It was back on May 21, 2013, that the National Football League awarded Super Bowl 51 to the city of Houston. They say the next best thing to your hometown team’s going to the Super Bowl is having the Super Bowl come to your hometown. Here in Houston, we will have to take the word of whoever coined that phrase as gospel, since we are still waiting for a Houston NFL team to win its conference.
We Houstonians have no idea what it feels like to watch our team play in a Super Bowl, but we do know something about Super Bowls. We’ve held two, and are working on our third this week. We’ve spent the better part of the past few months gearing up and brimming with excitement over the celebration of football coming to our town, complete with the extravagant parties, fan festivals and celebrity sightings.. “Holy economic impact! What fun this will be!” we all thought.
However, this is Houston, and while we are the recipients of numerous geographical life rewards, like boiled crawfish, warm weather and no state income tax, those benefits are a mere trade-off for the sad guarantee that we will be perpetually trolled by the football gods at every possible turn. How in the hell else do you explain our Super Bowl here in Houston being the host to the New England Patriots and the Atlanta Falcons, of all teams?
What’s that, you say? You’re not following me? What’s the problem with two particular teams? Well, if you’re a true Texans fan, you already know, and if you’re not, then gather around the campfire for a little history lesson, kids, and observe how the football gods can suck the fun right out of our Super Bowl week.
In 2006, Gary Kubiak arrived as the second head coach in the history of the Texans’ franchise, inheriting a 2-14 outfit from the season before, a squad that was saddled with the 32nd-ranked defense in the NFL, according to Football Outsiders’ DVOA statistics. To coordinate and fix this broken defense, Kubiak hired an old friend of his from his Denver days (a nepotistic hiring practice to which Kubiak is seemingly addicted), a guy by the name of Richard Smith (not to be confused with current general manager Rick Smith).
In 2006, under Smith’s watchful but misguided eye, the defense moved up just one spot, to 31st, which would have been forgivable except the next two seasons, it again barely improved at all. In 2007 and 2008, the defense was ranked 29th. In short, Smith was a complete failure as a coordinator, someone whom my radio colleague Seth Payne (an original Texan from 2002 through 2006) regularly cites as one of the worst coaches for whom he’s ever played.
Why am I giving you a Richard Smith biography, you ask? Well, he is now the coordinator of the NFC champion Atlanta Falcons’ defense. Yes, Richard-freaking-Smith is 60 minutes of football away from a Super Bowl ring. Let’s keep going!
In 2011 and 2012, somehow, some way, the Texans managed to emerge from the dark early days of the Kubiak era and win back-to-back AFC South titles. (Yes, the “early days” for Kubiak comprised five full seasons, but who’s counting?) It was a fun little two-year run for a franchise that hadn’t achieved anything substantial in its first decade in existence. However, all good things in Houston football must come to an end, and when it came time to issue the death sentence to two seasons of good football under Gary Kubiak, it was the collective hands of the New England Patriots squeezing the Texans’ throat.
More specifically, it was a chilly Monday night in December 2012, and the Texans, then 11-1 and rolling, traveled up to New England to face the Patriots. For some reason, the Texans thought it would be a fun thing to travel wearing Texans letterman jackets, custom-made with numbers and names. Social media was overrun with pictures on Twitter of Texans players smiling and preening in jackets that looked like they were made for oversized 16-year-olds. It was all very, very cute. Less cute was the 42-14 thrashing that Tom Brady and Bill Belichick administered on our varsity lettermen that night.
Five weeks later, in that same stadium, in a slightly closer embarrassment on the scoreboard, the Patriots ended the Texans’ 2012 postseason, 41-28, much the same way they just ended the Texans’ 2016 postseason a couple of weeks ago up in Foxborough. In fact, ever since that fateful fashion show of a night in December 2012, the Texans are 0-6 against the Patriots, losing by an average margin of 18 points.
Naturally, of all the seasons for the Patriots to have no real competition in the AFC and a virtual cakewalk to the Super Bowl, it would be the season when we in Houston are hosting the game and, in turn, hosting thousands of soon to be over-served, Brady-jersey-wearing Chowds. What a delight! Thanks, football gods!
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The final piece in our Super Bowl Puzzle of Misery can be traced back to the aftermath of that ignominious 2012 Texans playoff exit. Despite the sour ending to the previous season, hope was high for a deep playoff run in 2013. However, Texans quarterback Matt Schaub threw an interception on the very first play of the 2013 season, and it was all downhill from there. Over the next four games, Schaub could not have been more generous to Texans opponents, throwing a pick-six in each of those four games and triggering a 14-game losing streak that ended with fans reportedly harassing Schaub outside his house and the Texans’ securing the first pick in the 2014 NFL Draft. Gary Kubiak was fired, and Schaub was eventually traded to Oakland in March of 2014, leaving miles of scorched football earth in his wake.
So now Matt Schaub, public football enemy No. 1 in Houston, returns to NRG Stadium this week as the backup to likely league MVP Matt Ryan. Indeed, Schaub stands to become the next former Texans quarterback washout, after David Carr, to win a Super Bowl ring while wearing a ball cap and holding a clipboard. And he can do it right in front of the very fans who wanted to chokeslam him in his own driveway three years ago.
So you can see now, on a week when we should be celebrating our city, bar-hopping in between the parties, how the football gods have quietly screwed us. They took our weeklong party and made it a twisted episode of “Houston Texans: This Is Your (Really Sad and Depressing) Life.” They turned our celebration of football and frivolity into a house party where every bully who ever picked on you is hanging out in the kitchen playing quarters, and your two most annoying ex-girlfriends are nagging you incessantly.
It is Super Bowl 51, and if the New England Patriots don’t emerge as world champions, then Richard Smith and Matt Schaub will. Why not just make Frank Reich and Ed Reed honorary captains and get it over with?