steelers being overwhelmed by a (9-4) team who were heading to the playoffs.
Earlier in the season, Houston beat the Steelers 34-14 in Three Rivers Stadium, but it was the previous game in Houston that had set the tone. After losing 24-16, Noll had confronted Granville by sticking his finger into Glanville’s chest and chastising him for Houston’s cheap shot tactics and dirty play.
The 1988 game saw a battle between Bubby “I’m your man” Brister in his first year as the Steelers starting quarterback against the 4-year veteran Warren Moon.
The game would see the Steelers produce huge numbers that earned a well-deserved win. After Gary Anderson’s 45-yard gave them an early advantage, the lead was to change four times as the teams battled for the final punch.
Dwight Stone returned a kickoff 92 yards, Louis Lipps caught touchdown passes of 80 and 65 yards while Merril Hoge added a 2-yard touchdown run and a 16-yard touchdown catch in the final minute that proved the knockout blow as the Steelers took the 37-34 victory.
It was the game in which Brister came of age throwing three touchdown passes with no interceptions for 311 yards and a quarterback rating of 105.2. “We just wanted it more than they did,” suggested Brister. “We owed them something after last year.”
Magnanimous in defeat, Houston’s defensive end Ray Childress was emphatic with his retort, “Bubby Brister is just a little, arrogant punk.
Although the Steelers turned Houston’s “House of Pain” into “Heartbreak Hotel,” the Oilers advanced to the playoffs where they squeezed passed the Browns 24-23 before being knocked out 17-10 by the Bills.
The win saw the Steelers avoid a first winless season within the AFC Central division and avoid posting a season without a road victory. The team finished the season 5-11 but improved the following year to 9-7 when they lost 24-23 to Denver in the divisional round of the playoffs.