The NFL’s decision this week to allow teams to use an alternate helmet beginning in 2022 was met with an overwhelmingly positive response because it clears the way for franchises to add a bit of variety to things with the occasional rollout of throwback uniforms.
Tennessee Titans players certainly were on board. Running back Derrick Henry has advocated for some time for the opportunity to wear the Columbia blue jersey made famous by the Houston Oilers and did not hesitate to share his feelings on Twitter. Tackle Taylor Lewan also made it clear that he was happy with the decision.
The assumption, of course, is that is the look the Titans will adopt if they choose to avail themselves of the new policy. After all, the franchise was created in 1960 as the Houston Oilers, a founding member of the AFL, remained that way through 1996 and then spent two seasons, 1997-98, as the Tennessee Oilers.
However, based on a 2018 uniform update and redesign spearheaded by controlling owner Amy Adams Strunk, it is not the only option.
Although unlikely, it is possible that Tennessee could dust off the old white helmets with the primary logo that remains in use to this day with the accompanying two-tone blue jerseys that ushered in a new era for the team and helped build a deep connection with fans that never had a local NFL team to support. A case actually could be made that this is the better option.
Here is a look at some pros and cons of the Tennessee Titans’ throwback uniform options.
Pro: It represents a sizable portion of the franchise’s history. For almost 40 years, the team was based in Houston and was known as the Oilers. It was the look franchise founder K.S. “Bud” Adams chose and the one for which his now-in-charge daughter rooted as a child and young adult.
Con: The current fan base has no connection to the look, the logo or the nickname. In fact, when Adams brought the team to Tennessee in 1997, he made it known that he had no intention of changing else. The public outcry for a unique look and identity to provide a fresh start was so profound that he eventually had no choice but to relent satisfy the desires of his new fan base.
Pro: There is nothing else like it in the NFL. The Columbia blue is a distinctive color that stands apart even from other teams that feature a shade of blue such as the Detroit Lions, L.A. Rams and Chargers. Anyone who has followed the NFL for any length of time knows exactly what it is the moment they see it.
Con: The look is associated with heartbreak. Sure, the Oilers won the first two AFL championships but nothing since. In fact, they are well-known for disappointment such as the biggest blown lead in NFL playoff history (they led by 32 in the second half but lost by three in overtime) and a blown call in the AFC Championship game loss at Pittsburgh that helped bring instant replay to the NFL.
Pro: Some great players have worn that uniform. Running back Earl Campbell, offensive linemen Mike Munchak and Bruce Matthews and defensive lineman Elvin Bethea – Hall of Famers all – are among the most recognizable. Adopting the same look would give today’s stars like Henry, Taylor Lewan, Rodger Saffold and Jeffery Simmons an opportunity to recognize some of their predecessors.
Con: There is another team in Houston these days. Yes, unlike what happened when the Browns left Cleveland to become the Baltimore Ravens, the NFL did not mandate that the Oilers’ name and history remain in Houston, so this is sort of tricky issue. Still, the Houston Texans came into being in 2002, and the only way for their fans to pay tribute to the city’s professional football history would be for them to dress as the Oilers for a day.
ORIGINAL TENNESSEE TITANS
Pro: The best moment in franchise history was in these uniforms. Tennessee is one of 12 teams that never has won a Super Bowl. But it came oh-so close in 1999 when it lost to the Rams in Super Bowl XXXIV, a memorable game that came down to the final play. To date, that is the team’s only appearance in any Super Bowl. It was the first season after the Oilers’ name, logos and colors were dropped, and if you’re going to celebrate history, the high point seems like a good place to start.
Con: It has not been that long. Can it be considered a throwback if you only have to go back to 2017 to find the last time a particular helmet and uniform design were in play full-time? It is a stretch, to be sure, but the average NFL career lasts just a little over three years and the current roster includes just six players who were on the team that year and have worn that look.
Pro: The throwback look already has been used. In 2009, as part of the NFL’s tribute to the 50th anniversary of the creation of the AFL, the Titans wore Oilers uniforms in three regular-season games plus once in the preseason, the Hall of Fame Game against Buffalo. For those who feel it is important for current fans to have a visual representation of what came first, it already has happened.
Con: The difference is not so extreme. The rule allowing for a second helmet is especially important to teams like Tampa Bay, New England and Philadelphia Eagles, which currently use helmets that clash with their old uniforms. The original Titans’ helmets feature the same logo as the current ones and their primary color is white, which goes with anything, including the current uniforms. If you’re going to invest in an alternate look, you might as well go all the way.
Pro: Some great players have worn that uniform. For many Titans fans in Middle Tennessee, the history of the club dates back to 1999 and for them the roster of all-time greats includes guys like Jevon Kearse, Chris Johnson, Michael Roos and Delanie Walker, guys who never wore the Columbia blue or had an oil derrick on their helmet. Those are the players Titans fans want to remember.
Con: Throwback uniforms are as much – if not more – about marketing and sales as they are about history. If you want to move merchandise, stock the shelves with something few among your fan base currently have. Columbia blue jerseys certainly are not prominent in and around Nashville. If you bring out the old Titans uniforms, supporters might be inclined just to reach into the back of their closet for older jerseys, T-shirts and hats to wear for one day at Nissan Stadium.
Teams have until July 31 to inform the NFL whether they intend to utilize a second helmet in 2022. So, we’ll know soon enough how, if at all, the Titans plan to pay tribute to their history.