That’s the Ticket

September 10, 2002
That’s the Ticket
By Ric Sweeney

Sunday’s monumental win over the Cowboys was not all champaign and caviar dreams. Far from it. While Texan fans basked in the glow of the city’s greatest sports triumph since June, 14, 1995, a cold, hard realization crept up on me. And while I hate to be the one that rains on everyone’s parade, well, it bears mentioning: do you realize we have to wait four more years before we get to demoralize the Cowboys again? It’s enough to take the air right out of your sails, isn’t it?

Then again, that means whiney, sniveling, arrogant Cowboy fans have to live with a scarlet “19-10” pinned to their chests until 2006… so, wait, maybe that isn’t such a bad thing. Continue your mass celebration, Houston!

Believe it or not, as late as Friday, I was still trying to come to terms with my Texan fandom. No question I was into it, but I wasn’t into it. If the Oilers were that special someone you worked your ass off to keep happy, only to watch the relationship ultimately fail, then the Texans felt like the rebound girlfriend who you date shortly thereafter; she’s nice and pretty, but… well, she’s not that special someone you made so many sacrifices for.

And no matter how much closer we came to September 8, 2002, I still had this uneasy, “Why do I like but not love the Texans” feeling. They just needed a name, I reasoned… but that was announced and it didn’t help. They needed some players, I told myself, an identity… but that didn’t really seem to stoke any fires, either. Just wait until the games start, then it’ll be full-throttle, I said. But five preseason games later, I was still not very passionate. What the hell was wrong with me?

Which is what made the Texans’ decision to open with the Cowboys such a Godsend. As I’m sure many of you know, Cowboy hatred transcends franchises; you don’t have to be an Oiler fan to hate the Dallas Freaking Cowboys. And Friday afternoon, seeing all the Cowboy fans wearing Cowboy memorabilia (I live in Dallas, FYI) and trying to talk smack with me about an expansion team really seemed to center me. Like Navin R. Johnson, I had found my special purpose. By kickoff, I was so on board the Texans’ bandwagon, fully and completely, that I was Sandra Bullock in Speed – if the bandwagon dipped below 55MPH, we were all gonna careen off the road and into oblivion.

And what a night it turned out to be. WHAT A NIGHT! My heart now pumps steele blue, battle red and liberty white-colored blood. And though I always held them in high esteem, I saw clearly for the first time how fortunate we are to have Bob McNair and Charley Casserly running the show.

For nearly three years, they somehow managed to punch the right buttons with such consistency that I guess the Houston sports fan in me was always too busy bracing for the inevitable fallout to really, truly appreciate their efforts. I expected Casserly to moon a wedding party any second. Fortunately, he was too distracted building a talented team that can play with most anybody (play, not necessarily beat) and hiring a coach that, let’s be honest, at the time of the move, was generally met with, not disdain, but… what’s the word…? Ah, yes: “Eh.”

I’ll admit, while I wasn’t unhappy with Dom Capers’ hire, I wasn’t really stirred by it, either; I thought there were younger, “sexier” names available – coaching “stalwarts” like Gary Kubiak, Marv Lewis and Butch Davis… Now it’s virtually impossible for me to imagine them, or any other coach, pulling off what Capers did Sunday night. Which leads to an important question: is Dom single and does he like 30-year old, unemployed men who live with their parents? Was that out loud…?

Against the Cowboys, Capers was poised; he had his team ready to play — no, that’s not entirely accurate; he had his team chomping at the bit, unable to contain their unbridled passion to play — and he coached circles around Dave Campo. Literally. Capers was the coaching equivalent of Charo Sunday night, sashaying up, down and all around the bewildered, Admiral Stockdale-like Campo. “Who am I? Why am I here?”

Even during the oh-so-brief stretches when the Cowboys accidentally stumbled upon some things that worked, Capers adjusted and kept applying the pressure. He matched Bruce Coslet step-for-step — nope, again, not accurate: he was a step ahead of Coslet all night. It was like he was pulling Jedi mind tricks on him (“You don’t want to use Michael Wiley again… let Quincy Carter try and win the game”), and seemed to have his guys in place to make plays all night long, especially his secondary. Aaron Glenn was a beast from start to finish, schooling the young Antonio Bryant; Marcus Coleman made big hits early to help set the tone and Kenny Wright seemed to spend a lot of time in the Cowboys’ backfield.

Even after the disastrous turn of events at the end of the first half (the penalties and Jermaine Lewis’ nearly cataclysmic drop), a stretch that looked every bit like the kind that normally derails a young, inexperienced team, Capers’ kept his poise, stayed true to his game plan, and was able to help his players overcome the temporary setbacks.

He and his coaches knew they could beat the Cowboys; they had to play mistake-free football, win the field position battle and exploit the Cowboys’ weaknesses. They were, by and large, 3-for-3. Not to overstate, or get too caught up in my abundant giddy-ness, but it looked every bit like the work a certain defending Super Bowl champion coach, who last year, proved schemes and preparation can make up for a lack of talent.

And for Capers’ Herculean efforts, I get to spend the next four years making fun of friends and neighbors here in the DFW area, even those I don’t know and who may or may not be Cowboy fans; I get to answer all the jackasses who warned me I was going to be embarrassed Sunday night; I get to point and jeer at all the dolts who were ready to build a wing in Canton, Ohio after Quincy Carter’s “electric” preseason. Best of all, I get to drive to work every morning for at least a week and listen to the whiniest, bitchiest fans in the entire free world collectively jump off the Cowboys’ bandwagon and turn their attention to the Yankees’ playoff march and the Lakers’ preseason.

In short, I’m back, baby! Bring on the Chargers!

Even though he probably shouldn’t, Ric Sweeney admits he wrote this entire article pantless. In fact, he’s been pantless since 12:28 in the fourth quarter Sunday.