This fall brings a feeling unknown in Houston for more than ten years: Pro football fans actually expect the town's NFL team to do well.
The Houston Texans have gotten a pass through their first three years as an expansion team, but no more. Team members are expected not only to have their first winning season but to compete for a playoff spot.
If they stumble they won't just get a pat on the head and a "nice try" from the faithful. Already the boo-birds have been heard at Reliant Stadium, when the Texans failed to convert a first-and-goal from the one-yard line in a preseason game.
Are fans expecting too much? Not if you believe Brenda Trifon. She's a child-development expert who's worked at the University of Houston and Montgomery College, and she says there are major differences between a three-year-old and a four-year-old.
"There's more manual dexterity and coordination, and they can work and play better with others," she says. One can only hope to Christ she's referring to the team's secondary, which got lit up by Peyton Manning for five TDs in a game last year. (Not to mention the rest of the team -- even the normally staid NFL.com newswire wrote of that Colts game that "Houston couldn't block, run, tackle, cover or even down a punt in an embarrassing performance.")
But there's more good news, for those fans who are growing testy about the team's ultraconservative offense: "Three-year-olds very much need a routine, but fours are risk-takers," Trifon says. "In play, they are much more imaginative than three-year-olds They don't have to be as safe."
Does this mean the Texans might actually use deep threat Andre Johnson? For something other than a decoy, we mean. The mind reels.
It's not all roses, though: "Four-year-olds still tire easily, and they are still prone to tantrums," she says. Four-year-olds have steroid rage? Who knew?
Our bottom-line question: You've got first-and-goal on the one. Who's going to get the job done?
"A four-year-old would figure out a way to get into the end zone, where a three-year-old wouldn't. Four-year-olds just solve problems much better."
Well, yeah, but the four-year-old Texans didn't manage to accomplish the feat last month. Looks like we might have some slow developers here.
Trifon herself is a huge fan of the Texans and has season tickets for A&M football. So what's her prediction?
When it comes to boldness, she's more of a three-year-old than a four. "Oh, I don't want to make a prediction," she says. "I'll just say they should be better this season than last season."
Still taking baby steps, we guess.
Five from Off Center
For many years, Craig Roberts was one of Houston's best-known sports anchors, until KPRC decided he wasn't Gen X enough to attract all those twentysomethings who apparently spend all day watching local news.
He's now hosting Sports Off Center on Channel 55 and is sports director for talk radio's KFNC-FM 97.5.
Here are his five takes on the Texans:
1. I don't like the fact the Texans go to Buffalo and then come home to play Pittsburgh. My Oilers memories really kick in when you talk about games in Buffalo (good-bye 35-3 playoff lead) or against Pittsburgh (good-bye several AFC championships). In fact, when FEMA announced that 25,000 people were going to be sleeping in the Dome, I thought the Oilers had returned.
2. I am writing this with my Tony Boselli jersey on. I have picked Tony as the team's all-time draft pick: He got several million dollars for the team to look at his shoulder X-rays. My second top pick is Bennie Joppru -- the tight end has been here three years and never seen a snap in a game. He has a sore groin and a bad knee. I think Coach Dom Capers kneed him in the groin after last season.
3. Sometime this year owner Bob McNair will take time out from his busy schedule to explain how it's all about the fans. He will then leave in his police-escorted limo. (Note: He isn't using the same policemen as last year, so he is spreading the overtime wealth.)
4. I look forward to General Manager Charley Casserly's postgame reports on TV. Charley needs a new hairdresser. In fact, he could use an old one.
5. Do we really think it's important to go to the Super Bowl? It's in Detroit this year. Is going to Detroit a realistic goal for grown men to try to reach?
The Muse Speaks
You may not know it, but there's already a Texan in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. He is ummm a poet.
He's also an officially recognized Super Fan, and that's why he's in the Hall. Joe Texan (that's what he wants to be called) got inducted in 2004, along with that guy with the bulldog mask from Cleveland and the Raiders' Mad Max reject.
"I hung out with the likes of Big Dawg and Barrelman and Arrowman and Weird Wolf and Spike," says Joe of his Canton visit. "When I walked in that room last year and they were all sitting around the room drinking beer and stuff, and I opened the door and I walked in with my hat on and everything, they all jumped up and stood up and said, 'Welcome, Joe Texan. You're one of us now.' It's just overwhelming, to say the least."
No doubt. But enough of that -- what about the poetry?
Joe has reworded poems like "The Raven" and one called "The Cowboy" to commemorate Texan wins. He also wrote "The Dolphin," which has this stirring final stanza: "That fish looked just like Flipper / But Johnson was much quicker / When Carr threw he was all alone / gracing the end zone."
So Joe, beyond your obvious determination to get rid of meter and rhyme, is poetry a hobby of yours?
"No, not really," he says. He only turned to writing poems when the Texans rejected his proposed fight song.
The Houston Press, patron of all fine arts, commissioned a poem for the upcoming season. In a mere two hours, Joe produced this:
The Bull Pen is ready, its band is in tune
We've had football spirit since the beginning of June
Preseason is over, it's time for the game
The Blue Crew went platinum but we're still the same
As we call out the last name of our football stars
They come streaming in, from all of the cars
This season is starting, we scream and we cheer
We want a Super Bowl win, did I make myself clear?
Man, we can just bow deeply. And admit it's better than our effort:
There once was a coach named Dom Capers
Getting good ink in all of the papers
And on TV too
They never said boo
But frankly he gives us the vapors.
All Your Questions Answered
Everyone wants to know how the Texans are going to do this year. Luckily, we've got it all figured out.
Steven Devadanam, Night & Day editor of the Houston Press and video game expert, took on the task of guiding the Texans through the 2005 season in Madden 2006 (the dates apparently make sense in Video World).
And, well, don't get your hopes up.
He simmed some games and played others. Opening day against Buffalo he simmed, winning 14-10. Domanick Davis banged one in from three yards out ("Clearly, this was simulated," Devadanam noted). He simmed again for the Pittsburgh game and got wiped out 31-9, complaining that Madden allowed Jerome Bettis and Duce Staley to play even though in real life they're injured. In other words, like a true Texans coach, he had some excuses handy.
Other highlights: The October 9 showdown against the Tennessee Titans, won by the Texans 35-10. "Veteran LT Victor Riley definitely has helped bolster the O-Line, but my defense is looking soft," Devadanam says. "Is it time for a trade? Whatev -- at least I stuck it to that pig Bud Adams."
Next up were the Seattle Seahawks. "They're a bunch of softies -- a no-brainer sim," he says, and we're assuming this makes sense to gamers, if not to us. "Mistake. A computer-generated Jamie Sharper obviously has an ax to grind against his old team, because he clocks in 11 tackles, a sack, a forced fumble and a safety." Sure, now he does. The Texans lose 30-10.
Depressed, Devadanam tries to shake things up by giving Carr some awesome new tattoos and yet another new hairdo. It doesn't work. Peyton Manning once again baffles the Texans, and the Colts breeze 35-21.
It doesn't get a whole lot better. St. Louis and Baltimore win easily; the Texans do manage to beat Kansas City and Arizona. They wind up a familiar 7-9, out of the playoffs.
In his defense, Devadanam said he was counting on injury-prone DE Gary Walker getting hurt so rookie Travis Johnson would play in the sim-mode games. It never happened.
"We lost because we didn't get injured" -- when it comes to coaches' excuses, that's a novel one.
Sounds to Kick Butt By
Besides being an utterly flawless predictor of future gridiron activity, Madden 2006 is also known for producing hit singles. Jet's "Are You Gonna Be My Girl" and Franz Ferdinand's "Take Me Out" were rocking the Madden soundtrack long before they hit the Billboard charts.
Devadanam joined with Press music editor John Nova Lomax and assistant music editor Scott Faingold to pick which songs might be hits, which ones players will quickly delete and which ones made them scratch their heads.
94.5 The Buzz hits: Foo Fighters' "No Way Back" (Devadanam's fave) and Avenged Sevenfold's "Bat Country" (Lomax awards points for the Hunter S. Thompson reference).
97.9 The Boxx hits: Bum J's "Move Around" and Stat Quo's "Rock Da Party."
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Deletables: Disturbed's "Ten Thousand Fists," Bullet For My Valentine's "4 Words (To Choke Upon)" ("We choked on it too," the panel said), and rapper Memphis Bleek's boring "Like That." ("We didn't 'like that' much at all.")
Biggest disappointment: The panel was dismayed to find that both Houston tracks -- Slim Thug's "Get It Started" and Chamillionaire's "Hate In Ya Eyes" -- were nothing short of lackluster. "The plus (for the artists, anyway): the ridiculous exposure the tunes will receive," they said.
Right song, wrong game: Hot Hot Heat's dandy "Pickin' It Up." Lomax called it "More of an MLB 2006 tune," referring to what Devadanam calls "the bookish white-guy fan base" of that baseball game. Devadanam called it "this year's head-scratcher, much like Franz Ferdinand's disco-riffic 'Take Me Out' on last year's Madden game. Hey, emo kids appreciate a zone blitz as much as anyone else."
Collective favorite: Rev Run's "Mind on the Road." Lomax: "I don't know what station in Houston will play it. Too old-school for the Boxx, too black for the Buzz, too rowdy for Sunny and the Mix, too fogeyish for KRBE. It'll find a way, though -- Joan Jett and the Rev are unstoppable together." Devadanam said the Run-DMC alum's track inspired him to don his Adidas when playing Madden; Faingold characteristically lamented the fate of sucker MCs the world over.