Pigskin Parade

Yes, we understand that football is king in Texas. Hell, we love football ourselves.

But our jaws are still on the floor over the mind-boggling display put on by the local media over the ceremony revealing the name of Houston's new NFL team.

It wasn't a ceremony revealing that Houston was getting a new NFL team; that earth-shattering event happened last year. It wasn't something so concrete as the groundbreaking for the new football stadium; that apocalyptic happening dominated the news months ago. The new name itself wasn't even a surprise -- local sportswriters and broadcasters had been referring to the team as the Houston "Soon-to-be-Texans," or variations thereof, for months.

And yet, and yet: The Houston Chronicle did nine -- count 'em, nine -- stories or news boxes September 7 on the announcement of the name and the logo of a bull's head. There were three follow-ups the next day.

We learned the Chron's usually reliable football writer, John McClain, is very, very happy to have a team to cover. He wrote the lead front-page story on the announcement: "In a much-anticipated event that received national and statewide attention," his story began, the name and logo were as revealed. Something in Houston received statewide attention? Gosh!

McClain's column the next day chided Mayor Lee Brown for not naming September 6 as Bob McNair Day in honor of the Texans' billionaire owner, who he said was "dignified and gracious, as always" at the ceremony.

We also learned that the attendance at the ceremony was 16,000, or 6,000, or "several hundred," depending on which Chronicle story you read. A correction the next day put the (possibly wildly inflated) figure at 6,000.

We also learned, from columnist John Lopez, that St. McNair "wavered on the choice until just days ago," an alleged factoid that caused 90 percent of Lopez's readers to say, "Yeah, right."

But as excessive as the Chronicle was, it was outshined by the inanity of Channels 2 and 13, which turned over their 6 p.m. newscasts to the ceremony. The unveiling wasn't scheduled until 6:16 p.m.; Channel 11 wisely used the pre-naming portion of the ceremony to report some actual news. KPRC and KTRK, on the other hand, showed a series of tepid speeches and a free-advertising video designed to get folks to fork over their kids' college funds for permanent seat licenses and season tickets.

We also got to see McNair, an honors graduate of the Lee Brown School of Tedious Public Speaking, tell us that the five points on the logo's star stood for pride, strength, independence, courage and boldness and that "those five words can represent only one thing: the bull." (Whaaaaat?)

Of course, the unveiling of the logo was best covered on radio, where three AM stations, each hoping to be the future radio home of the Houston Texans, were reporting live. "It's ummm the head of a bull, but very modern-looking," was the general level of breaking-news journalism. Everyone involved -- print and electronic reporters and those they interviewed -- loved the logo.

The media's free advertising for the Texans isn't over yet. Of course, it will be a long, long time before there's much actual news to report -- the team won't draft or sign a player until 2002 -- but McClain's lead story ended on an ominous note.

"The [team's] uniforms," he said, "will be revealed next summer."

We can't wait.

Some of Us Are Straight

KILT-AM's Charlie Pallilo doesn't spend a lot of time on the air talking about the Houston Comets, the WNBA's four-time champions. But he did attend one of the Comets' recent playoff games.

And there, in the stack of stuff given out to the press by the league -- team statistics, player profiles, factoids about the play-offs -- was a page the likes of which he hadn't seen before at a sporting event.

"WNBA Players Who Are Married or Engaged," read the headline on the release.

The headline didn't lie -- the release indeed listed the names of the 29 WNBA players who are either married or engaged.

Could the league be so homophobic that it feels it has to put out a release that basically says, "There are straight women playing here"? We don't know -- a WNBA spokesperson didn't return our call.

The league wasn't taking any chances, though -- just in case some smart aleck might have thought the list included some of them Vermont-type "civil unions," the release included the 29 very male names of the husbands or fiancés.

That Old-Time Religion

The Naming of the Texans wasn't the only event where the Chronicle seemed to have a little trouble with crowd estimates.

September 1 was the season opener for the Santa Fe High School football team. Santa Fe, of course, made headlines earlier this year when the U.S. Supreme Court barred the school-sponsored pregame prayer. Reporters descended on the first game to see what the crowd would do and whether protesters would show up as promised.

The Chronicle's lead: "The multitude that had been predicted failed to materialize, but virtually all of the fans at Santa Fe's opening game recited the Lord's Prayer just before kickoff."

Here's what the Associated Press wrote: "[F]ewer than 200 in a crowd of 4,500 prayed out loud before the game in protest."

The Washington Post: "While many people in the stands had said they would pray aloud before the game only a few clusters of fans joined hands and did so."

The Dallas Morning News: "A few hundred fans among the 4,600 attending the season opener recited the Lord's Prayer before the game."

The San Antonio Express-News: "The Lord's Prayer, recited by scattered pockets of fans, was all but drowned out amid the din of bullhorns, screaming students and a high school marching band."

The New York Times and the Los Angeles Times came closest to the Chronicle's description, with both saying that "many" fans prayed, although the L.A. Times noted that the prayer was merely "picked up in pockets across the stadium."

What those out-of-town folks don't realize, apparently, is that Houston's Leading Information Source knows -- it just knows -- when people are silently praying, but modestly disguising their piety by pretending to be cheering wildly for the home team.

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