January 29, 2004
Setting a New Curve
by Ric Sweeney
None of us wanted the Titans or the Cowboys, collectively or otherwise, waging war for NFL supremacy on the grounds of Reliant Stadium. No way, no how. Not now, not ever. Switching places with baseball player and recently outed gay porn star Kazuhito Tadano on his first road trip would have been a more inviting alternative.
So when Tennessee joined Dallas on the playoff sidelines three weeks ago, we all let out a collective sigh of – not really relief – but something more in the neighborhood of ecstasy, which, in hindsight, maybe wasn’t the wisest choice of words considering I just invoked the mental image of Kazuhito Tadano.
(Random aside: did anyone at Tadano’s press conference to address the gay porn issue think to ask the Japanese import whether he was a pitcher or a catcher? That was out loud, wasn’t it? Kill me.)
But is Houston’s first Super Bowl in 30 years (as host; we still have no clue what’s its like to actually have our favorite team participating in one) really that much better off with the Carolina Panthers clocking in?
Uhm… not so fast, there, buddy…
Consider that in nine years of existence, the Panthers have played in as many conference championship games (two) as the Oilers did in their 37-year tenure in Houston. And Carolina actually won one. Not that I’m bitter; the Oilers are old news, but the Texans aren’t, and suddenly, just when everything seemed right with the Texans’ direction, you’ve got the expansion team to end all expansion teams, who first played with a Super Bowl on the line in just their second year, raising the bar once again for our up-and-coming young ‘uns.
And that isn’t right.
Expansion teams are supposed to struggle for a long time. The previous two expansion teams prior to Carolina and Jacksonville – Tampa Bay and Seattle – took nearly 30 years to reach a Super Bowl (the Buccaneers last year). We expect futility; not for the life of the franchise, but there’s a significant grace period prominently involved with expansion teams. So right now, the Panthers are a lot like the nerd in the back of the classroom acing the impossibly hard chemistry test and wreaking havoc with the bell curve for the rest of us dumbasses.
And now they get to spend a week in the Texans’ palatial new crib flaunting it, sticking it in our faces. The same team that won more games in its second season than the Texans have in two full years are in the Super Bowl, led not by the franchise quarterback they made a big to do about drafting, but a journeyman who’s last name requires sobriety in order to pronounce it correctly. That’s chilling.
So with that hanging over their heads, the Texans stare into year three, still seemingly on the right track, but a track that seems light years removed from a Super Bowl. In fact, I shouldn’t even be using “Texans” and “Super Bowl” in the same sentence, beyond the obvious ties this week.
It’s not fair to Bob McNair, Charley Casserley, Dom Capers, the players or any of the fans. And yet, the Panthers are making that a bit of a problem. Now we have a franchise setting a standard that might make anything Houston accomplishes seem disappointing, unless, of course, they join Carolina by making it to the big game within their first decade of existence.
Which, of course, is what we all want, but the reality is that getting to a Super Bowl is hard. Even teams that know how to do it, struggle to get there with any consistency. The Cowboys, 49ers and Steelers, who, between them, have, like, 95 championships, haven’t sent a member to the Bowl in eight years.
And it’s not like, in Carolina, we’re talking about one of the NFL’s elite franchises, either. This was the same team that won once in 2001 after it was driven into the ground by George Seifert, who took over a franchise that was floundering after the initial start-up plan (load up on veterans) eventually backfired. Maybe it’s an indictment of today’s NFL as much as it is anything else. And reaching a Super Bowl does take a lot of luck. But parity and luck can only go so far. You still have to perform on the field. And to that end, you have complete control over how your franchise fares.
You have to find a bright young mind who is not only a good coach, but the right coach for your team. You also have to take a chance, financially, on a potentially big pay-off like Stephen Davis, even if he has just as big a downside. You have to find a way to exploit a mega talent like Julius Peppers, who came into the league a playmaker with questions and make a determined effort to build your offensive line behind a solid, but unspectacular behemoth like Jordan Gross.
Not that anyone should read into the above, knowing that a coach like John Fox, Davis, Peppers and Gross were all available to Casserley and the Texans. Capers, David Carr, our own Davis, Domanick, and Chester Pitts have worked out nicely for the Texans. But sometimes it’s a fine line like that that separates two conference championship games in 9 years from two in 37 years.
It’s enough to make you pine for that Cowboy-Titan Super Bowl.
Ric Sweeney has been busy attempting to obliterate 2003 from the record books. He has thus far been met with much resistance. But he’ll carry on until the year to end all years no longer exists.