CATEGORY: FOC College Football

AUTHOR: REILY

TENNESSEE FANS WARMING TO THEIR NEW TEAM

BY ROSS REILY

DAILY JOURNAL

MEMPHIS - It's still going to take a little getting used to, but the Tennessee Oilers may have actually found a home field Sunday.

It couldn't have gone much better.

Eddie George carried the ball 35 times for 216 yards and a touchdown, while Al Del Greco kicked a 32-yard field goal in overtime as the Tennessee Oilers won their debut game away from Houston, Texas.

The Oilers also may have won the hearts of a few more fans, drawing 30,171 in Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium. They screamed, chanted and performed the first regular-season NFL wave.

"I was jumping up and down in my box, I was so excited," Oilers' owner Bud Adams said after the game. "I just want Tennessee to accept this team the way I know they can."

Opening day against the Oakland Raiders outdrew five of eight games played in Houston in 1996.

Tennessee seemed to be a team without a home when it left Houston over the summer. Problems arose with Memphis seeming upset about being a "temporary home for the NFL" with its ultimate home field being built in Nashville for the fall of 1999.

Oiler players did not feel like Memphis was opening its arms to them, while Memphians wondered why the Oilers flew back and forth between Nashville and Memphis like a band of gypsies.

Small crowds were the mark of the preseason as well as problems.

However, when all was said and done Sunday, all seemed to be well.

Tennessee coach Jeff Fisher sent his team back onto the field after the game to thank the fans who had booed them just weeks earlier in their only other appearance in Memphis.

The crowd roared and rushed to the edge of the stadium as the team took a victory lap around the Liberty Bowl shaking hands and mingling with new-found friends.

"You da man. You da man," they chanted as George passed by.

"We wanted to let these guys know they are part of this team, too," George said as he ran off the field for the final time.

Minutes earlier, most of the crowd was chanting "Ed-die, Ed-die" as he carried the ball three times on the final drive to set up Del Greco's field goal.

"Yeah, I've heard it before," he said. "It was kind of like being back at Ohio State. We certainly want more fans than we had, but today was a start and that's all any of us can ask for at this point."

Fisher, obviously still new to all this Memphis stuff, presented the game ball to Tennessee governor Don Sundquist and said, "I would like to present this ball to Governor Sundquist on behalf of the Houstaa the Tennessee Oilers."

Like I said, it's going to take a little getting used to for all of us, but the first step certainly seemed to be in the right direction.

Ross W. Reily is assistant sports editor for the Daily Journal.

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