Wow! Check out that video in the comments. The one that says
“Monday Night Football in the Astrodome.” No really, go watch. I’ll
wait here. Take your time……
You’re back! Did you watch it? Did
it give you “all the feels?” If you were a Houston Oiler fan back in
the day, I bet it did. There’s a lot to love about that video.
What was your favorite part? The sight of the Astrodome? The Monday
Night football music? The largest crowd in Astrodome history? The Luv
ya Blue signs? The Oilers victory on the game’s final play?
I’ll admit, all of those things are pretty sweet. But they aren’t tops
for me. My favorite part comes in at the 0:24 mark, when Quarterback
Warren Moon throws a touchdown pass to Wide Receiver Leonard Harris.
You know, Leonard Harris. The 1979 Austin College Kangaroo.
Leonard Harris enrolled at Austin College in the fall of 1979, and had
an immediate impact on the fortunes of Roo football. Harris was fast,
and had great hands. Overlooked by the Southwest Conference, Harris
played a vital role on an AC football team that went 9-2, won the TIAA
conference championship, and advanced to the NAIA playoffs. With Harris
fielding punts & kickoffs and playing defensive back, it was a good
time to be a Roo 40 years ago. That 1979 team was honored at the AC
Homecoming game I called with Kirk Hughes; those guys definitely deserve their own Roo Tale.
The lack of Southwest Conference interest in 1979 ended dramatically
for Harris after that championship AC season; he was soon headed to
Lubbock. Harris transferred to Texas Tech, starring at receiver for the
Red Raiders. The final road game of his three-year career may have
been his best. In November of 1983, Harris lit up the Houston Astrodome
with three touchdowns in a game against the University of Houston that
saw a combined 84 points. The Astrodome had not seen the last of
Houston football fans fondly remember the
run-and-shoot offense of the 1984 Houston Gamblers. Led by head coach
Jack Pardee, offensive coordinator Darrel “Mouse” Davis, and quarterback
Jim Kelly, the Gamblers were an exciting Astrodome contrast to the
struggling Houston Oilers. The Denver Gold wanted to replicate that
Astrodome excitement, and lured “Mouse” Davis to Mile High Stadium in
1985. At Denver, Davis implemented his run-and-shoot offense with the
help of the help of former Kangaroo and three-year Denver Gold veteran
Leonard Harris. The Gold went 11-7, made the playoffs, and even
returned to the Astrodome for a contest against the Gamblers. Harris
had three receptions in the dome.
The USFL folded the following
year, and Houston fans decided they had just about seen enough of
Leonard Harris on the other side of the ball. The Oilers acquired his
services in 1986, and Harris began a seven-year career with Houston’s
NFL team just as the franchise was ascending to its glory years. The
Houston Oilers made the post season seven straight years from 1987 to
1993; over that period, Harris posted nearly 2,500 all-purpose yards and
scored 8 touchdowns. One of those 8 TDs is in the video you just
Legendary Oilers coach Bum Phillips played his football
at Stephen F. Austin in Nacogcoches. There, he helped guide his Jacks
to a victory over Austin College in 1948. Phillips is famous for his
1980 Oilers quip that “one year ago, we knocked on the door. This year,
we beat on the door. Next year, we’re going to kick the [bleep] in.”
For the now Jack Pardee-led Oilers, 1992-93 was going to be the year
that door would fall.
Heading into the last game of the regular
season, the Oilers stood at 9-6 and needed a win at the Astrodome
against the Buffalo Bills to secure a playoff berth. A first quarter
touchdown pass to Roo Leonard Harris got the party going, and Houston
cruised to a 35-7 win against the Buffalo. The victory earned the
Oilers the right to face the Bills in the playoffs one week later in
Buffalo. Interestingly, two players had switched sides. Jim Kelly, who
played for Pardee’s Gamblers in the Dome, was now the QB for Buffalo.
Kangaroo Leonard Harris, who had played against Pardee’s Gamblers in the
Dome, was now with the Oilers.
Houston picked up right where
they had left off one week later. In Buffalo, Moon shredded the Bills
defense in the first half; Leonard Harris was one of many receivers with
multiple catches. A 28-3 halftime margin turned into 35-3 Oiler lead
after an interception return for a TD early in the third quarter.
Harris, Moon, the Oilers, and every fan watching the game began to look
ahead to a long-anticipated matchup: an all-Texas Super Bowl in 1993
against the Dallas Cowboys. It was all but a done deal. With a former
Roo helping to lead the way, this was the year the Oilers would finally
kick that the door in. Like Pickett’s charge, the 35-3 lead in Buffalo
was the “high-water mark of the Houston Oilers.”
I turned off the TV after that interception return. What happened after that? Somebody fill me in. 😉
The Oilers are no more, and soon the Astrodome will be gone as well.
But hey, some things remain. The success of former Austin College
Kangaroo Leonard Harris in the Astrodome was so great, that officials
agreed to re-name the county for him.