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Staking claim in Tennessee will take Oilers some time

August 31, 1997

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) _ The empty seats outnumbered the fans, and the ones who showed up definitely need some help with their NFL etiquette.

The Tennessee Oilers staked their claim to their new state Sunday by beating the Oakland Raiders 24-21 in overtime. They will need more than a victory in the first regular season NFL game ever in this state to win over new fans.

Only 30,171 attended, and many were wearing Raiders black-and-silver at the Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium, the Oilers’ home away from Nashville the next two seasons.

The fans who showed up couldn’t complain of being disappointed.

The Oilers jumped to a 13-0 lead before rallying to win in overtime on a 33-yard field goal by Al Del Greco. The Oilers celebrated by coming back onto the field and slapping high-5s with the remaining fans.

Jeff Williams, a Raiders fan who drove over from Little Rock, Ark., expected more than a half-empty Liberty Bowl, which seats 62,320.

``I didn’t really expect a sellout, but I thought it would approach 50,000,″ said Williams.

Car salesman Richard Graham of Dickson, Tenn., 170 miles northeast of Memphis, isn’t worried by the poor turnout. He blames the 400-mile round trip for Nashville fans not coming in greater numbers.

``When you get on a bus for home games, it doesn’t feel like a home game. It’s the difference between renting and owning a house. If this is where they would be playing permanently, everyone would be here,″ he said.

Morning rain limited the number of tailgaters around the stadium. Inside the stadium the sound system kept fading in and out as the Commodores sang the national anthem.

The Oilers did hear cheering, something they didn’t get much of last year in Houston.

But those same fans weren’t paying much attention in the third quarter with the Oilers facing third-and-1 on the Raiders 21. They did the wave, instead.

The Oilers wound up settling for a 37-yard field goal by Del Greco and a 13-0 lead.

A group of fans also wanted to keep the ball after Cole Ford’s extra point into the stands put the Raiders up 14-13. When police officers came to collect the football, they chanted ``Keep the ball″ and booed when police led the man away.

They got much better in the final minutes when Eddie George put the Oilers up 21-14 and they chanted ``Ed-die.″

The Oilers have been saying that if they win, the fans will come. They will find out when they play host to the Baltimore Ravens on Sept. 21.

Fans from Memphis remain very bitter that the Oilers chose Nashville and decided to use the Liberty Bowl as a two-year pit stop for home games.

Leslie Weaver and Gwen Moore of Memphis thought more people would show up, even if they are angry.

``I’m really concerned about revenue being brought into Memphis. Even though it’s not our own personal team, we’re still very excited about them,″ said Moore, who came with her husband.

The crowd was still more than the Oilers drew to five of their eight games in Houston last year. But Memphis, which owns the Liberty Bowl, barely broke even, needing 30,000 fans to pay the bills. The Oilers’ rent is $1 per seat sold.

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