October 10, 2006
Cowboys Evoke Fond Memories
by Bob Hulsey
They say you never forget your first time.
For the Houston Texans, the first time was a thrilling 19-10 upset of the cross-state Dallas Cowboys on September 8, 2002. Even the staunchest fans could not have forseen how the Texans would dominate "America’s Team" on national television in the franchise’s first regular season game. It was definitely un-Oiler-like.
Basking in the unrestrained joy of that night, how fooled we were. Surely Dom Capers was the perfect coach for this team, we thought. Charley Casserly was a genius who found a great defense in the expansion draft then picked a golden child quarterback, David Carr, first overall. Corey Bradford was our Michael Irvin and Billy Miller was our Jay Novacek. Bob McNair returned a swagger to a land that had watched the NFL leave the fourth-largest city for, of all places, a city with no major professional teams.
Now, in some relationships, the romance is hot and everything is terrific at first. Only later do we notice the little quirks that will drive us mad, the drip drip drip of little slights and failures until you threaten in anger to break up. What we dismissed as "cute" during the spring now rubs us to our last nerve in summertime.
Just five years later, Capers is gone, Casserly is gone, Bradford is gone, and certainly the glow of the Houston Texans is gone. Some think McNair, the man who came up with $700 million to bring the new franchise here, is a scrooge while others think he’s a moron. They claim he has squandered the goodwill of the fans by passing up on the hometown hero quarterback and the "once-in-a-lifetime" media darling running back for a defensive lineman who looks like he belongs on the cast of "Lost" half the time. Some, I’m sure, will never forgive McNair for it.
The golden boy quarterback is known around the league as the human punching bag, the victim of over 200 sacks to his chiseled body in four years. Only linemen Steve McKinney and Chester Pitts remain with Carr from the offense that shook the state of Texas four years ago. Only Seth Payne and Kailee Wong remain from the defense.
In many ways, rookie head coach Gary Kubiak has as much or even more to prove to the fans of Houston than Dom Capers did the last time we fought the Cowboys in earnest. It will be tougher. The honeymoon is over and the fans of Houston are restless. They fear they’ve given their hearts to "Oilers II: The Sequel", a team that can never quite get it done during the good times and sets new standards for incompetence during the bad times.
A former ballboy with the Oilers and an Aggie quarterback before a long career as John Elway’s caddy in Denver followed by Super Bowl success as their offensive coordinator, Kubiak knows Houston’s angst. It remains to be seen if he is able to overcome it. He has an offensive system he believes in strongly. During his tenure in Denver, the Broncos tried all sorts of defensive schemes, and I don’t believe Kubiak is married to any of them. He’s rigid about his offense, but he’ll take whatever works on defense. It looks like it may take him awhile to find the right combination and fix some glaring holes. The close win over Miami at least shows that there is potential for progress.
Beating the Cowboys in Irving will not be easy. For one thing, Dave Campo is no longer coaching Dallas, and they’ve moved on from their post-Nineties hangover. Campo never could figure out how to gameplan against a 3-4 defense and that played right into Capers’ hands that night. The Cowboys also don’t have Quincy Carter at quarterback anymore. The Tuna is at the helm now, and the Cowboys are a legitimate playoff team.
Pass defense has been the most glaring weakness of the Texans, and it’s easy to imagine His Controversialness and fellow wideout Terry Glenn getting open early and often. The key will be to pressure Dallas quarterback Drew Bledsoe, a more immobile passer than Miami’s Daunte Culpepper. Of course, the more they blitz the more they leave the great Cowboy receivers in man coverage against Houston’s questionable secondary.
The Texans have a prolific pair of wideouts themselves in Andre Johnson and Eric Moulds. They will need to have great games to beat Dallas. Carr has re-emerged as a credible NFL quarterback, if not an above average one. Remember those August cries for Sage Rosenfels to lead the team? Haven’t heard those in awhile.
The key on offense though will be an o-line which has taken its share of abuse but has generally held tough through the first four games. Ask Mark Brunell if the Cowboys know how to pressure a quarterback. The line is going to need to open up some running lanes and keep Carr upright long enough for him to find Johnson and Moulds.
I have confidence in Gary Kubiak’s tenure as head coach of the Texans. I believe he knows what he’s doing and how to make the Texans winners. You may not see it this year or even next year, but I think he has the passion and the connections to build a playoff team here, maybe someday a champion. If he can’t stand to watch on critical downs, let him turn his back. Just don’t turn yours on him.
I also believe McNair will give Kubiak the resources he needs to get the job done. The Texans won’t fail from lack of capital.
Unlike four years ago, the Texans-Cowboys game will be a local affair, probably unseen by most of the country. Rest assured, though, that all of Texas will be watching, and it is the perfect time for Kubiak to repeat the magic of that wonderful first time. Winning this week will get a lot of the critics off his back (whichever way it’s turned) for the next 10 months, buying him time to right the ship even further.
There may never be another night as memorable as the first time, but beating your cross-state rival never gets old.
While it may seem tempting, Bob Hulsey urges none of the Texans to stomp on Terrell Owens’ head when he takes off his helmet.
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