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January 2, 2003

by Bob Hulsey

Flying back from my Christmas vacation last Friday, I read some USA Today articles and got an earful from the Cowboy fan seated next to me. He was pumped at the thought of Bill Parcells being the next Dallas head coach and I told him I didn’t think it would work out. He chirped about looking ahead to beating the Redskins again.

When the subject moved south to Houston, the passenger said he was angry at the league for permitting the new team to be called the "Texans". After all, he reasoned, Texas has two NFL teams.

I responded that there had been several pro football teams known by that name before (two in Dallas, one in Houston) and suggested that somebody who spends $700 million to buy a team ought to be able to pick whatever name he wants.
But I managed to shut him up (or at least change the subject) with one simple quip – "19-10."

And that just about sums up how satisfying the first season of the Houston Texans was. For the next four years, Houston fans can squelch those big-talkers from Big D, Bill Parcells or no Bill Parcells. As Gene Peterson might say, "How sweet it is!"

Dom Capers’ crew won just enough games to whet the appetite and kept a lot of others close enough to hold our interest. in a 16-game season, there were but a few blowouts and that’s the mark of an expansion team that won’t roam the NFL wilderness for decades like the Saints or the Buccaneers. The Texans are going places.

Be thankful enough that the NFL hiatus from Houston was relatively brief, that the facilities are first-rate and the drafts yielded some keepers. But, beyond that, be thankful that the club’s long-term prospects look good.

Houston beat two teams who made the playoffs this year, won two contests on the road and conquered the two foes that their citizens have found, historically, have been the hardest to beat – Dallas and Pittsburgh. Between them, they’ve appeared in 13 Super Bowls. Houston’s previous NFL representative failed over three decades to make (much less win) the Big One.

So the baby steps were pretty big as inaugural seasons go. Granted, a lot more work is needed, particularly on offense, before the Texans can think about reaching any games with roman numerals.

Before pondering the future, let’s reflect on some of the best moments of our mercurial past. Was it really only four months ago that Billy Miller was stretching into the end zone to score the Texans’ first touchdown on their first drive in their first game? Yep. Corey Bradford caught a bomb too as the offense did just enough to shut up the Cowboys before a national television audience. Houston gained the instant admiration of Cowboy-haters around the country.

The offense wasn’t responsible for two of the upsets. Special teams, in the form of a Jabar Gaffney-to-Aaron Glenn trick play punt return in Jacksonville set up Kris Brown’s winning field goal for our first road victory. Right then, you knew Tom Coughlin was toast.
Glenn was the star of the other road win – a shocker in Pittsburgh that defied logic. He picked off two Tommy Maddox tosses and ran them in for scores while Kenny Wright tallied the first defensive touchdown in franchise annals after running off with a Maddox fumble. The 24-6 outcome belies the fact that the Steelers outgained Houston by almost 400 yards.

The New York Giants found out that playing at Reliant Stadium was no bye week as the Texans held on to stun the playoff-bound Giants. Key interceptions late in the game kept New York from producing the points they needed to retake the lead at the end. Since the Giants were the first team ever to beat the Texans – back in the Hall of Fame Game in Canton – revenge was swift and tasty.

Sure, there were planty of down moments for the team as well. There were enough false starts, sacks of David Carr and dropped passes when Carr managed to stay upright to fill a 30-minute highlight video. The "cloud of dust" running attack was certainly nothing to write home about. There were fumbles, blown coverages and missed tackles at critical junctures.

But you’d expect that from guys who, apart from a handful of solid vets, were a collection of rookies and cast-offs. Capers had to be like a new papa with them – patient but stern.

Even this had a bright side. Carr suffered no serious injuries while taking every snap. Gaffney struggled to find his spot in the offense but he looks to have something he can build on. Unheralded free agents like Miller, Jeff Posey, Chad Stanley and Jason Bell showed they had talents that should keep them around for a few more years.

Looking ahead, the Texans will seek to shore up the offensive line as its first priority. The health of Tony Boselli and Ryan Young will be critical to the team’s personnel decisions here. I expect they’ll try to help themselves in free agency. While Chester Pitts and Fred Weary survived their on-the-job training, I don’t see where adding another rookie on the front wall will help Carr all that much. Color me skeptical about using the first draft pick on an offensive tackle.

Help at wide receiver, safety and running back will also be free agency goals. There may also be a new rush linebacker in our future.

General Manager Charlie Casserly has already mentioned his desire to trade down from the third slot of the college draft. I think there’s a good chance this will happen although I hope he doesn’t wait until Houston is on the clock before pulling the trigger. I don’t see the pussy cats in front of us (Bengals and Lions) dealing, so Houston is already the top team to broker with, in terms of landing the stud QB a half-dozen clubs covet. If there are no suitable offers, I’ll be happy adding Jimmy Kennedy or William Joseph to our defensive front.

As we dream of what the Texans’ future holds, we can chalk Year One up as a learning experience. The four wins may have disappointed some optimists but the Texans showed a knack for bagging the skins their fans most wanted to see. And even if the Tennessee Titans weren’t among them, the Texans showed they won’t be an easy mark for anyone in their division.

Houston, you’ve cleared the tower. It was a glorious lift-off. For that, I am thankful.

Bob Hulsey is still baffled by Houston’s upset of the Steelers. But he’s also baffled by how he managed to get a 20-inch saw through airport security. It was a Christmas gift – at least that’s what he swears it was.

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