Galling as it may be to Houstonians who recall fondly the “Luv Ya Blue” era of the Houston Oilers, the Texans don’t have the right to wear the iconic light-blue, white, and red-striped uniforms of the city’s predecessor NFL franchise. That privilege rests solely with the Tennessee Titans, which maintained the Oilers’ franchise history, records, and trademarks when the organization relocated to the Volunteer State back in 1997. For years, that has meant that no one has worn the Oilers’ uniforms—despite a great deal of interest from Texans fans and players to slap an oil rig on the side of a helmet with a red face guard and strut onto the field in baby blue and white.

This year, though, the Titans decided to revive the “Luv Ya Blue” days in Nashville, a city where most NFL fans probably weren’t Oilers fans back when Earl Campbell and Bum Phillips helped define Houston sports fandom. Why are the Titans bringing back the iconic look now? Because “Oilers history is Titans history,” according to team owner Amy Adams Strunk, the daughter of the late Bud Adams, who moved the team to Tennessee. This season, the Titans will wear Oilers colors against Atlanta in October, and then again in December—when they take on the Texans, of all teams. 

Strunk has long resisted the notion that the Oilers and the Texans have anything in common. (“That’s very interesting,” she said in 2019, when a Titans beat reporter asked if the Texans players who wanted to wear Oilers throwbacks might see their wish granted. “Except the Oilers don’t have anything to do with the Texans.”) Leaving aside that the two teams played in the same city and that most Houstonians who were fans of the Oilers are, these days, wearing Battle Red on Sundays, she’s correct that the legal ownership of the Oilers’ intellectual property belongs to her family, and thus to the organization she owns. It’s rare that someone owns valuable IP that they allow to remain dormant, and so it wasn’t surprising when the Titans organization announced that its team would don the Oilers’ uniforms for a pair of games in 2023. But that they would be wearing those uniforms against Houston, of all teams, felt like a slap in the face to fans from Space City. 

Houston fans might feel infuriated that Strunk has decided to remind them that ownership of NFL teams rests not with the diehards who live and die with every touchdown and interception, but often with a billionaire who inherited the franchise. But at least, in this case, a gesture like hers could add spice to a sports rivalry. It also appears to have inspired another football team from Houston to honor the Oilers. 

On Thursday, the University of Houston Cougars unveiled the team’s special uniforms for its season opener against UT–San Antonio—and they’ll look familiar to anyone who remembers Elvin Bethea, Earl Campbell, Bruce Matthews, or Warren Moon. In the university’s announcement video, narrated by Cougars track-and-field legend Carl Lewis, the Oilers are never mentioned, but what Lewis doesn’t say speaks volumes. The clip is a tribute not to the school, but to the city, replete with nods to the Cajun Navy’s Hurricane Harvey rescues, J.J. Watt’s philanthropy, and the Space Center’s achievements.

On one level, it’s all marketing—Houstonians will feel bad watching their favorite team’s NFL rival wear the uniforms that once belonged to the Oilers, and giving fans a chance to celebrate those colors once more allows the Cougars to begin their first season in the Big 12 with, perhaps, some extra local support. But the uniforms do look great, and it’s nice to see them on the backs of a home team from the Bayou City. No matter who owns the NFL franchise, those colors will forever be associated with Houston, and we hope the Cougars wear them forever.