The Arrival of the Contender

Do not underestimate the positive impact Wade Phillips' decision to remain in Houston will have on the Texans' defense this Sunday. And let it be known that only to winning organizations do things like this happen. The players will be fired up and well aware that there are no excuses for anything less than 100% effort in all phases of the game, including keeping their chins up. Phillips' desire to stay with these players is a supreme vote of confidence in them. Sure, Phillips wants to be close to family and that very well was likely the mitigating factor in his decision to remain in Houston, but if the defense had me-first players he would not want to remain. If Phillips didn't think the organization was pointed in the right direction, its also difficult to see him staying.

In deciding to remain in Houston as the teams' defensive coordinator, Phillips essentially told his players that he believes in them and wants to be an instrumental part of their success long term. By staying he also told the Texans organization and fans that he values so much the fabric of this team that he wants to continue to be a part of it, even if it means forgoing perhaps more lucrative or higher profile opportunities.

Honestly, I like how this is playing out for the Texans going into Baltimore, and I love what it says about this team long term. I can live with the Texans losing this game in Baltimore, after all, they are underdogs playing their first playoff game on the road. Nevertheless, I do believe it will be a close game and I have a feeling that the Texans will pull off the upset. Every little intangible, like the sudden long term commitment of a Wade Phillips, provides an additional spark.

Its just so refreshing to finally enjoy playoff football and to, for once, know that win or lose, its been a terrific season and brighter days are to come. Although football fans aren't salaried, the fan camaraderie and amped up city spirit is priceless. I've enjoyed games with fellow Texans fans, have enjoyed blogging and watching this fading art, which is team first, winning professional football, the kind where even the players with the most inflated stats seem to be the quietest and humblest.

He starred at The U and has dominated his position in the NFL, yet almost miraculously Andre Johnson has engaged in zero self-promotion. Johnson did not feel the need to write "Pay Me Rick" on his cleats when he wanted to get out of a bad contract his former representative negotiated. Why do you think Bob McNair happily tore it up and rewarded Johnson with a new one? Bengals owner and GM Mike Brown was filmed during a segment of NFL Hard Knocks lecturing his team that those who try to weasel their way out of their contracts are called "welchers." On that note, could anyone imagine Matt Schaub suddenly pulling a Carson Palmer in Houston? Exactly.

Speaking of humility, critics, especially fans, teed off on Mario Williams during his first couple of seasons, scalding him and the organization for passing up on what they thought were much better players at the top draft slot. Later on it would be discovered that Williams played hurt but never opened his mouth to complain. Aside from the pec injury, Williams has enjoyed some good health the past few seasons and has emerged not only as a dominant force on defense, but he has proven the Texans' genius in selecting him over higher profile offensive players who have proven to be either head cases or tweeners. Not once has Williams rattled off an "I told you so."

The same can be said of Brian Cushing. His reputation took a hard hit when he was suspended for violation of the NFL's banned substances policy. When he came off the suspension he was not himself and fans crushed him with criticism, humiliating him with steroid remarks. How often did Cushing rise to his own defense? Exactly. The truth is, Cushing also played hurt last season but chose not to make excuses. Cushing, instead, continued to work so hard, regained his health and has proven himself to be among the most dominant at his position in the NFL.

And the list goes on. This is a team where a an offensive lineman plays on a broken leg and even the kicker relishes the rare opportunity to lay a ferocious special teams hit. The Houston Texans have been built patiently over the years to become the now perennial championship contender they have become. Draft after draft and throughout years of free agency, Texans management has added more and more players with huge team egos.

Yes, the Texans may indeed lose this particular playoff game on Sunday, but the anticipation of the game is such an integral part of this fun ride, especially when you have great guys to root for. Win or lose, with everything from a financially and operationally committed owner, coaches who want to be in Houston, and players who embody the ultimate attention-deflecting, selfless, winning team concept mirrored in San Antonio Spurs championship teams past, Texans fans can be reassured that their team has many great seasons ahead of them. And while they'll play tough as nails on both sides of the ball, they won't have players flapping their gums and spitting on opponents. Win or lose, they will do so with class and dignity.

To be sure, the Texans appear to have been crafted into a throwback team where individual stats are voluntarily trumped for the good of the team. Demeco Ryans, in an interview recently in response to compliments and a question about Houston's dominating defense, said that to him and his teammates it does not matter if they're considered the best or sorriest defense as long as the team is winning. As you recall a few years ago Terrell Owens bench pressing on his driveway in front of the press, or allegations of Jets players ripping quarterback Mark Sanchez behind his back, the Houston Texans are an inspiriational shot in the arm for fans of tough, bottom line, no excuses winning football. Its taken years and a few missteps to get there, but this franchise has arrived, and the signs are everywhere. No greater sign is the re-signing of a winning coach like Wade Phillips, who would rather be no place else.

With such character, talent and commitment, the Houston Texans may now be officially referred to as year-in and year-out championship contenders.

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