What’s in a name? Well, in the landscape of pro football: Texans.
Right now, the Houston Texans are the latest to call themselves that – make that the second pro football team to call themselves the Houston Texans. But in the annals of professional football history, there have been many that have called their club the “Texans.” Of course, if you are from the State of Texas, the fact that you are a Texan is something to be proud of and brag big about. So, it is only fitting that an owner would want his team to be called the very fabric of the folks who live in the great state of Texas.
1952 Dallas Texans
In 1952, the first-ever major sports league club to call the City of Dallas home was the Dallas Texans of the National Football League (NFL). The Texans franchise began in Boston in 1944 and were called the Boston Yanks before moving to the Polo Grounds in New York City in 1949 and were renamed the New York Bulldogs. One year later, the Bulldogs became the New York Yanks after settling into Yankee Stadium.
The Yanks were horrible while the crosstown New York Football Giants were magnificent. The Yanks were mainly a traveling squad as they only had four home games and finished the 1951 season 1-9-2. They averaged 9,440 patrons per contest while the Giants averaged 29,231 for six home games. The Yanks best draw was 10,675 while the 5-2-1 Giants in Week 9 counted 52,515 fans against their bitter rival the 7-1-0 Cleveland Browns.
The end result was that Yanks’ owner Ted Collins had lost more than $100,000, and then sold the team back to the league. With the Yanks in limbo, this allowed an unbalanced league of 11 clubs. The NFL looked at cities like Baltimore to relocate the Yanks but instead decided upon Dallas.
Textile millionaires Giles and Connell Miller bought the club from the NFL and all of the Yanks’ assets. They renamed the team the “Dallas Texans” and attempted to bring a bold Texas swagger to home games. While college football drew very well at the Cotton Bowl in Dallas, pro football did not. Plus, the Texans were horrible, out-of-shape and undisciplined. After the team began the season 0-7-0, whatever fans the franchise had gained simply quit coming. The club averaged less than 10,000 per game and was losing large amounts of cash. With five games remaining the team could not meet payroll.
The Millers requested a $250,000 bailout from the league office but were refused. The Millers then gave up the franchise to which the league took over and then re-scheduled the remainder games all on the road. The following season the franchise was re-located to Baltimore and renamed the “Colts.”
1960 Dallas Texans
When the fifth pro football league that called itself the American Football League (AFL) formed in 1960, the league’s founder Lamar Hunt placed a team in his hometown of Dallas and called then the “Dallas Texans.” Before the Texans arrived, the NFL had made a stance to not award any expansion teams as the owners liked their 12-club league with their teams so closely confined in the eastern and Midwestern states. Several men had wanted to purchase an expansion team or buy an existing NFL club, but each were refuted. So, they simply started their own pro football league and called it the AFL.
Suddenly, the NFL stated they would indeed be acceptable to expansion, and instantly placed a team in Dallas without any owner, players, equipment or stadium lease. They called this new team the “Steers” (which later would be renamed the Rangers and then renamed the Cowboys).
The Texans were one of the AFL’s best teams right off while the Cowboys were one of the worst in the established NFL. Hank Stram was hired as the head coach. In their first home game they drew over 42,000 at the Cotton Bowl but started 2-4-0 before finishing 8-6-0. Notable players included Johnny Robinson, Abner Hayes, Cotton Davidson and Curley Johnson. Robinson will be on the Pro Football Hall of Fame ballot this year.
In 1962 the younger players finally jelled and the franchise went 11-3-0 and their first Western Division crown. They then defeated the defending AFL Champion Houston Oilers 20-17 to capture the AFL title. The club was bursting with All-Stars including Len Dawson, Fred Arbanas, Mel Branch and Robinson.
As an owner, Hunt had tired of the competition in the City of Dallas for fans, sponsors and media attention and sought out a new location for the reigning league champs. He looked at New Orleans first, but the only suitable field was Tulane Stadium which was still segregated. Hunt also speculated about Miami, Seattle and Atlanta. Hunt then turned his attention to Kansas City which already had a major league baseball team called the Athletics.
The mayor of Kansas City was Roe Bartle, whom everyone called “chief.” Bartle and the entire city went out of their way to court the Texans and bring a second major league sports franchise to the Missouri Midwest. Kansas City guaranteed Hunt 35,000 season ticket sales, 14,000 new and temporary seats added to Municipal Stadium, along with stadium lease and local sponsorship deals. “Chiefs” was chosen over Mules as the club’s new team name, one that Hunt attributed to Bartle’s efforts.
Several years later, Charlie Finley, the owner of the Kansas City A’s asked Hunt to package a deal that would bring both the Athletics and the Chiefs to Atlanta. But, Hunt loved Kansas City and the fact that it was a short trip from their home in Dallas, so he passed on Atlanta a second time.
1974 Houston Texans
When the World Football League came onto the scene in 1974, one of the original franchises awarded was to one of the league’s organizers – San Francisco attorney Steve Arnold. The “Houston Texans” played in the Astrodome and were poorly organized and underfunded.
After starting the season 3-7-1 with home games on a Wednesday night and only averaging 18,581 in the 67,000-seat stadium, the Texans were in trouble financially. On September 19, 1974, newspapers ran the story that the club would be relocated to Shreveport, Louisiana and would operate under league administration until the end of the maiden season. The payroll was $1.5 million and was over $200,000 in debt when Arnold quit.
QB Craig Morton, an NFL veteran, was signed for the 1975 season to a huge contract after playing out his option for the Cowboys after splitting time with Roger Staubach. Morton received a six-figure signing bonus and a clause that voided the contract if the Texans ceased operations. When the franchise moved to Shreveport, Morton contended that the contract was null and void. The Cowboys then traded Morton to the Giants for the club’s number one and number two draft picks in the upcoming draft, pending legal inspection of the WFL situation. It was later ruled that the trade was valid, the Texans’ contract was not, and Morton relocated to New York.
In Shreveport, the colors remained but the team was now the “Steamer.” For the remainder of the 1974 season and into 1975, the Steamer was operated on a “play now pay later” system. The 1974 version went 7-12-0 while the 1975 team was 5-7-0 when the league folded with games left on the schedule. The best home crowd in Shreveport was 22,012 while the worst was 8,500.
1978 Austin Texans
The American Football Association (AFA) operated from 1978-1983. Some claim it was a professional league while others considered it to be semi-pro. Regardless, it nestled in between the existence of the World Football League and the United States Football League. All games were on Saturday nights during the summer months and concentrated more in southern cities. A 12-game schedule was devised with players paid 1 percent of gate receipts. Ticket prices usually were $5 for adults and $3 for children. The “Austin Texans” were one of the original teams and drew around 3,200 per game.
The AFA was never financially solvent with several teams playing only a single season before folding. Oddly enough, most clubs played their home games in large NFL-caliber stadiums despite smaller crowds. The league was never able to secure a TV contract which hurt all of its member clubs. Former Giants’ QB Jerry Golsteyn played for the Orlando Americans. Redskins’ great Billy Kilmer was the commissioner.
1990 Dallas Texans
In 1990, the Arena Football League awarded an expansion club to Dallas, the city’s first indoor team. They were called the “Dallas Texans” and played home games at Reunion Arena, which was shared with the NBA Dallas Mavericks. The owner was H. Lanier Richey and he hired former Steelers’ great Ernie Stautner as the head coach.
The first season the team went 6-2-0 and made it to the ArenaBowl in its maiden season, only to lose 51-27 to the Detroit Drive. Stautner was named AFL Coach-of-the-Year. Stautner parlayed that success and got a coaching gig with the Denver Broncos the following season. The Texans then hired former Cowboys’ great Drew Pearson as head coach only to go 4-6-0 for the year.
In 1992, the team was sold to Kent Kramer and Greg Gibson who fired Pearson and replaced him with John Paul Young, a former assistant coach at Texas Tech. Although the franchise finished 5-5-0, they qualified to host a home playoff game, however, the owners didn’t have enough capital and were forced to play on the road. After one playoff victory, they fell to the eventual champion in a subsequent contest. Young left the Texans and Kramer hired Jerry Trice, an Arena League longtime assistant coach, as the club’s fourth head coach in four seasons. After a 3-9-0 season, the AFL dropped the franchise for failing to meet the league mandatory financial requirements.
2002 Houston Texans
When the Raiders’ Al Davis won his lawsuit against his other NFL owners, the NFL decided that club relocation was no longer a league issue but instead a team issue. Eventually, the Colts moved from Baltimore to Indianapolis, the Cleveland Browns to Baltimore and the Houston Oilers to Memphis to Nashville. All three cities who lost teams would get a franchise placed in their location over the upcoming years, with Houston getting an expansion team.
Bob McNair was the owner of the new entry, but before “Texans” was selected as the team designation, the club trademarked several names which all had either western or space themes including Colt 45’s, Hurricanes, Wranglers, Toros, Wildcats, Apollos, Challengers, Stallions, Roughriders, Bobcats, Stormcats, Energy, Roustabouts and Texans (original residents of Mexican Texas). While the Astrodome was a marvel in its time, the $352 million Reliant Stadium (now NRG Stadium) brought in the new Houston NFL team.
McNair sought out permission to use the name “Texans” once the selection process was completed. He went to Lamar Hunt to get his blessings even though Hunt no longer had a trademark on the moniker. However, McNair wanted the former owner to give his okay first. The Oilers wore Columbia blue, red and white, and the Texans chose the colors of the state flag with a darker blue to go along with the red and white.
Since entering the NFL, the Texans have won the AFC South Division four times with as many playoff appearances and as many head coaches. Former Giants’ assistant coach Romeo Crennel is currently the defensive coordinator. The stadium has a Ring of Honor like most fields, with Andre Johnson the lone member.
Barry Shuck is a pro football historical writer and a member of the Professional Football Researcher’s Association