Seven years as a sports journalist is often enough to extinguish the blind, burning and childlike love inside the heart of even the most ardent fanatic. Everyone thinks they’ll be the exception, yet, invariably, we all fall victim to the inherent cynicism of the craft. Oh, sure, you might stilllike
your favorite franchise, but that love you basked in as an eight year old will probably be long gone by the time your career hits the five-year mark. Between the mandated detachment, bohemian lifestyle and shuffled priorities, the feelings just fade over time. Don’t get me wrong, I still love sports as much as anyone. But my days of passionately cheering on the home teams are over.
Those are the thoughts swirling about my head as I make my way toward Reliant Stadium on yet another scorching Saturday night. Once upon a time, covering a Texans or Oilers game would have proven to be the pinnacle of my existence. Tonight, I’m just thrilled to have the opportunity to work an NFL contest and merely curious to see how the Texans fare against a Dallas team that has looked great in its first two preseason match-ups. It’s sort of like renewing acquaintances with an old girlfriend for whom you once burned. You’ve both moved on and time has worked its magic, allowing you to enjoy the experience while sincerely wishing each other nothing but the best. Of course, being the curious creature that you are, you’re also interested in seeing whether the tiniest hint of that initial spark, which once brought the two of you together, still exists. If I run into Earl Campbell, Warren Moon or Ernest Givens, will I fall head-over-heels all over again? Let’s just say I’m not counting on it, but I’d love to find out. I’m kind of a masochist that way.
In the meantime, I’ve decided to document tonight’s main event by breaking out the ol’ running diary routine. It’s not original, but it is effective. Kind of like Cialis. I mean, not that I’d really know anything about that…
: Having survived twenty minutes of traffic hell on Kirby, I finally manage to park my car and begin the trek toward Reliant. I’m positively dumbfounded by the number of tailgaters out here. Not only is this a freaking exhibition game, but the heat index must be hovering around 185 degrees. Seriously, I’ve spent time in the deserts of Saudi Arabia and Spain and they seem a mere trifle compared to this withering Houston heat. Of course, I never saw Saudi or Spanish nomads congregating around a DirecTV satellite dish with Big Gulp-sized margaritas in their hands, either. I can see how that might make a difference.
5:50 PM: I arrive inside the gargantuan, air-conditioned Reliant Stadium press box. At first glance, I feel as if I must still be feeling the effects of my walk beneath the unmerciful sun (I clearly don’t get out enough). With its generous buffet table, ubiquitous televisions, helpful assistants and ample seating, this press box is more like a press Hilton. In fact, I think I see Paris out of the corner of my eye…
5:51 PM: Nope, my bad. That’s just Chron.com vixen, Anna-Megan Raley. I proceed to introduce myself to her and Chron colleague, Chance McClain (former 610 AM Executive Producer… the exodus continues, it would seem). After a few minutes of pleasant conversation, I consider advising them both to go into hiding; because I fear John Royal’s rage against all things Chron-related will ultimately place them in mortal peril. But they seem rather capable of looking after themselves, so I instead wish them a cryptic “good luck” and commence the search for my seat on press row.
6:05 PM: I find my place just in time to see the Cowboys make their way on to the field for pre-game warm-ups. As the players saunter out of the tunnel, a surprisingly large roar springs forth from the stands. Dallas fans are notoriously annoying (to put it mildly), but you have to respect a group of people so passionate about their team that they arrive an hour early before a pre-season game to cheer them on.
6:06 PM: I just re-read my last entry. Perhaps I really am suffering from heat stroke. Forget everything I just said about respecting Cowboy fans. They’re obnoxious, delusional, sad little creatures who live in the past. Phew, that was close. I’ll get my act together from here on out, I promise.
: Remember how I began this column with a maudlin tale about journalism devouring one’s inner-fan? Well, apparently mine is not dead yet because some things still excite the heck out of me… Like sitting four spots away from legendary Hall of Famer, Mean Joe Greene! After clumsily introducing myself, I shake his hand, which is roughly the size of a waffle iron. If a fight breaks out at the buffet table (always a possibility when sports writers are involved), I know who I’m standing behind.
6:55 PM: Ten minutes to kick-off and the stadium is only half-full. Did all the tailgaters perish in the inferno?
6:57 PM: Good sign, the Cowboys get booed during introductions. I would have been ashamed of my city if Dallas owned the home-field advantage in this game.
7:08 PM: Kick-off. The game is underway and there are still tons of empty seats. I really think someone should call FEMA. I’m genuinely worried about all those tailgaters.
7:10 PM: Rookie sensation Jacoby Jones fields a Dallas punt and returns it 91 yards for a touchdown! The reporter sitting next to me deadpans, “I think he’s going to make the team.” Good call. Do Texans fans dare dream that their team finally has an honest-to-goodness highlight machine?
7:15 PM: Everything is going right for the Texans so far. Mario Williams even got credit for an assist, meaning he’s now on the stat sheet for the first time this pre-season! Literally everyone in the press box (just like the fans at home, I’m sure) is watching Mario on every play. One scout’s opinion, “He’ll never be a pro bowl player.” Ouch. That’s a rather harsh assessment for a kid who’s just 22 years old. I guess reporters aren’t the only cynical ones.
7:23 PM: Mario gets a sack! Who cares if it was caused more by a gawd-awful snap than by anything Williams did? The kid’s having a big quarter, which he desperately needs. Of course, for better or worse (mostly worse), this performance falls perfectly in line with his M.O. He only seems to step up when challenged.
7:26 PM: Uh oh. The official scorer in the press box just announced Mario will not get credit for a sack since it was a botched snap. Something tells me Vince Young would have somehow received credit for the sack.
7:30 PM: It’s worth mentioning that the press box, which is undoubtedly super-cool, is also a very sterile environment from which to watch a game. The vast majority of the crowd noise is nullified due to the protective glass, which I hear was installed to prevent John Royal from chunking stuff at the Chronicle sports staff. I’ll try to confirm that rumor at halftime.
7:39 PM: The Texans finish the first quarter with a measly 17 yards of total offense. Fantasy football alert! The Cowboys are going to have a great defense this year. Their first team D has yet to give up a touchdown so far this pre-season.
7:42 PM: On cue, Ahman Green busts loose for a huge run after breaking a poor tackle attempt by Roy Williams. Never underestimate my ability to jinx absolutely anything.
7:43 PM: Two plays later, Matt Schaub hits Andre “Thank God I finally get to play with a real NFL QB” Johnson for a TD. 14-zip, Texans. Don’t worry, Houston fans. I promise not to say anything about either player’s fantasy prospects tonight.
: Much to the delight of everyone, Dunta Robinson positively decleats Terrell Owens on a quick hitch. Dunta follows it up by making yet another stellar play; this time on Marion Barber. Robinson really deserves to play on a good team for once.
7:56 PM: T.O. gains a measure of revenge by breaking off a beautiful catch and run for a score. I loathe the guy, but he’s a wizard in the open field. Truly spectacular. And, yes, I’m trying to jinx him.
8:13 PM: The Texans’ defensive line is still the talk of the press box. So many first rounders, so little to show for it. On the plus side, everyone is extremely impressed with the seemingly rejuvenated Ahman Green. The guy is running as if Michael Vick just offered to show him his new rape stand. Sorry, it’s probably too early to be cracking Vick jokes, isn’t it?
8:21 PM: It’s absolutely stunning how different this offense looks with Schaub running the show. I was one of the few David Carr supporters over his final two years, but there’s no denying the impact Schaub has already made upon this team. Watching the Texans’ newfound offensive precision and execution, it’s pretty hard to believe Carr has five years of starting experience while Schaub has just two games.
8:22 PM: Wow. The two big stars of the first half just combined forces for another Texans touchdown. #8 version 2.0 is in complete control of this game and Jacoby Jones looks like the playmaker Houston has been seeking since it passed on… Never mind. There’s no reason to spoil the good vibes by going there.
8:25 PM: Placing the exclamation point on a ridiculously positive first half, rookie Amobi Okoye tears through the line and forces Romo into the arms of Shantee Orr. Houston leads 21-6 at halftime. Even the most optimistic Texans’ fan couldn’t have seen this coming. Just a sterling performance all the way around.
8:26 PM: Time to summon my inner food critic and sample this evening’s menu. On tap: hamburger, chips and blackberry cobbler.
8:31 PM: Nothing outstanding or derisive to say about the food. It got the job done and that’s all that matters; kind of like the culinary version of Matt Damon.
: Since I obviously didn’t humiliate myself enough the first time around, I decide to chat up Mean Joe Greene once more. I ask for his evaluation of Mario Williams and the former Steelers great looks troubled. He says it’s still far too early to reach any long-term conclusions, but he doesn’t like the fact the Texans keep shifting Williams from side-to-side. Of course, this game of D-line hopscotch is something the coaching staff promised it would cease, yet strangely, they’ve reverted back to this strategy for tonight’s game. And, just for the record, I agree with my man Mean completely. Of course, if Greene told me flew into Houston on a pterodactyl, I’d almost certainly believe that, too. He’s kind of convincing that way.
8:55 PM: Yawn. There’s nothing more boring that the second half of a pre-season football game. But hey, life could be worse. I could be stuck at Minute Maid Park watching the Astros lose to Pittsburgh (again).
: The Texans’ cheerleaders are performing a dance routine to the tune of Avril Lavigne’s smash-hit, “Girlfriend.” The only silver lining to this abhorrent song choice? At least they chose not to usethe remix
. If you haven’t already seen the video, don’t. I beg of you. You may never be able to experience joy again. At least that’s the effect it had on me. But if you’re a true glutton for punishment and simply must have more, check out
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on the making of the remix video. I think you’ll find it a true tour de force from beginning to end.
9:44 PM: Back to the action. Sage Rosenfels seals the deal when he finds David Anderson in the endzone following a tremendous double move. 28-16, Texans. The I-45 series is deadlocked once again. Eat that, Jerry Jones!
9:55 PM: Time to head home. As I pack up to leave, I’m pleased to know the Texans and I have reconciled our differences to the point where we can once again enjoy an evening out together. No, I’m not back in love, but I think I can happily report that the storm clouds that once surrounded our relationship have lifted and the future for both of us looks bright once more. To be sure, there are still some tough times ahead. But as I bid adieu to Reliant Stadium for the night, I leave convinced that the Texans are going to be okay and so will I; just as soon as I get that damn “Girlfriend” song out of my head. – Jason Friedman