It is a myth to believe that NFL football was always the dominant sport in Houston. There were times when the Oilers were so bad that, of the few thousand fans that did show up to the Astrodome on Sunday, at least some were wearing paper bags over their heads. This is still the state that invented Friday Night Lights, not the book, movie or television show, but the actual parade of cars outside high school stadiums on Fridays. It is a football state as much as Indiana is a basketball state.
However, pro football's dominance here didn't start with Luv Ya Blue, die briefly when the Oilers became the Titans and revive when Bob McNair won the Texans franchise sweepstakes. The NFL has gradually been overtaking every other sport in every market for decades and is the undisputed king of professional sports in America. What that means for Houstonians is heavy doses of Texans on sports talk, in news headlines and in TV ratings.
That includes when they appear on national television opposite game one of the American League Division Series featuring your plucky hometown Astros. Yes, the Texans are an awful team right now at 1-3 and seemingly rudderless as a franchise. Yes, the Colts are apparently trotting out Matt Hasselbeck, the oldest non-kicker in the league who was in the hospital until 2 a.m. Tuesday night with a virus thanks to an injury to starter Andrew Luck.
It won't matter. People will still turn to the Texans game tonight and here's why.
There are no expectations for the Astros.
As much as fans have been climbing over people to hop on the 'Stros bandwagon, it is empty because they have been so awful recently. No one expected a team that lost 111 games two seasons ago to make the playoffs let alone advance. The team and the fans are playing with house money, meaning the urgency is ratcheted downward even for a postseason game.
Andre Johnson is coming back to Houston.
He may be playing like his career has fallen off a cliff, but he is still the greatest player in Texans franchise history. Seeing him in the rival Colts uniform is spectacle enough, but watching him take the field at NRG in said uniform will be something akin to seeing an ex (who you still harbor feelings for) come to your birthday party with her new boyfriend. If he manages a touchdown, it will be like walking in on that same ex getting busy with her new dude in your bedroom.
This is one of only 16 Texans games this year.
The fact that the NFL only has 16 games per year, most of them on Sunday (and the others in prime time), allows fans to build their frenzy to a fever pitch. It's the reason why pro football stadiums dwarf ballparks and basketball arenas. Even when the team is awful, there is an anticipation that comes with the one-game-per-week format. Were the Astros to lose, they will play again tomorrow. Not so for the Texans.
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The Colts, even without Luck, are still the Colts.
The Texans have yet to win in Indianapolis and have only beaten them FOUR TIMES in 13 seasons. There is no one who has dominated the Texans like the Colts and they are in our division. That kind of rivalry will always draw a crowd no matter how miserable the previous outcomes have been. Hope, it would seem, springs eternal.
Football is king.
The Astros single-elimination wild card game against the Yankees Tuesday drew a big ratings number nationally and locally. But, there were Texans preseason games that had higher ratings. Think about that for a second. Meaningless football games without the best players on the field drew larger television audiences in Houston than the game that would determine if the Astros would advance in the playoffs. If there was ever any doubt about what sport reigns supreme here, that should end it.