June 13, 2024

The University of Houston‘s season-opening throwback uniforms that evoked memories of the old Houston Oilers were wildly popular among players and fans. Not so much with the NFL.

The NFL’s merchandising and licensing division sent a cease-and-desist letter to the school demanding it halt any further use of the uniforms, sources confirmed to ESPN on Monday.

On Sept. 2, the Cougars wore Columbia blue uniforms with a white Houston script across the front outlined in red — similar to the jerseys worn by the Houston Oilers during their “Luv Ya Blue” era. The university was careful to say their uniforms were a tribute to “H-Town Pride” in a nod to the city’s fondness for the Oilers, who decamped for Tennessee after the 1996 season.

After the move, the NFL team was dubbed the Tennessee Oilers for two seasons before becoming the Tennessee Titans. The team, however, retained the rights to the Oilers’ trademarks.

The Titans wore their own Oilers throwbacks Sunday, which was a source of bitterness for football fans in Houston. The Titans are planning to again wear the throwbacks against the Houston Texans on Dec. 17 in Nashville.

The cease-and-desist letter sent from the NFL to the University of Houston was first reported by the Houston Chronicle, which obtained the letter from an attorney for the NFL via an open records request.

According to the Chronicle, the letter said UH’s “blatant copying” of the Oilers’ jerseys was grounds for legal action and it demanded that the university discontinue any sales of merchandise and remove any promotional or social media posts that feature the imagery.

The university did not attempt to market the uniforms, which were revealed in a video narrated by Carl Lewis.

“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,” attorney Bonnie L. Jarrett wrote in the Oct. 13 letter, according to the Chronicle, which reported the letter said the Oilers design is “among the most famous and valuable NFL marks.”

Rice wore similar Columbia blue uniforms on Sept. 30 against East Carolina. The Chronicle cited a university source saying the school had not heard from the NFL.

Titans owner Amy Adams Strunk is the daughter of former Oilers owner Bud Adams and is from Houston. Former Texans player JJ Watt often espoused a desire to wear Oilers throwbacks, but Strunk has long rebuffed any overtures from the uniforms to be used in Houston.

The letter, according to the Chronicle, said the NFL and the Titans were “disappointed to learn that the Houston Cougars made unauthorized use of the Oilers Trade Dress in a manner that is likely to cause consumers to believe that the Houston Cougars are associated with, or are an authorized licensee of, the NFL and the Titans.”

The issue won’t go away anytime soon.

“I lived and played in Houston,” Watt told “The Pat McAfee Show” on Thursday. “I wanted to wear those uniforms very badly. They have such a massive history and tradition of ‘Luv Ya Blue’ with Bum Phillips and everything that went on there. I understand the end with Bud Adams and everything that happened. I don’t even want to get into all of that.

“I just know, having lived and played there for 10 years, and the people there and the connection they have to Earl Campbell, Warren Moon, to Billy White Shoes, to the guys that wore those uniforms and what that meant when they played in that Astrodome, it hurts to not be able to wear those in Houston and it hurts to see them being worn somewhere else.”

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