Barring Jerry Jones going completely bonkers in his search for more “Gloryhole” and moving the Cowboys to Arkansas, the Dallas Cowboys will always be the No. 1 team in Texas in the eyes of most who live here.
Sorry, Texans fans. I know it hurts, given your team name and all. And for Oilers fans that are still clinging to the Luv Ya Blue days and harboring resentment over the Run N’ Shoot collapses in 1992 and 1993 … well, at least the Astrodome is still standing – except now it’s rats running the field rather than Earl Campbell and Warren Moon.
But Texans fans have something major at stake this weekend when their team heads back to New England to face the Patriots in a game that no one outside of Reliant Stadium and a few diehard fans thinks the Texans can actually win. Considering the 42-14 shellacking in week 14 and the subsequent swoon to end the season, why should anyone expect any different?
And while there’s something to be said about state legitimacy and fighting the “little brother” status that the Texans undoubtedly deal with living in the shadow of the Cowboys – right or wrong – there’s something else the Texans can earn with a W in New England – respect.
For the better part of the season, many Texans fans clamored for that ellusive R-word, suggesting that the national media and even some of us in the local Houston media who were not from the area were not giving the team its proper respect when it, along with a recent playoff pretender the Atlanta Falcons, boasted one of the best records in the NFL this season.
A 42-24 beatdown on national TV at the hands of the 2010 Super Bowl champion Green Bay Packers – at home – elicited a few whispers that maybe the Texans weren’t as good as folks thought. Nonsense, cried most, and a 43-13 whipping of the Baltimore Ravens the subsequent week silenced many.
Yet here we are, the Texans winners of two of their last five, and heading back to New England where this late season swoon began. The letterman jackets, the early 21-0 deficit —all of this taking place on national television in prime time.
The Texans return trip prompted The Boston Globe’s Dan Shaughnessey to pen a column in which he called the Texans “frauds,” the “worst 11-1 team in NFL history” and suggested the team “wet itself” and was “scared” the last time it came to New England.
Even the Patriots’ color commentator on the team’s radio broadcast, Scott Zolak, a former backup quarterback on the team, tweeted out after the Texans win over the Bengals, “Bring these frauds on.”
I asked several Texan players in the locker room following the game for their thoughts on being called frauds.
“He called us what?” asked outside linebacker Brooks Reed. “We’ll see; we just have to have a great week of preparation. That’s what we had this week.”
Connor Barwin, who has played nearly every snap for the Texans defense this year, seemed annoyed by the insult. “Well, everybody had us losing this week too, but we won,” he said
“Everybody’s going to talk, so it’s up to us to go up there and show ‘em what we’re about. I’m not too worried about what (Zolak) has to say,” said special teams standout Brian Braman.
Tight End Owen Daniels, who had struggled since the bye week, came alive in the Cincinnati Bengals’ win with 9 catches for 91 yards. He’s not worried about the return trip to New England or the name-calling.
“We’ll see how that turns out,” said Daniels with a wry smile on his face. “We’re excited about going back up there. That’s all I’ll say.”
And second-year pro Derek Newton, who missed the first New England game with a knee injury but is back to 100 percent now, is jazzed about getting to face the Patriots and had arguably the best response to Zolak’s criticism: “All I’ll say about that is we’re back. This isn’t the same team from a month ago. We’re back.”
So the table has been set, the shots have been fired, and now the Texans are walking into Gillette Stadium, the house that Tom Brady built, for a shot at NFL legitimacy that comes when you beat the best.
The Texans are one of the NFL’s better teams. Make no mistake about it. And even if the Texans can go into New England on Sunday and do the unthinkable, the Texans won’t establish themselves as Texas’ team, but it would go a long way toward putting Houston among the NFL elite, a place fans in these parts have been waiting almost 20 years to get to.
Fred Davis is a former staff writer and current contributor to The Examiner. He is also co-host for the Houston Sportsradio 610 show The Odd Couple with Barry Warner and Fred Davis.