In a tale of nostalgia and football, the University of Houston’s homage to the Houston Oilers through throwback uniforms has ignited a contentious situation with the NFL. What began as a heartwarming gesture in the name of “H-Town Pride” has now led to a cease-and-desist letter sent from the NFL to the university, insisting they halt any further use of the Oilers-inspired uniforms.
On September 2, the Cougars took to the field donning Columbia blue uniforms adorned with a white Houston script outlined in red, reminiscent of the iconic jerseys worn during the Houston Oilers’ “Luv Ya Blue” era. This tribute aimed to celebrate the city’s affection for the Oilers, who left Houston for Tennessee after the 1996 season, where they became the Tennessee Oilers for two seasons before adopting the name Tennessee Titans. Despite the move, the NFL team retained the rights to the Oilers’ trademarks.
This season, the Titans also chose to wear their own Oilers throwbacks, a move that stoked feelings of bitterness among football fans in Houston. Their plan is to wear the throwbacks once more when they face the Houston Texans on December 17 in Nashville.
The NFL’s cease-and-desist letter, first reported by the Houston Chronicle, claimed that the University of Houston’s uniforms constituted “blatant copying” of the Oilers’ jerseys and could be grounds for legal action. The NFL demanded the immediate discontinuation of merchandise sales featuring the imagery and the removal of any promotional or social media posts showcasing the uniforms, despite the university’s decision not to market them.
- Advertisement -
Attorney Bonnie L. Jarrett, representing the NFL, wrote in the October 13 letter, “The Houston Cougars’ attempt to free ride on the popularity of the NFL and the club violates the intellectual property rights of the NFL and the (Tennessee) Titans.” The Oilers design, as per the letter, was described as “among the most famous and valuable NFL marks.”
While the University of Houston finds itself in a legal wrangle with the NFL, Rice University escaped notice for a similar homage. On September 30, Rice sported similar Columbia blue uniforms in a game against East Carolina, but they did not face NFL repercussions.
The issue has been complicated by the strong Houston ties of Titans owner Amy Adams Strunk, who is the daughter of former Oilers owner Bud Adams and hails from Houston. Additionally, former Texans player J.J. Watt had previously expressed a desire to wear Oilers throwbacks, but Strunk consistently resisted allowing these uniforms to be used in Houston.
This dispute has rekindled fond memories of the “Luv Ya Blue” era in Houston, when iconic figures like Earl Campbell, Warren Moon, and Bum Phillips donned the beloved uniforms at the historic Astrodome. Current Cardinals player J.J. Watt expressed his heartfelt connection to the uniforms during an appearance on “The Pat McAfee Show,” lamenting the inability to wear them in Houston and witnessing them worn elsewhere.
The battle between nostalgia, tradition, and intellectual property rights is unlikely to conclude any time soon, keeping fans and players alike intrigued by this unexpected clash between a college team and the NFL.
- Advertisement -
The cease-and-desist letter sent by the NFL to the University of Houston serves as a stark reminder of the complexity of intellectual property rights, even in cases where homage and nostalgia play a significant role.
The intertwining worlds of sports, tradition, and intellectual property rights are fraught with complexity. While the University of Houston’s tribute was fueled by genuine appreciation for the city’s football history, it highlights the stringent regulations that govern such matters in the world of professional sports. It also underscores the strong emotional connections that fans and former players maintain with iconic uniforms and the memories they represent. The issue goes beyond legalities, tapping into a wellspring of nostalgia that transcends the boundaries of the playing field.