September 11, 2007
Opening Week Opinions
by Bob Hulsey
I believe the first Sunday of the NFL season should be a national holiday. I sort of resent the league taking one game and making that the seasonal kickoff, surrounded by Super Bowl-like hoopla. Every team begins 0-0, not just two. It’s Tom Brady, L.T., Mario Williams and John Lynch beginning another season too, not just Peyton Manning and Reggie Bush. Therefore, I recognize Sunday as the official kickoff and that’s worth celebrating.
With that belief, I schedule the first Sunday of the NFL season off from work every year. This year, I was presented a special problem. Both of my teams would be playing at the same time and neither on local television. Time to find a sports bar.
Last year, I found a nearby hole-in-the-wall bar built from an abandoned convenience store. It was dank, the food was marginal and there was not a female face to be found in the place but it did have Sunday Ticket in high def with enough darkness and solitude to really focus on the games with minimal distractions.
I drove into their parking lot at 11:50 a.m. and walked in to find one solitary bartender and no customers. "Perfect!" I thought. "I’ve got the place to myself and can set up both games side by side." But as I settled in, the bartender said. "Just so you know, we don’t have Sunday Ticket this year."
Oh, oh! Oh, oh! Ten minutes to Wapner. Definitely. Aaaghh!
In my mind, I raced through other options I could get to in time for the kickoff. I chose an established sports bar attached to a hotel, took their last parking spot and possibly the last chair inside. It’s a cool place in that they have islands of multiple TV sets built into walls so it’s easy to switch the eyes from game to game but there was no high def. It was suitable enough.
I sat between a Chiefs fan and a Bills fan rooting against my rooting interests. I’ve learned over the years to stay calm and not gloat or taunt such people. I try to keep most of my comments along the analytical. "Hey, that was a good tackle," I’d say. "The corner had good coverage;" "That looked like a fumble;" "I’ve had girlfriends who could block better," etc.
The two exceptions came when Mario Williams recovered a Kansas City fumble and ran it in for a touchdown. "He’s got more touchdowns than Bush!" I repeated loudly until somebody acknowledged it.
The other was Jason Elam’s field goal to beat Buffalo. How often do you see a game where a team never has the lead until after the final gun sounds? Elam’s buzzer-beater didn’t clear the goalposts until time had expired.
Elam’s boot also set off the sort of chain reaction one can only experience in a sports bar. As Bronco fans erupted in cheers, Redskin fans in another area erupted moments later as they watched a field goal conquer the Dolphins in overtime just before nearby Packer fans exploded with joy watching Mason Crosby boot a field goal to down the Eagles. Amidst the elation were a few Bills, Dolphins and Eagles fans slumped in defeat.
Bills fans also had the horror of watching one of their own collapse on the field unable to move. At the time of this writing, Kevin Everett lies paralyzed and heavily sedated in a Buffalo hospital. The former Port Arthur Jefferson star’s football career is over and his battle now is to regain enough feeling below the neck to someday be able to breathe, pick up a fork or walk again.
While much has been learned since players like Dennis Byrd and Mike Utley suffered paralyzing on-field injuries, I think more can be done to prevent them, including mandatory checks of the spinal column to identify those at risk for career-ending paralysis. Texans’ defensive coach Frank Bush is one whose career was cut short by such a check after an examination revealed a narrowing of his spinal column. He no longer can play the game, but he can still walk and hug his children, which is more important. Certainly, Everett’s hit on Dominick Hixon ought to be shown in high schools and colleges throughout the country as an example of the wrong way to tackle and the possible consequences of hitting with your helmet.
To be clear, I don’t want to see players encased in bubble wrap. Football is a violent sport and everyone who sets foot on the field knows this. But full or partial paralysis shouldn’t be "part of the game" and anything that can be done to minimize the risk to players should be attempted.
Back at the sports bar, on a small set off to the edge of the bank of screens was the grainy image of the Jacksonville-Tennessee contest. The Titans, whose local popularity was my main reason for being at the bar to begin with, accomplished little on offense but it was just enough to upend the Jaguars, 13-10. It led me to a fantasy league question: Can a quarterback be a "touchdown vulture"?
Many of my fellow Texan fans are upset with the local CBS affiliate for showcasing the Titans rather than showing the Texans. Personally, I think their anger is misdirected. The TV station is simply responding to popular demand as any business should. The anger ought to be at the Texans themselves who have continually failed to give Austin fans a reason to root for them. There are no shortage of Aggies associated with the Texans, from the starting center to the head coach but the Longhorns have been barely represented even as they’ve produced numerous first day draft picks. The Titans not only employ Vince Young, but also ex-Horns Bo Scaife, Ahmard Hall and Michael Griffin. Meanwhile, "t.u." has basically seen an "f.u." from Reliant Park.
Now, I try as best I can to evaluate players for what they can do as pros rather than where they played in college. I openly cheered for Oklahoma’s Adrian Peterson to become a Texan while pleading for them to pass over Texas’ Cedric Benson for example. However, not every fan sees things that way. They want to root for all their college favorites on Sundays once they can no longer play on Saturdays. The Texans have marketed themselves in Austin with a sense of apathy that says they really aren’t interested in attracting Central Texas fans. It’s no mystery to me why the Texans have been marginalized around here. They’ve done more to alienate local fans than attract them.
So far, I’ve said little about what everyone else wants to talk about – Houston’s thrilling season-opening spanking of the Kansas City Chiefs. But I’ve seen this scene before. In their previous five seasons, the Texans have always lost (and looked worse doing it) during the second week of the season than they did the first week of the season. Sunday’s trip to North Carolina will be a truer test of what we can expect from the 2007 Texans than what we saw against the Chiefs.
But the game won’t be on here in Austin. Looks like I’ll be trudging to another sports bar and wedging myself between Chiefs and Bills fans again.
Bob Hulsey is now accepting donations to buy a high-def satellite system with Sunday Ticket for his home all to keep you, the public, better informed.