We are officially less than a month before the start of the NFL season, so it's probably time to start previewing the monster. The key to the NFL's success — other than fantasy football and gambling, of course — is the rabid nature of its fans. That is to say: You don't see a lot of people painting their faces for their favorite golfer.
We asked a gaggle of writers, from the Web, from print, from books, even a TV guy or two, to tell us, in as many or as little words as they need, why My Team Is Better Than Your Team. This is not meant to be factual, or dispassionate, or even logical: We just asked them to riff on why they love their team so much, or what their team means to them, or whatever. We will be running two a day until the beginning of the NFL season.
Right now: the Houston Texans. Your author is Whitney Pastorek.
Whitney Pastorek is a correspondent for Entertainment Weekly, and the executive editor of the small but valiant literary magazine Pindeldyboz. Her words are after the jump.
It was nice to see James Frey on here bemoaning the state of Cleveland football, pointing out that they've been rebuilding ever since Art Modell moved the original Browns to Baltimore. "Unlike most, if not all, of the rest of the writers in this piece," he wrote, "I don't believe my team is going to win the Super Bowl this year." I know how he feels. Not only will the Houston Texans not win the Super Bowl this year, I'm pretty sure my situation is just about as bad as it gets. Actually, unless you are a New Orleans Saints fan, I believe my team totally kicks your ass at losing. And that, friends, is the only thing my team kicks ass at.
Let's go back in time, since that seems to be all the rage: The Houston Oilers, no matter how much we luved that blue, sucked. Or at least that's how I remember them. It's probably more accurate to say that — like Frey's Browns — they were forever incapable of winning when it mattered. Granted, I wasn't around in 1960-61 to see them win the first two AFL championship games, but to my juvenile mind, even our better-than-average performance through much of the 80's and the early 90's didn't cut it. After all, what does it matter how good you are during the regular season if you can't win come playoff time? Who cares that you're the AFC Central champs if you, oh, I dunno, blow the biggest lead in NFL history? And looking back, was the coolness of Earl Campbell and/or Warren Moon enough to staunch the heartbreak? I don't think so.
This defeatist mentality, I firmly believe, is the key to all Houston sports fans. Sure, sure, the Rockets won the NBA Finals a couple times, but I guarantee no one ever thinks about that. All any of us can remember is the generalized haze of being thisclose and somehow letting it all go to hell, every single time. See: 2005 World Series sweep. See: 1986 NLCS.
See: NFL playoffs, 1987-1993.
1992 is the only year that matters, really. Truthfully, the 1992 Wild Card game against the Buffalo Bills might be the only game that matters. The Oilers took a 35-3 lead into the second half, then went on to lose in overtime, 41-38 — a feat that had never before been accomplished, and has never been repeated since. I was home for Christmas after a semester in North Carolina, hoping that this would be the year my boys finally broke through, because everything intensifies once you leave home, somehow, doesn't it? Everything gets a little more desperate, as though you have to overcompensate for messing with the geography of loyalty. I remember getting my hopes up, and then I remember getting that familiar Houstonian sinking feeling, and then I remember actively not caring what happened to that football team ever, ever again.
I wasn't alone. Our asshole owner — and believe me, Bud Adams would wipe the floor with Art Modell in any asshole-owner competition — declared that the Oilers had one more year to pull out a Super Bowl or he was gonna ditch us for Tennessee, and the City of Houston collectively shrugged. Bud had robbed us of our beautiful Astrodome scoreboard, Bud had hired that Elvis-loving freak Jerry Glanville, Bud had burned all his bridges, and it was time for him to go ... and take his pastel-panted losers with him. Thus, after the 1996 season, the Houston Oilers were no more.
And so it came to pass that in 2002, Houston got a new NFL franchise, the Texans. And the Texans, no matter how much we luv that (navy) blue, suck. David Carr is a poor excuse for a leader, Dom Capers was a poor excuse for a coach, and the offensive line is a poor excuse for a high school A/V department. Much like the Oilers, everything started off roses: We won our first game against the Cowboys! But despite the fact that our record got better in 2003 and 2004, amazingly, we still seemed worse.
So last year, when the bottom fell out, we Houstonians at last embraced the only thing we've ever truly excelled at doing: losing. And what a year for us to have that psychological breakthrough. With Reggie Bush, Matt Leinart and Vince Young on the table, it seemed as though the gods were finally smiling on our little franchise, handing us the keys to the kingdom, welcoming us in like a homeless dude who gets the first piece of turkey on Thanksgiving. As we lost game after game after game, I would sit in my local sports bar, proudly wearing the David Carr jersey that I bought on sale because his name is stitched onto the back at about a 30-degree angle, and listen to the taunts of the men around me. "Texans suck!" they'd yell. "Carr's a pussy!" I would smile and nod, secure in the fact that I already knew everything they were gonna say. (Funny side note: One of the two games the Texans won last season was against ... the Browns. Sorry, James. The other was Will's team, of course.)
The best Sunday of the 2005 season came on December 4: Week 13 against the Baltimore Ravens. (Sorry again, James.) With the Texans at 1-10, we were already dreaming about how we'd spend our first draft pick ... but we weren't alone. That weekend, the Jets happened to be 2-9 and feelin' frisky. As the Texans stepped out to a 15-13 lead with 1:08 to play, the green-jerseyed loudmouths in the bar around me started chanting at the top of their lungs, "Reg-gie Bu-ush!" Clap clap clapclapclap! "Reg-gie Bu-ush!" Clap clap clapclapclap! — convinced that the Texans had this draft-screwing victory in the bag. I sat peacefully, opening my mouth only to remind the room that this was the Texans we were talking about, and one should never, ever get their hopes up.
In the last 1:08, Kyle Boller drove the Ravens down the field, and with six seconds left on the clock, Matt Stover kicked a 38-yard field goal to win the game. The Jets fans stared at me, disappointment blossoming in their drunken eyes, and all I could think was:
1) Now you all know what it's like to be from Houston
2) Holy crap. We are the greatest losers of all time.
So will the Texans beat anybody this year? Maybe. The theory now is that we drafted Mario Williams over Reg-gie Bu-ush because he alone can stop Peyton Manning. Assuming that's correct, I'm thinking we'll go 2-14 again.
But this is just the beginning, folks. You see, I have a theory of my own.
Over the next 10 years, the Texans will continue to be the worst team in the NFL. And with each first draft pick, they will choose a player who is good, but not good enough to be a game-changer. Year after year, pick after pick, they will quietly fill the field with underestimated men, men who at first glance have absolutely no redeeming qualities at all whatsoever; year after year, analysts will scratch their heads and say, "You gotta wonder what the Texans are thinking here, Trey" before cutting to a segment on the possible retirement of Brett Favre. And then, in the 11th year, the Texans will draft the football equivalent of Voltron's Black Lion and assemble into the unstoppable game-winning robot that had been lying dormant all those years. In that 11th year, the Texans will not only go undefeated, but will be so good that most opposing teams actually burst into flames before halftime.
But until that glorious day appears, my crooked Carr jersey and I will be just fine. We're used to it, you see. And like the great Lloyd Dobler once said: If you start out depressed, everything is kind of a pleasant surprise.
LUV YA BLUE 4 EVAH