On January 16, 1994, the Houston Oilers hosted the Joe Montana led Kansas City Chiefs for a divisional playoff game in the Astrodome. The Oilers went on to lose that game 28-20 and thus began a series of events that would lead to Bud Adams ripping the team from the city that had loved it for 36 years.
6,565 days later, the city of Houston will see its next playoff game as the Cincinnati Bengals visit Reliant Stadium in the Wild Card round of the playoffs.
That's a long time to wait.
I was a freshman in high school when that last Oilers playoff game was played. A lot has happened in my life since then. I graduated high school, obtained an engineering degree, developed a love for beer, traveled the world, climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro, discovered some of the majestic secrets of the internet, swam with sharks in Australia, stared down a wild hippo in the Serengeti, obtained an MBA, went sky diving and bungee jumping in New Zealand (in the same day), learned to homebrew, walked along the great wall of China, was introduced to the world of blogging, hiked the Inca trail in Peru, gained weight, lost weight, got married, gained weight again, had a child, lost weight again, and did/saw a bunch of things that I can't quite mention here lest I ban myself.
Let's just hope that the time span between the next two playoff games played by a Houston team only includes recovering from a hangover and trying to look busy at work.When the Texans and Bengals kick off this coming Saturday, it will represent a rebirth for the city of Houston into the world of playoff football.
The NFL doesn't recognize this as one of the longest droughts of all time because since the NFL has criminally allowed the Titans to retain the Oilers' history, the record books show only a six year drought for that franchise and a nine year drought for the Texans. The longest by the way is 25 years by the Washington Redskins (1946-1970) and Chicago/St. Louis Cardinals (1949-1973). The longest drought to start a franchise is 20 by the New Orleans Saints (1967-1986).
But, for those fans whose blood darkened from Columbia to Steel Blue, it's been nearly 18 long years since they've been able to tailgate at a playoff game or plan a playoff party that really meant something.
While I joked about my activities since the last playoff game, the drought has been of historic proportions.Children born immediately after that fateful game against Kansas City are nearly old enough to vote by now.
This week, I'm stricken with a sense of anxiety that will only increase as the weekend approaches. As I perform my daily duties, I cannot help but think about the approaching game. It's an anxiety I haven't felt since the Astros qualified for their first World Series in 2005.
Still, this is different. The baseball playoffs provide a multitude of opportunities for advancement and hold games every few days.
In football, it's one and done. In football, a single game defines history. In football, one has to wait an entire week in anticipation of a single moment that will either lead to the bliss of advancement or the sorrow of elimination.
That one week becomes a stage for columnists, bloggers, "experts", and commenters to provide previews and predictions for the impending clash. We talk about it with friends, think about it in private, and plan our lives around the moment. The build up is such that by the time the game actually starts, the anticipation has reached heights that are unequaled in any other sport (save, perhaps, soccer outside of North America).
Perhaps this all means that we take football too seriously. Maybe it's wrong to be overly preoccupied by a simple game, regardless of the perceived importance.
Then again, maybe not.
The whole reason we follow sports with such fervor and passion is because they provide a deliverance from the difficulties of every day life. Life is hard. We struggle through it because we know that occasionally we are rewarded with those moments that make all the exertion worthwhile. Those moments can come from family, friends, careers, and even sports.
Some may see it as silly to lump sports in with those other moments, but those people probably think too highly of themselves anyway, so screw them.
I, for one, am enjoying every moment of the build up. I cannot wait until kickoff on Saturday. It's the reason I've been following this team with such allegiance since 19-10.
I've longed for this anxiety for 18 years.
There's little question that I'll be an emotional wreck during and after the game, regardless of the outcome. If things go well, I'll be even more restless next week. If they go poorly, I'll likely over-analyze everything that went wrong and cry in a corner for a little while.
But that's why we watch: For the anticipation of something greater and the hope that the emotional scars we've born over the years will finally have meaning.
I'm sure I'm not alone.
A while back, somebody accused me of being a bandwagon fan of the Texans arguing, "How could you live in Florida and root for a team in Texas?" My response was that there is no such thing as a bandwagon Texans fan.
That may not be completely true today, but if you're reading this blog (and especially if you're commenting), you likely feel the same way. You were there for the Rosencopter and the Q-Tip. You know who I'm referring to when I talk about Mittens and Petey. If you met a random stranger in a bar whose name was Frank Bush or Richard Smith, you'd probably spit in his beer and feel justified. You would neither name your son Bud nor Adam.
You share the scars of which I speak. These are scars that fans of most other teams don't know. Even most casual Texans fans don't have them. These scars run deep and will never heal, but there is a silver lining.
Back in the days that internet forgot, I once got drunk and wrote a rambling post comparing the Texans plight to Fight Club. In Fight Club, the purpose is to reach rock bottom. As Tyler Durden puts it, only when you reach rock bottom can you truly let go.
In one scene, Durden threatens to kill a convenient store clerk unless he promises to pursue his life's dreams. He then turns to Edward Norton's character and says, "Tomorrow will be the most beautiful day of Raymond K. Hessel's life. His breakfast will taste better than any meal you and I have ever tasted."
That's how I feel about a potential Texans playoff run and this weekend is the first breakfast.
Somebody will probably read this somewhere and think, "Wow, look how stupid Texans fans are. They get this excited about a simple playoff berth." Those people are idiots. They are the types of people who take even the simplest things for granted and are the types who deserve to have their team ripped from existence. They will never appreciate something as simple and irrelevant as a playoff game in the same manner as you will.
While a deep playoff run is still unlikely with a rookie quarterback leading the charge, it's absolutely impossible without a playoff berth.
So, regardless of the outcome of this weekend's game I ask you all to make it a point to enjoy the moment. As you read predictions and expectations on this site and others (but mostly this site), take a second or two to step back and appreciate the fact that once again, playoff football is in your immediate future.
Still, let me take you back in history one more time.
On December 16, 1996, the Houston Oilers played the last NFL game ever played in the Astrodome. I remember being a freshman at Northwestern University and thinking about how even though I couldn't follow this game live from Chicago, I would never see another game at the Astrodome. It was heartbreaking.
While the Oilers will never return, the Texans gave me hope for football again and this weekend will finally be the first step of what will hopefully be many playoff games.
The Oilers lost that game 21-13 and after one more away game, were swept away to Methopotamia.
The opponent at the Dome that day was the Cincinnati Bengals.
Wouldn't it be poetic to initiate the Texans' playoff lives with a victory over that same opponent?