By Chris Lane
By Jeff Balke
By Aaron Reiss
By Angelica Leicht
By Dianna Wray
By Aaron Reiss
By Camilo Smith
By Craig Malisow
Houston is a football-crazy town, of course, but the Texans have taken so long to get even mediocre that the fans are starting to get testy. If they bumble their way once again to an 8-8 record and miss the playoffs, look for yet another new coach (their third) in the eight-year history of the franchise.
Attendance has grown spotty — late-season games against blah opponents tend to expose huge swaths of empty seats. Talk-show callers who once began each year with optimistic predictions of the playoffs, even when that was a pipe dream, are now grumbling darkly about enduring another crappy year. (Click here to check out predictions from around town.)
The relationship between Houston and the Texans started off so well. What went wrong? We mean, besides terrible performances by quarterbacks, general managers and coaches.
Only history can hold the answer. So let us take a look at The History of the Houston Texans.
Prehistory: Good Thing Los Angeles Is Smarter Than Us
No one needs to be told that Houston once had a glorious football team called the Oilers. They never really won anything in modern times, but they were colorful, with team executives mooning wedding ceremonies at the team hotel, hugely dramatic playoff chokes, the world's worst fight song and an owner who just looked like a skeevy oilfield operator.
It turns out you could judge Bud Adams by his cover. He got taxpayers to renovate the Dome, taking out any of its charm, in return for a Super Bowl that never came. He then demanded a new stadium.
In a rare bout of common sense, Houstonians told him to take a hike. So he did.
That scared everyone a few years later when Astros owner Drayton McLane threatened to move, so we approved a new baseball stadium. The fine print on the referendum included a new football stadium if Houston ever got an NFL team, but no one thought that would happen so they didn't pay much attention.
The NFL, of course, desperately wanted to award its 32nd franchise to Los Angeles, the nation's second-largest TV market. The league tried everything to put a team there, all the while keeping Houston dangling as a backup. We were the safety school, the zitty girl waiting for the cheerleader to turn down our hoped-for prom date. And when L.A. decided against giving away hundreds of millions of dollars to billionaires, we yee-hawed our way as fast as we could to get the money into the fat cats' pockets.
That's just the kind of folks we are.
From then on it was a series of breathless announcements, all leaked first to the Houston Chronicle's John McClain, about potential coaches and GMs and team names and colors. (Among the finalists for team name were the Apollos, the Bobcats and the Wildcatters, so we got off easy.)
How bad did it get? The Texans had a big ceremony (complete with ZZ Top) to announce the new colors, which were — stunningly — red, white and blue. The Chron headlined the event "A Day in the Sun: Texans' Red, White and Blue Draw Raves" and quoted fans loving the colors, in great detail, in four separate stories placed suspiciously near advertisements on where to buy the new gear.
Luckily, columnist Mickey Herskowitz was there to provide some sober, post-9/11 perspective. "The team's majority owner, Bob McNair, and his staff," he wrote, "are to be commended for postponing the unveiling, which had been scheduled for Sept. 12, the day after terrorists attacked New York and Washington."
We're sure such bold, selfless action will be prominent in McNair's obit, should he ever actually die. (Another favorite bit of Chron-McNair lore: The paper published a glowing editorial praising him for naming a (solitary) Hispanic to the team's 11-member board. McNair only did so after complaints that the board lacked any Hispanic, complaints which were never published in the Chron.)
So, thanks to a referendum where the subject of a football stadium never came up, thanks to a California city that discovered it could live without football just fine for the price being asked, thanks to relentless and pathetic slobbering by the hometown paper, we got the Texans.
And things haven't been the same since.
The First Season: A God Walks Among Us
He came from California. He played his ball at Fresno State, incubator to such future NFL stars as...as...well, we'll get back to you on that.
David Carr was the first-ever pick by the Texans in the college draft, and he proved a worthy follow-up to their first-ever pick in the expansion draft, Tony Boselli, who never played a single down for the team because of injuries.
Reporters eagerly covered every practice pass Carr threw; they sat with his family as they watched meaningless preseason games; they informed us all of the stunning career we were about to watch unfold.
Things didn't quite work out as planned.
Season Highlight: In no year will the "season highlight" be easier to pick. On Opening Night, the Texans not only won, they beat the Dallas Cowboys. This was like the French standing behind the Maginot Line, insouciantly smoking Gitanes while getting head from some Montmartre hooker and cheerfully mowing down the Wehrmacht. While Edith Piaf sang about regretting nothing, just for them.
Scientists estimate that the Texans' 19-10 win over Jerry Jones's Cowboys will remain the franchise highlight until at least 2023, barring any unforeseen developments such as the front office suddenly getting good.
Season Lowlight: The team then went on to lose eight of its next nine games and ended up 4-12, so pretty much "the rest of the season" would be the lowlight. Besides Jabar Gaffney and a past-his-prime Jermaine Lewis, the wide receiver corps featured Avion Black, JaJuan Dawson, Corey Bradford and Atnaf Harris. Quick, go win some bar bets with those names!
Inexplicable Moment Which Summed Up the Texans' Endless Futility: They managed to gain just 46 total yards against the Pittsburgh Steelers. But — somehow — they won the game, so no one cared. That they could only gain 46 yards against the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Trend Which Cruelly Gave False Hope for the Future: Two Texans were chosen for the Pro Bowl, tying a record for an expansion team. And David Carr still had use of his legs after being sacked a record 76 times. (Although probably 45 of those sacks were caused by him holding on to the ball too long, thus embarrassing his offensive line, pissing them off, leading to more sacks in the years to come.)
Final Season Record: 4-12. Really, everyone would have gladly ended the season after the first game. Did we mention they beat the Cowboys?
The Second Season: This Team Might Just Be Going Places
The off-season after 2002 included a momentous event: The Texans actually made a good draft pick. They nabbed Andre Johnson from Miami...and with their second pick, they took yet another guy who would never play a down for them because of injuries. (They also, strangely, took QB Dave Ragone. On the one hand, the pick worked out great when Ragone was eventually named MVP. On the other hand, he was named MVP of NFL Europe.)
So, as to be expected, things were still a work in process. No one had hoped for much more than 4-12 the year before, so it seemed the team had a solid base on which to grow.
Things didn't quite work out as planned.
Season Highlight: Once again, the Texans won their opening game; an NFL expansion team had never won its first two season openers. A few weeks later, they beat Jacksonville with a thrilling last-second 4th-and-goal TD by Carr. As they went into the bye week, the Texans were 2-2 and Reliant Stadium was rocking.
Season Lowlight: Well, they got creamed by Kansas City 42-14, and Jacksonville later took out its revenge in a 27-0 shutout, but overall the team played close to even in its losses. If you looked a little deeper, though, you'd notice that the offense scored about as often as Chris Brown at a NOW meeting. Head coach Dom Capers stressed defense, and so watching the Texans try to move the ball was often frustrating and usually boring.
Inexplicable Moment Which Summed Up the Texans' Endless Futility: They not only took Dave Ragone in the draft this year, they also picked Drew Henson, another quarterback...who went on to instead play minor-league baseball.
Trend Which Cruelly Gave False Hope for the Future: They beat the Carolina Panthers, who went on win the NFC, and they barely lost in overtime to the New England Patriots, who went on to win the Super Bowl.
Final Season Record: 5-11. Only a one-game improvement over the previous year, but the Texans had been wracked by injuries. With the team regaining its health and some shrewd picks in the draft, Texans fans could dream of matching the third-year success that expansion franchises such as Carolina and Jacksonville enjoyed fairly recently.
The Third Season: The Hammer of Despair Hits, For the First Time
Sorry, did we say "shrewd draft choices"? The Texans traded four draft picks to Tennessee to have the opportunity to draft Jason Babin. Oh, and since the offense had sucked so much, the team spent its first four draft picks on defensive players. They did manage to grab another quarterback, though. B.J. Symons. Who never played a down for the team, but did go on to play in NFL Europe and the Arena League.
But by now Texans fans were accustomed to draft oddities, an attitude that would definitely come in handy in years to come. So as the magical third year began, genuine optimism flowed, and people weren't laughing when the word "playoffs" was mentioned.
Things didn't quite work out as planned.
Season Highlight: Dunta Robinson, the team's first pick in the draft (taken even before Jason Babin!) was sterling, starting all 16 games, picking off a half-dozen passes and winning Pro Football Weekly's award for defensive rookie of the year. This seemed to indicate that the draft process was not totally indecipherable for the Texans' front office.
Season Lowlight: With the chance to have the franchise's first non-losing record (8-8), the Texans had only to beat the lowly Cleveland Browns, coming into Reliant Stadium with a 3-12 record. The Browns had their golf clubs packed, were looking at their watches the whole time and — well, let's leave the evenhanded Associated Press to describe what happened:
"David Carr was sacked, hurried and harassed by the Cleveland Browns defense all day Sunday.
"But his trouble didn't stop there, as Houston Texans fans piled on the abuse with a steady stream of boos that began in the first quarter and reached a crescendo in the final three minutes of a 22-14 loss to the hapless Browns...The crowd jeered Carr while he was sprawled on the turf, and when he was escorted off the field."
Maybe they weren't booing, maybe they were cheering "Hall of Famer!!" in an obscure language in which that phrase rhymes with "moo."
Inexplicable Moment Which Summed Up the Texans' Futility: After Carr was forced out of the game with an injury, back-up QB Tony Banks immediately threw a 16-yard completion. Carr then returned to the field, to resounding boos (Or, possibly, "Hall of Famer!!" chants in an obscure foreign language).
Trend Which Cruelly Gave Hope for the Future: This marked the first year the Texans had ever won back-to-back games. And, after all, they should have finished 8-8, which wouldn't have been bad.
Final Season Record: 7-9. How bad did they play in that last game? "We need to be slapped in the face," tight end Billy Miller told reporters in the locker room. "It was despicable. It was disgraceful." And don't forget to order your 2005 season tickets now, fans!
The Fourth Season: Mere Anarchy Is Loosed Upon the World
By now, you might be noticing a pattern when it comes to off-season moves by the Texans — they tend to make bad ones. All that changed before the 2005 season, though: The team decided to make a terrible one.
Needing help just about everywhere, GM Charley Casserly decided to trade a second- and third-round pick in the upcoming draft for Phillip Buchanon, a DB from the Oakland Raiders. The Raiders had absolutely wowed everyone in the league with their secondary work on their way to a 5-11 record the previous year, Casserly analyzed, so he outbid whatever other teams were throwing draft picks at Oakland for Buchanon. (Answer: none.) Buchanon went on to have an impressive career of sucking as a Texan.
Still, by the time the new season started, bitter memories of the Cleveland Browns debacle had faded. After almost reaching the .500 point the season before, fans were happily confident that the fourth year would be the team's breakout season.
Things didn't quite work out as planned.
Season Highlight: They took their revenge for that Browns debacle by beating Cleveland in Reliant! Unfortunately, the Texans were 0-6 at that point.
On the plus side, they fired their offensive coordinator a mere two games into the season after managing just seven points each week. This proved conclusively that, despite all evidence to the contrary, the Texans actually had employed an offensive coordinator up to this point.
Season Lowlight: The Tennessee Titans, the former Oilers, won only four games this year; two of those victories came against the Texans. In one of them, David Carr — yes, he was still playing — had his longest pass completion of the game go for 16 yards. We forget the play, but we're guessing it was a two-yard down-and-out in which the receiver broke a tackle and added 14 yards.
Inexplicable Moment Which Summed Up the Texans' Futility: The team, 1-12 at the time, beat the equally hapless Arizona Cardinals amidst criticism it was intentionally losing games in order to get the first draft pick. Andre Johnson gave an inspirational quote for the ages after the contest, telling reporters, "If we were really trying to lose, why did we win this one?" Experts could offer no answer.
Trend Which Cruelly Gave Hope for the Future: The Texans played the terrible 49ers in the last game of the season in the "Bush Bowl": whoever lost would get the No. 1 draft pick, which obviously would be used to take electric USC running back Reggie Bush. The Texans did their part by losing; Andre Johnson offered no inspiring quotes this time.
Final Season Record: 2-14. Rock-bottom. And remember, this was a season that began with hopes of the playoffs. Lord knows what it would have been like if they were expected to stink. We're talking 1-15, maybe.
The Fifth Season: A Savior Cometh, Although Not That You'd Noticeth
Let the world go forth: No one goes 2-14 on Bob McNair and keeps their job. Dom Capers was gone, taking with him his game plans that were designed to produce a lot of wins with scores like 13-7. Gone was Charley Casserly, much to the dismay of the Tony Bosellis and Dave Ragones and Phillip Buchanons of the world. In came new head coach Gary Kubiak, a Houstonian who had actually been an offensive coordinator.
Unfortunately, anyone interviewing for the Texans opening knew enough to say that the problem wasn't David Carr, it was just that David Carr — as Christian and media-friendly as he was — just wasn't being coached properly. So that meant the Texans would have to endure another season of David Carr.
The upside, in terms of expectations, was that it was all but impossible to get any worse. The downside is that even with improvement, the team, which should by now have been a serious playoff threat, would be happy with only a slightly less-bad record.
With the bar set at that incredibly low level, this was one season where things actually did go about as planned.
Season Highlight: With the first pick in the draft, talk-show stations in the city became endless marathons of whether the Texans should take consensus top man Reggie Bush or hometown favorite Vince Young. They instead picked Mario Williams, a decision Houstonians took calmly and quietly. And by "calmly and quietly," we mean "like Christian Bale on a movie set." Young went on to have a good couple of years, but since then it's become clear — the Texans made the right choice.
But, being the Texans, they couldn't even do something right without alienating three-quarters of their fans first.
Season Lowlight: The Titans, of all teams, drafted Vince Young. In October the Texans went there to play them. Carr was pathetic. When he wasn't being sacked, he was throwing interceptions. It got so bad he was benched, in favor of Sage Rosenfels. Rosenfels immediately threw an interception. Young trotted on the field and threw a TD pass. The tears of Houston fans were bitter and copious; the laughter of Bud Adams was maniacal and dark. In Adams's superbox, someone yelled to turn down the Simpsons, only to discover it was Bud himself sneering "Exxxxxcelllllllent."
Oh, and later in the year defensive lineman Fred Weary got himself Tasered by Houston cops over a traffic stop where no charges were filed.
Inexplicable Moment Which Summed Up the Texans' Futility: The Texans held the New England Patriots to just 230 total yards in their game, an impressive feat against a team led by Tom Brady. Sure, they lost 40-7, but it could have been a lot worse. We guess.
Trend Which Cruelly Gave Hope for the Future: DeMeco Ryans, the team's second draft pick this year (again, no sense picking offensive players), won the NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year award. That's gotta bode good, right? Also, it finally became abundantly clear that it was "boo" that David Carr had been hearing all along, and with good reason. His Texans career, such as it was, was over.
Final Season Record: 6-10. Familiar mediocre territory, but once again the sadistic imp of Hope raised its ugly head. Why, 6-10 was a four-game improvement over 2-14, and if they did that again: playoff time, baby!
The Sixth Season: All Right, This Time We Really Mean It! Playoffs!!
Carr left, and in return the Texans got...Matt Schaub. Fans learned that despite their first assumption, Schaub was not the guy who'll paint your car for $39.95 — that's Earl Scheib. Even without that great deal, Schaub did possess one indisputable advantage — he was not David Carr. Especially, as it turned out, in terms of Carr's ability to generally avoid injuries and stay on the field.
With their first draft pick, the Texans looked at how their consistent policy of picking defensive players had led them nowhere and picked...a defensive player. Amobi Okoye was only 19 years old, trying to play against grown men, but Texans officials were confident he would...he would...Don't ask too many questions, dammit!
For the first time in franchise history, the Texans would head into the season with a quarterback who was 100 percent not David Carr; they were coming off a season in which a new coach led them to a markedly better record; they only needed to make a similar improvement and they'd make a serious run for the playoffs.
Things didn't quite work out as planned.
Season Highlight: The Texans won their first two games of the season, including scoring 34 points against the Carolina Panthers. Since Texans points are the "dog-year" equivalent of NFL points, they essentially rang up about 240 points on the Panthers. Next in to Reliant was the Super Bowl champ Indianapolis Colts. And Texan Jerome Mathis took the opening kickoff 84 yards for a touchdown as the stadium exploded. The season, at that point, had limitless possibilities.
Season Lowlight: Once again it was the Titans doing the damage. The Texans fell behind early and often in their game against Tennessee, yet still managed to put up 29 points in the fourth quarter, thrilling fans in Reliant with the thought of a comeback. As time ran out, though, Titans kicker Rob Bironas set an NFL record with his eighth field goal of the game to eke out a two-point win. Eight field goals? That's like a tortoise beating a hare. Someone oughta write a story about that, or a fable, or something.
Inexplicable Moment Which Summed Up the Texans' Futility: The Texans were at 3-4 on the season, still nursing playoff hopes, when they went into San Diego. Down 7-0, they lined up to punt it from their own 33-yard line. The snap sailed way over punter Matt Turk's head and into the end zone. Turk followed it there and reached the ball, which he could have then kicked out of bounds or fallen on for a safety. Or, possibly, picked it up and scrambled 104 yards for a Texans TD. Instead he attempted to fall on it...and somehow missed. The three or four feet between him and the ball on the ground proved to be too much, and he simply whiffed on his attempt to land on it. A Charger managed the acrobatic feat, however, and San Diego was on its way to a 35-10 victory.
Trend Which Cruelly Gave Hope for the Future: Once again, the Texans came into a final game with the chance to finish the season 8-8, their first non-losing season ever. Instead of the hapless Browns, they faced the playoff-bound Jacksonville Jaguars. Cynics will scoff that the Jags rested most of their players that day, but still — the Texans had managed to lose to the Browns in a similar scenario. This time they took care of business.
Final Season Record: 8-8. It wasn't a winning record, but it wasn't a losing record. For Texans fans, it was close to Nirvana.
The Seventh Season: Here We Fucking Go Again
The stars, finally aligned. The coach, finally with his system in place. The fans, their patience about to be rewarded. The 2008 season was finally to be the end of the desultory, playoff-free history of the Houston Texans.
Things didn't quite work out as planned.
But then again, you probably could have guessed that by now.
Season Highlight: None of the Texans were killed in Hurricane Ike.
Season Lowlight: Everyone knew going into the year that the first handful of games would be tough; the Texans just needed to steal one or two to keep themselves alive. Instead they went 0-4, and the playoffs were essentially out of reach before anyone stocked up on Halloween candy. The fourth loss was a heartbreaker to the Colts.
Inexplicable Moment Which Summed Up the Texans' Futility: In that game — the Texans' home opener, after Ike caused them to miss a game — backup QB Sage Rosenfels led the team to a 27-10 lead over Indianapolis in the fourth quarter. And then it was Helicopter Time. Rosenfels scrambled on one play and actually picked up some yardage. Instead of sliding to the ground like most sane QBs, he decided to go airborne (WHY?!?!?), was spun around by three Colts, and fumbled. Toss in another fumble and an interception, and you had yourself a collapse for the ages.
Final Season Record: The Texans added some meaningless victories at the end of the season to reach 8-8 again, but essentially the season ended the moment Rosenfels opted to believe he could fly.
Trend Which Cruelly Gave Hope for the Future: Nope. Not about to go there.
We have learned our Texans lesson too well. Hope is the thing that kills. "Next year" is always going to be better. "Next year" can't get any worse.
Not anymore. Eight years into this one-sided relationship, it's time for the Texans to provide something other than a fluke victory over the Cowboys.
Until they do, we're not predicting, or hoping, or wishing, or expecting anything but more disappointment.
And we hope we end up disappointed with that expectation.
We Predict One of These Predictions Might Be Right. How will the Texans do this year? Beats us. So we decided to ask people who should know, and some people who shouldn't.