The Houston Texans' defense has not always been a joyful thing to behold, unless you like suckage. But that could be quickly changing, in no small part thanks to aggressive, smart, talented players like linebacker DeMeco ­Ryans. NFL Rookie of the Year in 2006, he made the Pro Bowl the following year and in 2008 he's been anointed as the leader of the Texans' D. He'll be the guy wearing the radio headset in the helmet that previously only QBs could wear. Ryans came from the University of Alabama with a sterling reputation (off the field, too; he graduated in just seven semesters). Everything he's done so far in Houston has shown the reputation was well-­deserved.

Whether you want to bird, hike or fish, you can do it at Matagorda Bay Nature Park. And while it's definitely wilderness, the 1,600-acre park has plenty of amenities. Butterflies stop in Matagorda Bay from September through November, while the January and February skies are full of birds. (More than 250 varieties have been counted in a single day, but some 300-plus species call the bay home.) There are plenty of walking paths dotted with picnic tables and wildlife-watching stations. The Nature Preserve sports four free public piers. You can kayak along the park's course or swim in the Gulf, picnic in the dunes or have a cookout. And you have your choice of accommodations, from tent camping on the beach (how very Beach Blanket Bingo!) to an RV park, or nearby motels and bed-and-breakfasts.

Palace Bowling Lanes

They're not only a bowling palace but also a pleasure palace, depending on your vice. Complete with all the basics, including digital scoring and a full snack bar and grill, they open up at 8 a.m. daily so you can get your roll on first thing in the morning. However, this place also boasts one of the most delightfully sinful bars in the city. Why? Because you can smoke in there. Completely sealed off from the bowling alley behind large panes of glass, this dark-wood-paneled bar takes you back to a time when the lanes were decadent smoke-filled dens packed with blue-collar men and women looking to blow off a little steam.

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