November 6, 2003
Banks for the Memories
by Ric Sweeney
Just a year and a half into their existence, we’re starting to learn a few things about our little Texans. For instance, they never, and I do mean ever, lose a season opener. Never. And now we can officially add their knack for beating overrated, playoff-bound teams from the NFC to our list of certainties about the hometown heroes.
Last year, Houston bitch slapped the New York Giants, likely costing them home field advantage in an eventual wild card loss to the 49ers. On Sunday, they sucker-punched the Carolina Panthers, who entered the game with a conference best 6-1 record. At the halfway point of their second season, the Texans need just two more wins to eclipse their victory total from a year ago.
But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. There’s a still a lot of basking we need to do after Houston’s 14-10 victory over the Panthers, beginning with, and focusing on, Tony Banks’ remarkable performance. In the annals of Houston sports history, off the top of my head, only Gif Nielsen’s stunning upset of the Chargers in 1979’s divisional playoff would rank higher on my list of “Greatest Performances by a Back-Up.” (Thinking about that for a second, I could be short-changing the likes of Oliver Luck and Cody Carlson here, but, frankly, outside of Carlson’s victory over the Raiders in 1988, I’m blanking on memorable performances by Houston back-ups. Unless you count William Devane stepping in for Walter Matthau in The Bad News Bears in Breaking Training, in which case, all bets are off.)
After a sluggish first half, Banks looked like a completely different quarterback in the second half, picking apart Carolina’s defense by consistently making accurate throws only his receivers could catch. None more impressive than his 3rd-and-18 strike to Andre Johnson that literally zipped between two converging defensive backs before hitting Johnson in the hands. Banks was poised and confident (despite making his first start in nearly two years) and the team seemed to feed off of his leadership. After he stepped up in the third quarter, his teammates quickly followed, resulting in tough catches, key conversions and big stops, something the Texans haven’t been able to do in recent weeks. (Which isn’t a shot at the injured David Carr, but more a comment on a team that might cracking the learning curve.) Banks may never take another snap in a Texan uniform, but he’s earned a permanent place in my (you knew it was coming) memory bank for his heroics.
And I’m happy for the guy. That the Texans brought him back this year would seem to indicate he’s a good teammate, committed to David Carr’s development and accepting of his role on the outskirts of the spotlight. So I think it’s great that someone who doesn’t rock the boat and puts the team first, gets a chance to shine for a week.
Banks moment in the sun will likely turn cloudy, though. Carr’s expected back this week and let’s hope he’s anxious to dole out some payback, because Lord Earl Campbell, the Bengals and Bills, Houston’s next two opponents, each deserve an ass kicking as large as Texas, especially Cincinnati. I hate to sound like VH1’s The 80’s Strike Back: 1988 here, but I can’t think of a team on Houston’s schedule I want them to beat more than the Bengals, and, amazingly, neither Boomer Easiason or Sam Wyche is prominently involved.
But oh, those crazy Bengals. Last year, you might remember, they dragged a winless record into Reliant Stadium, guaranteed a victory and then proceeded to make good on the guarantee, thrice bitch-slapping the Texans in the span of about 48 hours. It remains the franchise’s lowest point (discounting Toro) and if this team has any form of giddyup, they’ll treat Cincinnati like Andy Dufresne on his first night in Shawshank.
From Ohio, the Texans then travel to the northeast to hopefully finish what they started last year against the Bills, when they played perhaps their best game to date, building a 17-3 first half lead before a second half meltdown let Drew Bledsoe and the gang back into the game. They eventually lost, 31-24, the franchise’s first “one that got away” game (recently replaced by the 19-14 loss to the Jets).
And if the Texans can right those two wrongs, Houston will be at .500 ten games into their second season. And rather unexpectedly, we’ll have Tony Banks to thank for his performance Sunday against the Panthers.
Ric Sweeney says let the kids play… let them play! Let them play!