This is the first post in a series that will be ongoing, where we examine and poke fun at some of the most ghastly teams ever to take the field. This series will branch off into different sports over time. But for now, we start with the NFL.
Everyone seemed to beat down on the Oilers in the 1970s, whether it be the dominant Pittsburgh Steeler teams, the mercurial Dolphin teams of the early part of the decade, or really, anyone else in the league. In 1972, Houston was coming off a 4-9-1 year, after which head coach Ed Hughes was fired. The most _logical_ choice after that was to hire Bill Peterson, a college coach who had a knack for turning losing teams around. At one point, he had Bill Parcells, Joe Gibbs and Bobby Bowden on his staff. This man knew how to sculpt a good head coach, he just had no idea how to be one himself.
Bill Peterson’s nice complexion couldn’t hide the fact that he was worthless as a head coach.
Bill Curry, a center for the Oilers when Peterson was coaching, summed it up nicely:
“He had had great success at Florida State, but when he came here, it was almost as if he was intimidated by the NFL…”
So, in 1972, Peterson arrived in Houston, and immediately puzzled the players and media with his muddled version of the English language. His training camp phrases included “bunch off into groups of three and line up in a circle”.
Houston, ill-prepared and with no way of deciphering what their head coach was trying to tell them, suffered through their worst season to that point, a dreadful 1-13 finish. They scored the fewest points in the AFC (11.7 per game), as they ranked 25th out of 26th in both offense and defense. The low point of the season was during a 34-0 Monday Night blowout, when the camera panned out to find a sleeping Oiler fan. When he awoke and saw the camera, he flipped the bird towards a national audience. The offensive line was terrible, there was no running game to speak of, and their two quarterbacks, Dan Pastorini and Kent Nix didn’t even combine for 2,000 yards.
Dan Pastorini was a Pro Bowl quarterback, but even the good ones must have an off year.
Pastorini finished the year with a 1-11 record as a starter, as he threw for a paltry 1,711 yards, 7 touchdowns, 12 interceptions, and was sacked 37 times.
So after the miserable 1-win season, Peterson was bound to be fired, surely.
Bud Adams kept him around for the next season, ignoring the fact that he was an awful head coach who couldn’t communicate to save his life, much less win football games. In 1973, Oiler fans thought the only way to go was up. Sadly, they were wrong.
In 1973, Houston again finished with a 1-13 record. Both teams were terrible, but the latter was a worse effort statistically. Bill Peterson was finally put out of his misery after an 0-5 start, and Sid Gillman was brought in to try and win. He went 1-8.
Houston rushed for the fewest yards in 1973 (1,388), were second to last in yards per play (3.9) and last in yards per play on defense (5.0), and the third worst in both total yards and first downs. (3,307 and 193).
The defense in 1973 was one of the worst ever. Houston gave up 447 points, the most in the post-merger era (1970-1977), the fourth most points given up in a 14 game season. Their -248 point differential is still one of the top 10 worst of all time. They also gave up a league-high 26 touchdown passes.
Pretty close to what the Astrodome looked like on gameday.
In all, the Oilers were pitiful in those two seasons. Bill Peterson ended his head coaching career with a record of 1-18 – one of the worst ever. Elvin Bethea summed up both that era of Oilers football and Bill Peterson:
“We had a prayer before the game, and he bowed his head, and everybody bowed their heads…and he says “Now lay me down to sleep…” – *laughter* “