“The Tyler Rose” was a Texas legend even before joining the Oilers, thanks to his exploits in high school (leading Tyler High to the state title) and as a Longhorn (1977 Heisman Trophy). He only added to that legend in Houston, leading the NFL in rushing his first three seasons and earning the 1979 MVP award. His running style — going through defenders rather than around them — wasn’t conducive to longevity, but this wrecking ball of a tailback carved out a huge Houston legacy in six seasons before winding down his career in New Orleans. He was elected into the Hall of Fame in 1991.
Sadly, McNair will probably remain best known for his death at the hands of his mistress in a 2009 murder-suicide. But Oilers fans will never forget the toughness and rifle arm of their three-time Pro Bowl quarterback. Never afraid to take a hit, McNair constantly played through injuries and inspired his teammates with his competitive spirit. He led Houston to the Super Bowl in 1999, coming up a few Kevin Dyson yards short of a win, and was named the league’s co-MVP with Peyton Manning in 2003. He won a team-record 76 games as starting quarterback before finishing his career in Baltimore.
Since both were Heisman Trophy-winning running backs with great power and speed, George was often compared to Earl Campbell when Houston drafted him in 1996. But while Campbell was a violent runner, George was more versatile and durable. He started 128 straight games (the second-longest streak by a tailback in NFL history, behind Walter Payton’s 170) and rushed for over 10,000 yards, making four Pro Bowls. He also had over 2,000 receiving yards and finished his nine-year career with 78 touchdowns. He recently earned his MBA at Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Management.
If there’s one player who perfectly links the franchise’s past in Houston and its present in Tennessee, it’s Matthews. Drafted ninth overall by the Oilers in 1983, he played every line position while blocking for Earl Campbell and Warren Moon, then settled in at guard when the team moved to Nashville and blocked for Steve McNair and Eddie George. He made 14 straight Pro Bowls from 1988-2001 and nine All-Pro teams, playing more seasons (19) and more games (296) than any lineman in NFL history. Inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2007, it’s only appropriate that Matthews was hired as Tennessee’s offensive line coach this year.
Has anyone ever thrown a football more beautifully than Moon? It’s an outrage he had to spend his first six pro seasons in Canada, largely because the NFL was slow to accept black quarterbacks. But it didn’t take long for Moon to destroy those pernicious racial stereotypes with his strong, accurate arm and calm, heady leadership. Despite his late NFL debut, he made nine Pro Bowls and threw for nearly 50,000 yards and 300 touchdowns in 17 NFL seasons, the first 10 as an Oiler. He is the first African-American QB to be elected to the Hall of Fame.