By Molly Dunn
By Catherine Gillespie
By Brooke Viggiano
By Kaitlin Steinberg
By Mai Pham
By Kaitlin Steinberg
By Kaitlin Steinberg
By Minh T Truong
"Retirement is the last thing on my mind," Capers laughs as we shuffle along in the line. The coach is in great shape and looks younger than his 50 years. He is wearing a loose-fitting Houston Texans golf shirt, but judging from the size of his chest, I'd say he benches about 300.
Houston, TX 77098
Region: Lower Shepherd-Kirby
8911 Katy Freeway
Houston, TX 77024
Region: Outer Loop - NW
Three-meat plate: $9.45
Brisket sandwich: $3.50
Side orders: $1.50
Iced tea: 99 cents
"Well, it's never too early to think about the future," I warn.
Capers ate a lot of barbecue during his years as head coach of the Carolina Panthers. He had some Carolina whole-hog barbecue at a party not long ago. The Carolinas allow only one kind of 'cue: slow-cooked pork, pulled apart and served with a vinegar sauce. "I never got used to that vinegar sauce," he confesses. Capers coached defensive backs at the University of Tennessee in the early 1980s, so he's also had some experience with ribs.
But it's incredible that he still hasn't eaten any barbecue in Houston. How's he going to recruit offensive tackles if he doesn't know where to take them for a couple of pounds of brisket and a rack or two of ribs? Getting the Texans coach up to speed on Texas barbecue seems like a matter of the utmost urgency, so I take an afternoon off to help out the team. I order Capers a three-meat plate with ribs, brisket and jalapeño sausage for starters.
We sit outside on a picnic table and talk about football and barbecue. The Texans joined the other NFL teams in Indianapolis last month to watch the best 350 college prospects in the country work out -- even though our team won't have any picks until next spring. But Capers figured he might as well keep tabs on all the players in the league in preparation for the expansion draft. The Texans are paying him a lot of money to sit around and watch college kids he can't even pick, but owner Bob McNair and General Manager Charley Casserly were so eager to hire Capers, they took him a year early to prevent anybody else from hiring him.
Capers is eating his ribs first. I offer him some of my black pepper-speckled Czech sausage so he can sample it alongside the jalapeño sausage. He isn't just being diplomatic when he says they're both good. Goode Co. really does buy excellent sausage. I guess it's the fresh kind -- the vacuum-packed supermarket stuff always seems dry.
Capers orders beans and dirty rice as sides. I think these are odd choices until Capers reminds me that he also spent many years coaching for the New Orleans Saints. He probably thought they were red beans. The pintos at Goode Co. are somewhat controversial among the barbecue cognoscenti. Some feel the flavorings overpower the taste of the beans. I know what they mean, but nobody eats these pintos in a bowl like the borracho beans at Ninfa's, so I'm not sure you'd notice the subtle bean-broth flavor anyway. Capers seems to like them well enough, and he also quickly levels the large pile of dirty rice. We talk about restaurants in the Big Easy and the prospects for the spring crawfish season. He's actually very interested in food, and he pumps me for some restaurant recommendations in Houston.
I tell him he can get a great lunch at Floyd's Cajun Kitchen [1200 Durham, (713)864-5600]. He's living in a corporate residence over near the Galleria until his wife moves here, so I recommend Ouisie's Table [3939 San Felipe, (713)528-2264] for fine Southern cooking. But if I were living alone over there, I'd pick up dinner at eatZi's Market & Bakery [1702 Post Oak Boulevard, (713)629-6003]. EatZi's is like a restaurant where you can't sit down, I explain to Capers, but where you can get an incredible dinner to go at a reasonable price and bag some crunchy Italian bread, smoked salmon and caviar spread while you're there.
But then again, if my former employer were paying me the rest of a $9 million contract between now and 2006, I might forget about the reasonable prices at eatZi's and have my dinner flown in from Paris every night.
It's only fair that a guy enjoying this kind of free ride get a little grilling, so I take a shot at it. "Mack Brown came down from North Carolina and asked UT fans to give him four years to build a championship team," I say. "How long are you going to need to get us in the Super Bowl?"
"It's not quite the same in the NFL," Capers waffles. "You don't know how long it's going to take. If you start making predictions, you end up stubbing your toe."
I figured he would be slippery, but who can blame him? Capers was everybody's best friend when the Carolina Panthers started off with a better-than-expected seven-win debut season in 1995. A year later, when the team vaulted over the 49ers to take the NFC West title and then beat the defending champ Cowboys in the Panthers' first playoff game, Capers was voted NFL Coach of the Year. In their third season, the Panthers fell back to 7-9, and the coach became a mere human. Then in 1998, Carolina sputtered to a miserable 4-12 record. Carolina fans called for Capers's head, and the front office obligingly served it up.