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Oilers Players Making Best Of Small Crowds

September 19, 1996

HOUSTON (AP) _ It’s probably safer for Houston Oilers receiver Willie Davis to toss a ball into the stands after his touchdowns than to copy the Green Bay Packers, who leap into the arms of adoring fans after their scores.

These days, Davis might injure himself on empty Astrodome seats.

The Oilers don’t have many fans for their final games before moving to Tennessee, but they’re trying to be as friendly as can be to the ones who do show up to see a team that’s 2-1 and tied for first in the AFC Central.

After catching his third touchdown pass in three games last Sunday, Davis trotted through the end zone, found an eager youngster in the stands and tossed the ball to him.

It’s a practice Davis started two years ago with the Kansas City Chiefs to show his appreciation, and it’s an even more important gesture now that he’s with the Oilers.

``It’s to show I appreciate them coming out,″ Davis said. ``I try to find a little kid and give them the ball. Maybe it will make someone happy to get a touchdown ball from a player.″

Oilers players are caught in the middle of the fans’ feud with owner Bud Adams, the focus of fans’ anger for moving the team to Tennessee. The move is expected to come before the 1998 season.

Spectators are showing their displeasure with Adams by staying away in record numbers. The smallest crowd ever to see the Oilers play in the Astrodome, 20,082, attended Sunday’s 29-13 victory over the Baltimore Ravens. Only 27,725 fans showed up for the home opener against Kansas City on Sept. 1.

Many players are doing what they can to recognize the fans’ frustration over losing their team.

``I think we owe them something,″ defensive end Robert Young said. ``I think the feeling the players have when you walk out after a game is, `This is what it’s all about. These are the true fans.′ We’re leaving in a year or so, and they’re still here.″

Kicker Al Del Greco has always been considerate of fans’ requests for autographs and a few moments of his time, but the Oilers’ current situation has made him more guarded when he is recognized in public.

``You don’t know if they’re the half that wants to hear you say something or the half that doesn’t,″ Del Greco said.

``All in all, the people have been really nice and said they’d be sorry to see us leave. Those are the people I feel sorry for the most. They’re the ones who truly bleed Oiler blue.″

The faithful few at Houston’s two home games have been supportive. Kansas City had a large following in Houston for the opener, but the crowd warmed to the Oilers as the game progressed, and it was clearly Houston’s crowd against the Ravens.

``The people who came are dedicated fans,″ cornerback Cris Dishman said. ``In years past, when we had 60,000, probably 30,000 would be there just to boo and see us do something wrong. The other 30,000 were dedicated and those are the ones coming now.″

Quarterback Steve McNair thought more fans would want to see the Oilers’ final games.

``This is something people will remember for a long time,″ McNair said. ``It’s a part of history that we are leaving and it’s the true fans that are coming out. I feel good about the people who are coming out. It’s not a lot we’re asking, just to support us.″

Adams gained some public relations points when he endorsed a Nov. 5 referendum seeking voter support to build a downtown stadium for the Houston Astros.

It’s what Adams wanted for the Oilers.

``I’m sure going to vote for it because I think it’s a positive thing for the city,″ Adams said. ``There’s certainly no bitterness on my part. We led off the race but we didn’t win it.″

Adams, however, isn’t likely to agree with Dishman on the bright side of small crowds.

``I hope the crowds stay like this,″ Dishman said. ``When we do something wrong, we don’t hear boos. When we do something right, we hear cheers, so I like the crowd like this.

``I don’t want people to come jump on the bandwagon just because we’re winning. I want to see the dedicated people.″

End advance for Sept. 21-22

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