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Oilers Try to Make It a Mobile House of Pain

September 16, 1989|BOB WOLF

SAN DIEGO — It was late in the 1987 season, and captains of the Houston Oilers and Indianapolis Colts met at midfield before a game at the Astrodome.

"Welcome to the House of Pain," said Oiler linebacker Robert Lyles, coining the term that symbolizes the image of the bad boys of the National Football League.

This is not to say that the Oilers have confined their intimidating tactics to their home AstroTurf. Having been a notoriously poor team away from Houston, they declared before this season began, "We've got to take the spirit of the House of Pain on the road."

The Oilers absorbed a 38-7 pounding from the Minnesota Vikings in their season opener in Minneapolis but got in enough licks along the way to send a message to the Chargers in advance of Sunday's game at San Diego Jack Murphy Stadium.

As the score against Coach Jerry Glanville's team mounted in the second half, safety Tracey Eaton was called for two personal fouls, Lyles for one. The Oilers were penalized 13 times for 98 yards, putting them ahead of their league-leading 1,150-yard pace of 1988.

Before that game, Viking Coach Jerry Burns warned his players about the Oilers.

"I said to them if this were a street fight, I'd bet on them, but it's not," Burns said in a story in the Minneapolis Star Tribune. "I don't want them retaliating to any chippy play or late hits, because 100% of the time, the guy who retaliates is the one who gets the flag."

By the time the game was over, his team's lopsided victory notwithstanding, Burns was convinced that the Oilers had lived up to their tawdry reputation.

Said Burns: "I was impressed by the way our players kept their poise, even though Houston tried to intimidate us and was guilty of a lot of late hits.

"There was holding of our wide receivers, late hits on our quarterback, late hits on players who were down. That type of play hurts a team in the long run. It hurt any chance they had of coming back."

Viking linebacker Mark Dusbabek, who was on the Oilers' injured reserve list in 1987 and 1988, denied Glanville had encouraged the Oilers to take cheap shots.

"They play hard, aggressive football," Dusbabek said. "Coach Glanville has never coached his players to play dirty. They swarm to the ball but play within the rules. This upsets some people."

Obviously, it upsets a lot of people, and none more than Pittsburgh Coach Chuck Noll. Ever since the Steeler-Oiler game of Nov. 15, 1987, Noll has given Glanville a priority rating on his hate list.

In that game, defensive end Charles Martin of the Oilers speared running back Earnest Jackson of the Steelers, forcing Jackson to leave with bruised ribs. Martin is the same guy who the previous year put a body slam on Chicago quarterback Jim McMahon, now with the Chargers.

Jackson charged Martin with a cheap shot, and Noll said, "If the league doesn't do something about their spearing, we may go spearing ourselves."

When the Steelers and Oilers met again a few weeks later, Noll grabbed Glanville with one hand and pointed a finger at him with the other. Glanville tried to yank his hand away, but Noll held on tight.

"Your damn guys jumping people, that's going to get your butt in trouble," Noll said.

At the league meetings in March 1988, Noll described the Oilers' tactics as "worse than anything I saw in the Steelers-Raiders rivalry in the '70s." He referred to the time he labeled certain Raiders as "a criminal element."

Noll added, "I don't think the game should be played that way. There are players on that team (Oilers) who are trying to do something with hits that are meant to end players' careers."

Glanville reacted by saying, "That's a total, complete lie. Nobody on this team has ever been told to do that. We don't go after anybody's knee, ever. Noll ought to look at how he lost that game with Cleveland rather than look at us."

In that game, the 1987 regular-season finale, Steeler cornerback Delton Hall was ejected for a flagrant personal foul. That penalty set up the Browns' winning touchdown.

Noll didn't deny that Hall had been out of line but said, "Teams have led the league in personal fouls wherever Glanville has been in the past. They have the philosophy that the officials will get tired of throwing flags."

Actually, the Oilers were called cheap-shot artists as far back as 1985, the year after Glanville took over as coach. In an exhibition against the Rams, Oiler safety Bo Eason dived over the pile on a blitz and hit Ram quarterback Dieter Brock in such a way that Brock suffered a knee injury. Ram Coach John Robinson complained.

In the fifth game of the 1987 regular season, the Denver Broncos set an NFL record with 11 first downs on penalties against the Oilers. Several Denver players blasted the Oilers for what they characterized as cheap shots.

Nobody said much about the Oilers in 1986, perhaps because they lost 11 of 16 games, including eight in a row.

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