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December 13, 2002
Draft This!
By Ric Sweeney

The Texans’ 2002 season has officially become a living, breathing MasterCard commercial:

Beating the odds and bringing football back to Houston: $700 million

Signing your franchise quarterback to a long-term deal: $46 million

Watching your new team punk the Cowboys and Steelers in their inaugural season: Priceless.

To call the Texans’ inaugural campaign a success would be a quick and easy way onto the list of biggest understatements of all-time. It’s been an expectation-shattering success when you toss in further wins against Jacksonville and New York, not to mention the team’s overall competitiveness week in and week out. Frankly, I’m in a state of previously undiscovered giddy. And if Houston somehow beats Tennessee on December 29th… I may spontaneously combust with joy and excitement.

It’s funny, four months ago, I had no idea what to expect from the expansion Texans, had no idea what it’d be like to root for an expansion team… and yet, here I am, Christmas right around the corner, and they’re like the gift that keeps on giving. For maybe the millionth time this year, I’ll tip my hat to Bob McNair, Charley Casserly, Dom Capers and a very heartfelt et al for what they’ve accomplished this year. My only disappointment is that not every fan is basking in the same warm and fuzzy glow.

And that’s a shame.

I’m, of course, referencing those Texan fans (and I don’t think I’ve ever used a term more loosely in my life) that want their spiffy new team, the team handed to us as our reward for enduing six years of no football, to lose; often if at all humanly possible. In fact, the more the merrier, if you can believe… no, stomach, that.

And why are these, these… “fans” wishing such a fate upon their team? Try this one on for size: more losses translates to a higher pick in next year’s draft. And, as we all know, if there’s any certainty left in this mad, mad, unpredictable NFL world of ours, it’s the annual selection of college football players. (Insert eye-rolling smilie icon here.)

Just think how much fun it’d be to watch our team tank their way to a 1-15 season, and, as the cherry on top, draft the next Ki-Jana Carter! It’s a win-win situation for all involved; or, rather, lose-lose (wink, wink). Texan season tickets would fly off the shelves! Free agents would line up to play for the Texans! After all, as Bengal fans can attest, you can’t spell “success” without “sucs.” (Eye roll, redux.)

Obviously, Houston desperately needs to add topflight talent to their roster, and I would never argue otherwise. In fact, at this point, 13 games into their inaugural season, it’s far easier (and quicker) to list their strengths: quarterback, kicker, punter and a sprinkling of good-to-great players, most of them on defense (Seth Payne, Gary Walker, Jamie Sharper, Aaron Glenn and Ryan Young. If ever healthy, Tony Boselli).

Bringing in a stud collegiate prospect would certainly improve a team that’s already heading in the right direction, but doing so is much easier said than done. Which makes this notion that Houston’s better off losing games such a crock.

First, and foremost, winning is never, ever, never a bad thing. Ever. I can’t think a single scenario in which it’s trumped by losing with one exception: when you find yourself competing against your wife’s boss in an obstacle course race at her company’s picnic. But short of inexplicably landing smack-dab in the middle of a Michael Keaton movie, you should always do anything and everything within your power to win. Period.

Losing is a disease and repeated exposure to it can infect and ruin teams, making them indifferent to the idea of always being on the short end of things. And it’s only known cure — winning — becomes all the more elusive when the losing mounts, like the antidote being kicked around at the beginning of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.

So what’s wrong with the young Texans tasting victory’s sweet ambrosia? I’d rather they develop a taste, if not a craving for it now, because it’s going to make them want it even more next year. And even more the year after that. And even more the year after that, until, finally, they’re Jennifer Connelly in Requiem for a Dream, serving up their body in an effort to get that elusive fix of heroin they can no longer monetarily afford.

And that’s how I like my football teams: desperate, bewildered and willing to go to whatever lengths necessary to secure their drug of choice, in this case, victory. Far better than cheering for a team that’s willing to accept that 7-9 somehow represents progress. If I wanted to root for a franchise continuously spinning its wheels and living in the deep, dark pit of denial, I’d be a Cowboy fan. And you don’t get that jones for winning by playing for a more favorable draft position. Trust me.

Besides, as we should all know by now, draft position guarantees you nothing. Charley Casserly’s track record alone proves that out. Not to bag the guy, but Michael Westbrook and Heath Shuler were both top five selections of his while he was running the show in Washington. Would tanking this season really be worth it to secure the right to draft the next Shuler or Westbrook? Personally, I’d rather bask in the glow of more victories, something I haven’t been able to do since, well, 1993, and let Casserly and the NFL’s largest scouting staff earn their paychecks. I’d say they did OK this year.

I mean, it’s not like this is the NBA draft, where there’s one or two gamebreakers and a bunch of complimentary players. Last year alone, Roy Williams, John Henderson, Dwight Freeney, Donte’ Stallworth and Jeremy Shockey were all selected between the 8th and 14th picks of the first round, which is likely where Houston would wind up with 1 more victory, as there are currently 10 teams either tied or within a game of Houston, either way, plus Cincinnati at one win and two others with six wins. That’s 13 teams total; assuming Houston finishes ahead, or behind, whichever, all of them and gets the 14th pick… they’re still selecting in the draft’s first half, and, as long as Casserly, et al, are doing their jobs, should still wind up with a productive, possibly even impactful player.

And hopefully, the player they do eventually draft will play hard, play with pride, he won’t point fingers and he won’t give up. If so, then no matter where he’s picked, he’ll fit in nicely with his new teammates, who embody all that and so much more. I like these guys and I want to see them succeed. I wish everyone else did, too. That would be priceless.

Can Ric Sweeney refill your eggnog for you? Get you something to eat? Drive you out to the middle of nowhere and leave you for dead? Kris Brown Kris Brown Return to Houston Pro Football If you have a question, comment or suggestion, contact Ric Catch up on past installments of Quick Slant