In 1997, Houston entrepreneur Bob McNair had a failed bid to bring a National Hockey League expansion team to the city, and Bud Adams relocated the city’s NFL team, the Houston Oilers, to Nashville where they were renamed Tennessee Titans. Given the Cleveland Browns had just suffered a controversial relocation to become the Baltimore Ravens, the league promised to return football to Cleveland within the following three years, and probably add another expansion team to even out the franchises at 32. As Houston was one of the favorites for the extra franchise along with Toronto and Los Angeles which had lost the Rams and the Raiders in 1995, McNair then decided to join the football project and founded Houston NFL Holdings with partner Steve Patterson. In association with Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo, they would push for a domed stadium as part of the bid to lure the NFL back to Houston. The expansion team was originally awarded to Los Angeles on March 16, 1999, but given the city had problems in providing an acceptable ownership team and stadium deal, both of whom had been promised in Houston for two years, in October the NFL instead awarded the 32nd team to Houston, at the cost of $700 million.

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