HARRIS COUNTY – HOUSTON SPORTS AUTHORITY INSIDER

Houston and Miami have a great history in prime time

Earl Campbell's game against Miami remains iconic. Eric Christian Smith/Getty Images

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Deshaun Watson had more touchdown passes than incompletions on Thursday night. DeAndre Hopkins caught two of them, as well as possibly the most incredible through the leg catch of all-time (Even though it didn’t count).  The Texans committed no turnovers, allowed no sacks and scored a season high 42 points.

It was also homecoming and the Home field  Advantage Captain was none other than former Houston Oiler legend and Hall of Famer Robert Brazile.

Which got us thinking back to that other incredible prime time game against the Miami Dolphins 40 years ago.

The idea was to get a couple of first downs and run out the clock.

Let the rookie and those powerful thighs of his pound a worn out Miami defense a few more times. Don’t let Bob Griese back on the field.

Don’t take any crazy chances.

So quarterback Dan Pastorini called Earl Campbell’s number one more time. The play? Toss 38.

Campbell took the toss and headed to his right. A few steps later, he cut up the sideline, accelerated and . . . the rest was history.  He kicked it into yet another gear and went 81 yards for his fourth touchdown of the night and a 35-23 Houston lead.

Pastorini went to the bench to apologize to Bum Phillips for the quick score. Bum said what the heck. He’d take the seven points. And the eventual 35-30 win.

Watching it today on grainy 1978 film, you still get chills. You marvel over that Astrodome crowd waving what looks like a sea of Columbia Blue and white pompons. You see Bum with that buzz cut and colorful Western shirt. You hear Howard Cosell pontificate in that unmistakable cadence.

You start singing that song. “Houston has the Oilers, the greatest football team . . . “

Has it really been 40 years since that incredible Monday night when Houston fell head over Luv Ya Blue heels for their Oilers?

Memories started dancing through Houstonians’ heads the second we knew Miami was coming back to town for it’s first prime-time match up here since that legendary November 20, 1978 game.

Four touchdowns and 199 yards for Campbell. A great night for Dr. Doom and the defense against Miami quarterback Bob Griese. A coaching matchup between the down-home, colorful Bum and buttoned-up Don Shula.

The upstart Oilers against NFL royalty – a Dolphins team that had gone undefeated a few years earlier.

“You walked out saw the pompons, the signs . . .” Pastorini said. “It was nothing but a sea of Oiler blue.”

And the Oilers responded.

“We were kind of on the cusp of being a good team,’’ said starting safety Mike Reinfeldt. “We had some talent, we’d played some tough games, but this was Don Shula. . . and to play them Monday night . .

“For us to step up in a big game and play so well and the game came down to the end and we made some huge plays. Obviously, Earl made an unbelievable run, but we just kind of stepped forward and made huge plays at the end of the game for a huge win.’’

The win put the Oilers on their way to back-to-back trips to the AFC title game where they lost both times to Pittsburgh. And it put Campbell and three defensive players – Robert Brazile, Curley Culp, Elvin Bethea -- on the road to the Hall of Fame.

Those Luv Ya Blue seasons will be among the seven decades of moments being honored at the second annual Houston Sports Awards February 6 at the Hilton-Americas.

Campbell was honored at last year’s inaugural Houston Sports Awards along with Nolan Ryan and Hakeem Olajuwon – the city’s 34s – and those three Hall of Famers were the also the inaugural class of inductees into the Houston Sports Hall of Fame.

A number of Oilers, including Pastorini, will be on hand for the 2019 event, which will also honor President George H.W. and Barbara Bush with the Lifetime Achievement Award.

Taking nothing away from Thursday’s matchup between Miami and the Houston Texans at NRG Stadium, but it didn’t come close to the excitement level of the 1978 game which is understandable. The ’78 Oilers-Dolphins game was arguably the best Monday Night game in history.

Receiver Billy “White Shoes” Johnson was on the roster, but was hurt and didn’t play. In fact, he didn’t even get to the game.

“I was going to go to the game that night and my wife said no because we heard it ws going to be a crazy crowd,’’ Johnson said. “I watched it from home. You could just feel it when Earl made that long run and (Miami defensive back) Curtis Johnson backed down. I’m just telling you what it looked like to me – that he didn’t want to hit Earl.

“When Earl (scored) that place came undone. The roof came off of it.’’

Johnson also said that game galvanized the team.

“To me, that was one of the major steps of really coming together and how people were excited about the Houston Oilers,’’ he said. “I’m not going to say it was a turning point, but it was really up there when it comes to a point when we realized who we were and what we could do. That was unbelievable.’’

Added former Oiler Robert Woods, now a Harris County – Houston Sports Authority board member, said the Oilers had something really special during those Luv Ya Blue years.

“I think the fans fell in love with us because we were  blue collar workers,’’ Woods said. “Bum had a remarkable way of putting us together.’’

Added Johnson, “He didn’t want to change anyone’s character or personality. He just wanted you to come together on the field to play and the other things will take care of themselves.’’

The relationship with fans and city, Johnson said, remind him of the way the Houston Astros pulled the city together last fall after Hurricane Harvey. That love affair continued this season.

Pastorini smiles.

“It gives me goosebumps to think about the respect we had from playing a stupid game,’’ he said. “But it brought the city together . . . This city was hungry for a winner in football and we gave it to them. ‘’

 

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