Saturday, September 25, 2010

Battle of Texas actually matters this time

Eight years ago, after conducting some interviews on a warm August afternoon at Raiders training camp in Napa, Calif., I got a call from my new boss at Sports Illustrated.

Tony Romo


Matt Shaub

”I’m thinking about putting the Houston Texans on the cover this week,” managing editor Terry McDonell said excitedly. ”Everyone’s talking about their opening game against the Cowboys.”

A look of semi-disgust flashed across my face. I tried to make sure it didn’t show up in my voice, but I proceeded to tell McDonell I thought he should reconsider, that an expansion team hosting its first game against a struggling in-state rival wasn’t all that big a deal in NFL circles. Though McDonell, who still runs the magazine and its website, would enjoy a highly successful tenure, at the time I was worried that he had set himself up for ridicule only months after coming aboard.

”Don’t do this,” I pleaded.

He did it, fashioning a cover that screamed ”War For Texas” and featured a somewhat sensationalized quote from Cowboys safety Darren Woodson: ”We’ve got to win that game.” Grant Wahl’s well-written story talked up a rivalry that seemed a bit contrived, and included a quote from a Texans fan: ”You know, we could lose every other game this season. But if we just beat Dallas, I’ll be the happiest man on the face of the earth.”

Sure enough, the Texans came away with a 19-10 victory, creating a sense of excitement that lasted all the way until the following Sunday, when they began a five-game losing streak en route to a 4-12 season. And really, if you think about it, that ostentatious but ultimately hollow opening-day triumph was so Texans. No NFL franchise has gotten its fans so hyped up for alleged landmark moments yet failed to provide a satisfying follow-through.

In short, the Texans are pro football’s biggest tease. Still without a postseason appearance in eight seasons, Houston didn’t win more than two consecutive games until 2008. Though the Texans managed their first winning season (9-7) in ’09, they rallied only after a stretch of four consecutive defeats in November and early December had essentially killed their postseason hopes.

The reason I bring this up (besides wanting to give my ex-boss a laugh on an early autumn Friday) is that on Sunday, for the first time since quarterback David Carr led the home team to victory in the War For You Know What, the Texans will host the Cowboys in a regular season game.

And this time, it really is meaningful, or at least it has the potential to be.

You know the setup: Houston (2-0), riding a breakout performance from halfback Arian Foster, opened the season by beating the defending AFC champion Colts for the second time in 17 tries. Last Sunday the Texans clawed back from a 17-point second-half road deficit to the Redskins and pulled out a 30-27 overtime victory, with quarterback Matt Schaub throwing for 497 yards.

Meanwhile, the Cowboys (0-2), last year’s NFC East champions and this year’s Super Bowl hosts, lost to the Redskins and Bears and seem dangerously close to an Ari Gold-style meltdown.

But don’t take it from me; heed the words of safety Gerald Sensabaugh, who told reporters Monday, ”We look like a circus, like a bunch of clowns out there.”

Something tells me that, given the obvious stakes, the Cowboys will come out more like evil clowns on Sunday and do everything they can to disturb the mood at Reliant Stadium. I believe this because, with apologies to Woodson, they’ve got to win this game.

For the previous eight seasons, that opponent’s desperation would have been enough – the Texans, with a chance to step up to the big top, would have folded like a … wait for it … circus tent.

I’m not convinced the Texans will do that now. I think they’ll bring their “A” game, too, and treat their fans to an entertaining showdown between in-state rivals rife with significance.

It’ll be, you know, a War For Texas – and perhaps for something greater.

Author: Michael Silver, Yahoo! Sports

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