A Ride on McKinney Avenue

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January 17, 2006
A Ride on McKinney Avenue

by Ric Sweeney

It didn’t feel like the appropriate time to bring it up. Steve McKinney and I were vacationing with our families, an annual retreat all these many years despite my not having a wife or any children to speak of, and the fact I wasn’t actually formally invited to attend the McKinney’s annual retreat. Still, we always had fun, laughing, and being friends.

But this year, I figured the last thing Steve wanted me to bring up was the 2005 season. Likely ranking below that on his list of things he didn’t want to discuss was me asking if he’d mind discussing the 2005 season for the website. But the sun was shinning, the birds were singing, his credit card was being put through its paces trying to keep up with my bar tab, so I figured, “What the hey…”

And that’s when, much to my surprise, Steve actually approached me, only it was actually a police officer representing Steve that approached me. After being whisked off the premises and warned for a “final time,” I slipped my email address to the arresting officer along with my co-pilot, Mr. Abraham Lincoln, and asked if he’d do this soon-to-be felon a favor and pass it on to Steve just in case the Texan did want to get some things off his chest, set some records straight and answer more of my inane questions, as he had done twice before.

And wouldn’t you know it, Steve was game, despite the recently instituted restraining order. What follows is my bi-annual postseason state of the Texan address with Steve McKinney.

Ric: First things first, will Tony Boselli play this year… oh, wait – those are left over from three years ago… How about this: Now that the season is over, how are you feeling, physically? I mean, how do you recover from such a long grind and how long does it take? Do you milk it as long as possible to get out of chores and stuff around the house? Like, "Back off, woman! My quad is still sore from the Colt game!!"

Steve: Truthfully, I’m not one to just sit around and do nothing. I’m a workaholic by nature, so the Monday after the season (ended), I actually cleaned out my garage and re-arranged everything. I had a list of honey-do’s that I had put off for months, and after the season I had no more excuses. Generally, it takes me about two weeks to feel recovered after the season, but this year I came out really good, with no significant injuries so I figured I’d get a head start.

Ric: What were some positives from this past season, besides, obviously, it ending? Maybe things that went on behind the scenes, or under the radar that wouldn’t necessarily be evident to fans?

Steve: Probably the most positive I see coming out of this season is that everyone found out how hard it is to win in this league. Just because you were close to a winning season before, doesn’t mean you’re on your way to the playoffs. I know that everyone will be extremely eager to get back out there on the field and make Houston proud next season. Another thing people probably don’t know is that Seth Wand really took his Halo 2 skills to the next level. Before my eyes, he blossomed into a level 30 player. Also, Bennie Joppru was cast for several overseas underwear modeling jobs. That’s about it.

Ric: Obviously, no one thought you were a 2-win team back in July. Many thought you might even be a playoff team. What were your expectations for this year? And do expectations really differ from year-to-year, or are they universally the same (ie win your division, reach the playoffs)?

Steve: Going through a 2-14 season, especially like the one we went through, is very difficult. It’s one thing when you’ve got a rookie quarterback, or you’re rebuilding and have a bad year, it’s another to have a 2-14 season under high expectations. Every team goes into each season expecting to win. That’s just the way it is. We are conditioned to always expect victory. If you didn’t, you wouldn’t even stand a chance. Truthfully, objective predictions from media or fans are usually a lot more accurate than a player’s predictions, because we always expect to be making the playoffs.

Ric: Tell us what it’s like to have a season like this past one. Is the vibe in the locker room different? Does it fracture a team, or help bring it closer, or…?

Steve: Losing is part of the game. You go out every week expecting to win, but you’re not going to win every game. I mean it’s only happened once, and that was over 30 years ago. However, I don’t think losing 14 of them is part of the game. It makes the season go so slow. After a loss, you have two days (Monday and Tuesday) to think about it, and those two days feel like time is standing still. You can’t wait to get out there Wednesday and put that loss behind you and start working on your next opponent. On the other hand, after a win, everybody is in a better mood and the attitude is just better. When I was in Indianapolis, we one 10 games in a row one year and that season felt like it just flew by.

Ric: Regarding coach Capers, his job was in jeopardy for most of the year and I’m guessing you guys weren’t oblivious to that fact. As a player, how does that speculation impact you, if at all? Does it make it harder to do your job?

Steve: We all heard the speculation from the media after we started 0-5, but we all knew that if we turned things around the second half of the season everything would be alright. When we continued to lose, it became pretty clear that it was inevitable. I know that everyone on the team has a tremendous amount of respect for coach Capers. He handled this situation like he does everything else in his life: with class and dignity. As a player, it’s difficult to play under those circumstances, but in the end, you have to be a professional and do your job no matter what’s going on around you.

Ric: The OL is often blamed for many of the team’s problems, yet, had he not been hurt, Domanick Davis would have likely rushed for 1,000 yards for the third year in a row. Wouldn’t this seem to indicate the unit is maybe better than people realize and does the other perception bother you?

Steve: Yes, we do receive our fair amount of criticism, but that’s part of job. Whenever a team is struggling, people will always blame the coach, the quarterback or the offensive line; that’s just the way it is. Do I think all the criticism is fair? No. Each week, we spend hours watching other offensive lines block against the defense we’re facing that week, so we get to compare ourselves against a lot of other lines. I can assure you that we aren’t as bad as we’re portrayed. Yeah, we gave up a lot of sacks this year, but all those can’t be blamed on the offensive line. We were the only team in the NFL to have at least two starters at every position along the offensive line. That makes it very difficult to have continuity, which is very important. I think the fact that we finished 7th in the NFL in average yards per rush on a 2-14 team proves that we are a much more capable line than we are given credit.

Ric: Here you go, a chance to, for the final time, address those who would accuse you of tanking games – go!

Steve: Ridiculous. No professional in this day and age would even consider something like that.

Ric: Last question about 2005, and it’s not really a question, but a statement. It was obviously a down year; but I thought, by and large, the players handled it with class and dignity, especially near the end when fans were openly rooting for Reggie Bush, etc. How, in the wake of such a tough year, did you guys maintain your composure, answer every question about tanking and still go out and play hard each and every week?

Steve: I agree. As difficult as the season was, the players and coaches handled it extremely well. We’ve all seen how other teams can implode during a rough season and go after each other in the media, but this team didn’t. We just kept working and went out each week and played hard. I think the organization has made a good effort to keep guys on this team with good character.

Ric: Looking ahead, do players care about the draft? Fans do, because it represents new beginnings, fresh faces, and it feels like a parting gift for a rough season, but do players get into it? I mean, do you really care who the team drafts? Do you watch it? Do you hate Mel Kiper like the rest of us?

Steve: I usually watch a lot of the draft. I actually enjoy it. It’s fun to see where players go in the draft compared to where they are predicted to go by great minds like Mel Kiper, Jr.

Ric: Same question, regarding the coaching staff – do players engage in any of the speculation? Do they have favorites or maybe talk to buddies around the league about candidates? What if… oh, I don’t know – they shared the same alma mater as you, to use a TOTALLY random example. Would that be cool?

Steve: I think everyone was interested in what would happen after the season as far as the coaching staff was concerned. When a coach gets fired, it’s a big deal because it affects you as a player, so you definitely talk about it and follow it closely.

Ric: Gary Kubiak is among the leading candidates to land the head coaching gig – what do you know about him from your travels around the league?

Steve: I know he has a lot of respect around the league from coaches, as well as players. He’s had a great deal of success running the offense in Denver the last decade and I think he would be a great hire for the Texans’ organization. Not only is he a Houston native, but he’s also a great player’s coach.

Ric: What about your future with the team? With your deal up next year, have you heard anything from Texan management about possibly restructuring to lengthen the contract and keep you in town a few more years?

Steve: We spoke before the season and agreed to wait and talk after the season. But considering all the question marks with the team and the fact that we do not have a head coach puts all those talks on hold. I’m sure that once our coach is hired, we’ll sit down and work something out.

Ric: You saw extensive time at guard this year; depending on the new coaching staff and how that shakes out, would you be open to moving there permanently next season?

Steve: Like I’ve always said, I’ll play whatever position they want me to play. I feel comfortable at either position having played each of them four years in the NFL. Obviously, I feel a little more comfortable at center right now since that’s all I’ve played the last four years. However, I know that if I went through an off-season at guard, I would have no problems.

Ric: OK, last question: what are your plans for the offseason and will I be involved in any of them?

Steve: Unless you have a second career as a hunting or fishing guide, I doubt you’ll be involved. Actually, aside from hunting and fishing, I’ll spend a lot of time at my three Velocity Sports Performance (www.velocitysp.com) facilities around the Houston area. Like I said, I’m a workaholic so without my business, I would definitely drive my wife crazy.

As usual, Steve was first class cool and we offer our many thanks. I was actually initially hesitant to contact him; I mean, rehashing a tough year can’t be his idea of fun. But he literally responded within 24 hours and didn’t back down, even when I again successfully channeled Stone Phillips and lobbed some grenades his way.

And in exchanging emails with him, it reminded me that these guys are people, too, which sounds trite, I know – but bear with me. We hold athletes on such a pedestal, and for obvious reasons. They have rare gifts. But more than that, they’re living out all of our childhood fantasies (who didn’t want to be an NFL QB when we were kids?), so it’s easy for us to become invested; sometimes, too invested. We’re probably too happy when they win and too upset when they lose. And we take it personally, like they’re ruining this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, how dare they!

But the bottom line is that, at the end of the day, they’re husbands, fathers, brothers and sons. They try as hard as they can, hate losing as much as we hate watching them lose and care every bit as much as we do. So it was nice to spend a few minutes with a guy who reminds us of that by exuding class and dignity and who represents the franchise as well as Steve McKinney does.

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