Last week we hopped back in time to the first time the Colts played the Jaguars as AFC South rivals. Today, we're gonna go way back to the first time the team now known as the Indianapolis Colts faced off against the franchise now known as the Tennessee Titans.
October 11, 1970, was the first time that the Baltimore Colts and the Houston Oilers met. This also happened to be the year of the AFL-NFL merger, which saw the Colts, Cleveland Browns, and Pittsburgh Steelers make the switch to the newly minted AFC.
Let's start with some background on the Colts. This version of the Baltimore Colts came into existence in 1953. The Colts were mired in mediocrity (or worse) until 1956. While the team finished with a losing record, a young upstart named Johnny Unitas was given the starting job mid-way through the season.
The rest, as they say, is history. The Colts would win two titles in the 50s with Unitas at the helm, and ended up as runner-up in 1964. Additionally, the Earl Morrall-led Colts became the first NFL team to lose a Super Bowl in 1968, in a game I guarantee (sorry, I had to) most Colts fans would like to forget.
The Oilers joined the AFL at its incarnation in 1960. In fact, the Oilers won the first two AFL Championships. Houston also became the first AFL team to sign a player, Willard Dewveall, away from an NFL team. They also became the first AFL team to throw a 99 yard touchdown pass.
What the Oilers of the 60s were most known for, though, was the Astrodome. The Oilers became the first professional football team to play in a dome when they began play there in 1968.
That brings us to the match-up in 1970. The Colts were still an elite team, but many of the star players from the 60s (including Unitas) were getting old. The Oilers had been an AFL power, but in the new AFC they would not record a winning record until 1974, Bum Phillips first year as coach.
Both teams entered this Week 4 matchup at 2-1. The Colts had recorded both of their wins on the road, beating the San Diego Chargers in the first game, and the Boston Patriots in Week 3. They were blown out (44-22) at home in Week 2 against the Defending Super Bowl Champion Chiefs.
The Oilers also notched both of their victories on the road, and in the same weeks as well. In Week 1 they toppled the Steelers in Pittsburgh, and in Week 3 did the same to the Bengals in Cincinnati. They lost at home in Week 2 to the Miami Dolphins.
Neither team had won at home yet and the game was in the Astrodome, so advantage Colts, right? Right.
The Colts jumped off to a 14-0 lead behind a Jack Maitland run and a Unitas touchdown pass. However, the Oilers defense tightened and eventually the Oilers tied the game on a 27-yard Roy Gerela field goal early in the final period. Gerela would add a 9-yard field goal (remember the goal posts were in the middle of the end zone at this time) later in the period to give Houston the lead.
The Colts would get the last laugh, though, as Unitas tossed a 31-yard touchdown to Roy Jefferson in the fourth quarter to give the Colts a 24-20 lead. Unfortunately, I couldn't find if this was one of Unitas' patented two-minute drill drives. I just chose to assume it was.
The Colts would go on to finish the season with a record of 11-2-1 and would defeat the Dallas Cowboys in the first Super Bowl after the AFL-NFL merger. The Oilers, though, would end up finishing 3-10-1 and dead last in the AFC Central.
This weekend the Indianapolis Colts will take on the Tennessee Titans for the 40th time. The Colts hold a 25-14 all-time record over the Oilers/Titans. That includes a current five-game winning streak for the Colts.
If you want to go into more depth on the stats from the 1970 match-up, you can check out the Box Score.