2DH: Remember, Red, Hope Is A Good Thing -- Maybe The Best Of Things -- And No Good Thing Ever Dies.

Do it for Earl. - Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

I find I'm so excited, I can barely sit still or hold a thought in my head. I think it's the excitement only a football fan can feel. A football fan at the start of a long journey whose conclusion is uncertain. I hope Houston can make it across the goalline. I hope to see my team win and cheer their victory. I hope Bostonians are as sad as they have been in my dreams. I hope.

To answer the question before you even ask, yes, I was drunk. But, then, what else is new?

Sober or not, as Chris and I exited Reliant Stadium on Saturday evening, I threw the idea out there: the Texans are going to win in Foxboro. He looked at me with suspicion, but not disbelief. So I continued, because that's what I do when someone gives me an opening like that.

"In fact, they're going to win by ten. There. I said it."

He pretended to think I wasn't nuts, and we talked about how much fun it would be to roll into Boston and beat the Patriots. Back at the Lone Spot Tailgate, I told Rivers the same thing. He was less receptive. By which, I mean he looked at me liked I'd just claimed Bernard Pollard was an All Pro safety.

"No chance," he said. (I may be paraphrasing, because beer, but you get the gist of it.)

A few hours later, I told Tim the same thing. He just shook his head at me and started laughing. I tried to explain myself, which I find difficult in Houston. I blame the humidity.

"What about Gronkowski?" he asked. "Who is going to cover him? How do you hope to slow their offense down at all? And do you really trust the Texans to score multiple offensive touchdowns? Because I don't."

These were all valid points, and I replayed the conversation in my head multiple times as I drove home on Sunday morning. By any rational evaluation, even in the afterglow of a playoff win, it would be difficult to predict that the Texans were going to win their next game. That's certainly how the narrative has unfolded in the days since Houston's win.

I'm not even talking specifically about Dan Shaughnessy's column (though it was quite the cogent essay against the freedoms of speech and press); I'd wager that over half of Texans fans and probably 80% of media feel this way. After all, even in the win over Cinci, Houston was not great. They were flawed from beginning to end. They had problems with drives stalling in the red zone, leading to four field goals. Gary Kubiak showed little willingness to take chances. Matt Schaub threw a pick-six. Special teams are still laughably bad. And, in addition to Houston's failings, this Patriots team is elite and experienced, and they throttled Houston at Gillette Stadium not that long ago. So, while Saturday's win was a nice surprise [1], the Texans players should feel free to make tee times for January 19 and 20, because their season ends this coming weekend.

Thinking about this, my brain turns to hockey.

More specifically, my brain turns to the 1980 U.S. Men's Hockey Team.

I'm sure that even the casual sports fan knows the Miracle On Ice story, at least in broad strokes, and I'm equally sure that some (many? most?) of you are reading this and thinking me crazy and hyperbolic for daring to compare the upcoming Texans game to something as widely meaningful (both politically and sports-wise) as the greatest upset in sports history.

In terms of scale, maybe I am. But I'm looking at the parallels, not the historical implications.

The 1980 U.S. team was made up of twenty amateur and collegiate players under the command of Herb Brooks, who had been previously been head coach of the Minnesota Golden Gophers. They were far and away the most inexperienced team in the field that year. While there was talent on the roster, it was far from world-class and was completely unproven. No one on the team had played for the 1972 silver-medal team, and only one player even had Olympic experience.

As for the Russians? Well, as Jill Lieber wrote in the Milwaukee Sentinel the day before Olympic hockey began:

Russia. USSR. Soviet Union. CCCP. Those labels conjure up certain thoughts and feelings to Mark Johnson. An indestructible world power. An immovable physical and psychological barrier. An athletic strength that no one on the 1980 US Olympic hockey team can put a finger on.

The Soviets had won four straight gold medals in Olympic play, and their roster was stocked with superstar talent. They beaten an NHL All-Star team the previous year by a score of 6-0. More importantly, in the context of my analogy, they'd beaten the 1980 US team 10-3 in an exhibition a few weeks before the teams would ultimately meet again in the medal round.

So, as Olympic hockey play progressed, you had people like Hubert Mizell of the St. Petersburg Times writing:

Chances are, if a Soviet-U.S. hockey showdown comes, the Russians will win. Probably, it will be one-sided, as uneven as that 10-3 exhibition in New York's Madison Square Garden nine days ago.

He wrote that on February 18, 1980, when the U.S. was 2-0-1 in pool play, which included a draw with powerhouse Sweden and a huge upset of the Czechs. Though the U.S. would tack on two more wins over West Germany and Romania, they would do so in less-than-convincing fashion. Combined with their struggles against a weak Norway team, going into the medal-round matchup with Russia, it was assumed that the feel-good story of the plucky US team was going to have a sad ending.

The U.S. hasn't played at that 'highest emotional level' since its 7-3 upset of Czechoslovakia last Thursday. In beating Norway (5-1), Romania (7-2) and West Germany, the club has often appeared bored with what has turned out to be much weaker opposition. All that will change Friday.

But an American victory is still highly unlikely. The Soviets haven't lost a game in Olympic competition since a 5-4 loss to the Czechs in 1968 and are in no mood to see the Americans repeat their 1960 Miracle of Squaw Valley.

[***]

Sweden, which has become known over the past few years for its ability to supply players to the National Hockey League, is probably a better bet to upset the Soviets than are the Americans.

Sounds familiar, no? Even the US players were aware of the mismatch. They knew they weren't supposed to win. They also knew that "supposed to" didn't really matter. As forward Dave Christian explained the night before the game:

We definitely have to go into the game thinking there's a possibility to beat them, which there is. Maybe we'll catch them on an off-night and maybe we'll have a great night. There's a definite possibility of that now.

Was there ever.

Now, like I said, the comparison is not without some flaws. For one thing, Herb Brooks was in many ways the anti-Kubiak. Rather than use the US college/NHL style that he'd coached to three collegiate championships, Brooks knew that the US would have to play a more European style of hockey if they wanted to compete with the Russias and Swedens in the tournament. So he installed that. He was also an aggressive in-game coach. When the U.S. took a 4-3 lead against Russia with 10 minutes to play, Brooks did not allow them to drop into a defensive mode; they continued to attack and even took additional shots on goal down the stretch.

Still . . . I can't ignore the bigger similarities, from the pre-Olympic beating the Russians had put on them, to them team playing down to its competition in the games immediately prior to the medal round, coupled with the fact that no one outside the locker room would have picked the U.S. to have a chance against a 5-0 Russia squad that owned the Olympics year in and year out.

Now, most of the time, I think there's only so much a team can gain from the perception that nobody believes in them. That phrase and concept tends to get overused in this day and age, anyway, with seemingly every team claiming it after a playoff win. (I'm pretty sure I heard Dwyane Wade say something to that effect after the Finals last year, in fact.)

But in certain cases, when you're talking about a big underdog, and there really are few people who think the team has even the slightest chance of competing, that sense of Us Against The World can motivate a talented team to do something shocking. You saw glimpses of it on Saturday, in fact. A team that had looked so bad through December suddenly did the things that people were assuming they could no longer do. The beleaguered offensive line made Geno Atkins a non-factor for 95% of the game and kept Schaub from getting sacked a single time. Houston's secondary combined to shutdown A.J. Green and the Bengals' other receivers. The offense moved the ball up and down the field, while Houston's defense held the Bengals to negative first-half passing yards. Arian Foster did what Arian Foster does in the playoffs. There was even a pass rush from people not named J.J. Watt.

Maybe Saturday was just an aberration. Maybe it was, like The Name Of The Rose, merely a blip on an otherwise uninterrupted downward trajectory. In which case, the Texans will get stomped on Sunday, and we can all return to figuring out who is to blame and which heads should roll.

But I'll be damned if I'm going to spend the next five days telling myself how the Texans have no chance. Where's the fun in that? Let the media have that story; they get off on writing obituaries before a team is actually dead. They didn't think the 1980 hockey team could win. They assumed the University of Houston would crush N.C. State in 1984. They considered Buster Douglas a meaningless tuneup fight for Mike Tyson in 1990. They said Rulon Gardner had no shot against Aleksandr Karelin in 2000. They didn't think for a second that Greece could win the Euro in 2004. They didn't see any way Appalachian State could beat Michigan (or that Stanford could beat USC) in 2007. And they were sure the Patriots would triumph over the Giants in the 2008 Super Bowl just as they had prior to the playoffs. In every example, the conventional wisdom proved to be incredibly wrong.

Here's the thing, I guess, at least for Texans fans: if you assume that the Patriots are going to crush your favorite team again and you wind up being right, what have you gained? The bizarre satisfaction that you and Dan Shaughnessy and John McClain were oh-so-smart and picked a 9.5-point favorite to take care of business? Congrats. Put that on your resume or something. It's still not going to make you feel better about the outcome, is it?

Now imagine believing that your Texans are going to shock the sports world on Sunday. If you're right, you've got the euphoria of the win and a sense of satisfaction knowing that your team just served the national media a big ol' plate of STFU. If you're wrong, at least you didn't spend five days thinking about how bad Sunday was going to be. There's no real downside. It's basically the Pascal's Wager of sports fandom.

It's up to you. As for me, the Texans may be a longshot, but they are my longshot. And, right now, I choose to believe in miracles.

***

3.

Consecutive 100-yard playoff games for Arian Foster, who is the first player to ever do that in his first three playoff games.

425.

Rushing yards for Arian Foster in those three games, the most ever for a player's first three playoff games. The old mark was 383 by Fred Taylor. Just for good measure, I'll add that Foster has at least one rushing TD in each of those games (4 total), whereas Taylor had 2 total TDs in those three games.

3.

Consecutive playoff games with at least one sack for J.J. Watt. His career playoff line, over three games, is 4.5 sacks, 19 tackles, 6 TFL, 3 PD, 1 INT, 1 TD. He good.

51.

Sacks in the regular season for the Cincinnati Bengals.

0.

Sacks against Matt Schaub on Saturday by the Cincinnati Bengals.

Random Etymology Lesson.

Recently, I overheard someone use the phrase "spitting image," and I started to wonder where the hell that phrase even comes from. Because, let's be honest, that doesn't make much sense at first glance. What I found, courtesy of Oxford University Press:

"Spitting image" (the exact likeness; an identical duplicate) is actually a corruption of "spit and image," from the notion of God's using spit and dust to form the clay to make Adam in his image. As far back as the early 1800s, the phrase "the very spit of" was used in this sense {the child is the very spit of his grandfather}.

By the mid- to late 1800s, "spit" was coupled with "image" (or "fetch" or "picture") to form "spit and image." But around the turn of the 20th century, "spitting image" (or "spittin' image") appeared.

Though originally an error, it's so common today -- some 50 times as common in print as "spit and image" -- that most dictionaries fully countenance it without recording "spit and image."

The-more-you-know-2_medium

Dre-fense.

Not that Andre Lamont Johnson needs me to go to bat for him at all, but between Mike Mayock and some people on Facebook, there's a perception that his near-TD was a pretty blatant drop. Seeing it live, it sort of looked that way, and even on TV the replay failed to give you good context for the whole thing. So allow me just to point out a couple things.

Here's the formation. Geno Atkins is circled in orange. Andre Johnson is circled in red, but only because I don't know what color Awesome really is. Adam Jones appears to be offsides, but whatever.

Dreplay_medium

Very quickly after the snap, and for one of the very few times all day, Geno Atkins dominates a Texans lineman -- in this case, Pro Bowler Wade Smith -- and creates instant pressure. Pacman chucks Dre at the line and keeps decent position and leverage against Dre's setup for his cut to the left.

Dreplaysnap_medium

Because Pro Bowler Wade Smith was completely ineffectual on this play, and because Schaub's self-preservation instincts are intact, Matt is forced to get rid of the ball quicker than he would have liked. At the moment he throws, only Owen Daniels, near the top of the screen has come out of his initial break. Andre is still in the process of making his cut, and his line of sight (orange arrow) is toward the sideline.

Dre2_medium

The ball is poorly thrown due to the pressure, at least relative to where Dre is. (Schaub threw it a little more toward Dre would be had Pacman not made a good play at the line and had Matt had another split second before he had to throw.) Also, because of the pressure, the ball is on Dre sooner than he expected, and he barely has time to get his head around and make an effort for it. His momentum is carrying him as if his route was to angle a yard or two into the end zone, and the off-target ball requires him to fight the momentum as he reaches for it. He gets fingertips on it, but nothing more.

Dre1_medium

Even someone as great as Andre Johnson hauls that ball in maybe 2 out of 5 times, tops. This just wasn't one of those times. But it was hardly a play where you can say, as Mayock did, that he "should have made that catch."

Random 90s Rap Video.

December 9, 2007.

The last time Shayne Graham attempted at least four FGs in a game and didn't have a single miss.

I know! I was shocked, too!

The most baffling part of the Shayne Graham Experience is the random power boosts he gets on some kicks. For example, the 48-yarder against Cinci would have been good from 60-plus (at least in distance). Every now and then, regardless of wind, he gets something on a kickoff and drives it past the goalline as if he were a real, grown-up kickoff specialist. But most of the time, he kicks with all the strength of a crippled Tony Zendejas. What gives?

Speaking Of FGs.

You and I and most everyone who thinks about such things agree that settling for FGs on 4th & short, especially in the red zone, is a bad plan. It's almost always bad from an expected-points outlook as well as expected win percentage.

But . . .

YOU'VE SEEN ENOUGH OF GARY KUBIAK TO KNOW THAT HE'S DAMN NEAR ALWAYS GOING TO TAKE THE POINTS IN THOSE SITUATIONS, SO MAYBE SHUT UP WITH THE ABSOLUTELY MORONIC BOOING OF YOUR OWN TEAM IN THE SECOND QUARTER OF A HOME PLAYOFF GAME, YOU CRAPEATING JACKOFF.

I'm not saying that Gary's right. (He's not.) I'm not saying that you can never, ever boo your own team. (You can, in certain situations that resemble playing like the St. Louis Rams of the past five years.)

I'm just saying that booing when Gary orders a kick from the 4-yard line suggests that you expect him to suddenly change everything you know about him, and that says a lot more about you than about him.

That Said.

I'd give a kidney and three toes for Gary to be 200% more aggressive in the red zone. It's a huge failing of his as a coach. That overly conservative nature, plus his loyalty to absolutely horrendous coaches like Joe Marciano, are why his ceiling is Above Average Coach and not Very Good Coach.

(I'm just not going to boo when he doesn't change.)

Uncle Earl.

You might recall back in November when I pointed out that the only Texans' wins I'd seen in person were when my wife or son were with me. I wrote, "Apparently, having two Campbells at the game is necessary to counteract whatever quantum-level voodoo hex I bring on my own."

For this reason, I was a little scared about attending a playoff game without a family member in tow. Imagine my relief, then, when I learned that Earl Campbell was going to be a part of the pre-game festivities. I didn't just have a second Campbell out there; I had the absolute best possible second Campbell.

Also, if you haven't seen the NBC Sports Network's documentary on Earl, it's a must watch. What an awesome dude.

Now, For Something Completely Different.

R&B artist Brian McKnight sang the national anthem at Reliant Stadium on Saturday. When he was announced, I laughed. The lack of laughter around me suggests that too few people have seen this bit of weirdness. (Some NSFW language involved.)

Totally Needless, But Still Sort Of Interesting, Comparison.

Matt Schaub (80 games): 65.1% comp, 20,911 yds, 114 TDs, 64 INTs, 9 4QC, 12 GWD
Joe Flacco (80 games): 60.5% comp, 17,633 yds, 102 TDs, 56 INTs, 9 4QC, 14 GWD

(4QC is "Fourth Quarter Comebacks." GWD is "Game Winning Drives." Both as defined by Pro-Football-Reference.com.)

A Suggestion.

If the people in charge of Reliant Stadium happen to be reading this, I have a suggestion. Please install rapid cell-charging kiosks in the stadium. I'd happily pay above and beyond the typical airport price of $3 to be able to recharge a dead phone mid-game. I don't know anyone who would complain about this addition.

Well, Amish people might, but they also find your interior lighting and air conditioned stadium to be the work of the Devil.

Damn it.

In the last week or so, both grungedave and Capt Ron suggested that I should watch Looper. So I did. And just let me say that I hate you both so very, very much. Not because I didn't like it, but because I'm positive that I'm going to waste hundreds of words in the very near future dissecting the plot before I can even determine if I actually liked it. WHY DO YOU DO THIS TO ME?!

This Is Awesome.

Panoramic view of Reliant Stadium, in 1 gigapixel form.

Marijuana Pepsi Sawyer Inexplicable Decision Of The Week.

[Author's note: It's a sad day in Two-Day Hangover Land. It seems that Marijuana Pepsi Sawyer has gotten married and changed the name on her public profile to the (relatively) more professional sounding, "Marijuana Sawyer-Clardy." Dang. Thankfully, we have a long memory around here, at least when it comes to stuff like this, so we'll just forge ahead and pretend like nothing has changed.]

Much like the decision to name your daughter "Marijuana Pepsi," getting flagged for offsides on the second-half kickoff was completely inexplicable. Or it would be inexplicable if it wasn't so totally Mariciano.

As it was, for this team, I guess getting flagged there would be like naming your daughter "Marijuana Pepsi" when your name was already "Marijuana Pepsi." Still bad, but far more understandable.

BBQU.

A few weeks back, I asked for suggestions for regional BBQ recipes that you were interested in. A couple people suggested Asian flavors. I'm still working on some of those ideas, but the Asian angle made me think of the ribs you can get in many Chinese restaurants.

If you've eaten them, you probably noticed that they were pink on the edges, but without much in the way of discernible smoke flavor. That's generally because most restaurants marinate them in a pink sauce called Char Soi, then bake them in an oven. That's all well and good, and they can be a delight to eat, but my favorite Chinese ribs avoid the Char Soi and use slightly more common, more flavorful ingredients. I cobbled this marinade together from a couple recipes and it seems pretty close.

Chinese Rib Marinade

1 c. hoisin sauce
1/3 c. dark sesame oil
1/4 c. sake
1/4 c. finely sliced green onions
1/4 c. soy sauce
1/4 c. rice wine vinegar (NOT seasoned rice wine vinegar)
1/4 c. orange juice
3 tbsp. Sriracha
4 cloves of garlic, finely minced
1 tsp. five spice powder
Optional: you can add fresh ginger, but I'm not a fan of it

Mix the ingredients together and pour over two slabs of trimmed and cleaned loin back ribs. (Tip: cut the slabs in half so you can use a smaller dish and get better marinade coverage.) Keep them in the marinade for at least 12 hours, preferably 24.

You can cook them on a smoker or in the oven inside. The oven method is more traditional, and you certainly don't want the smoke to overpower your marinade flavors. If you opt for cooking outside, I recommend a fruit wood (plum is tremendous) and a very deft hand with controlling the smoke flow. Maybe put a pan underneath the ribs for a little added deflection of the smoke.

They are going to cook at 225 for 3 to 4 hours. Check for doneness as you would with any ribs. Also, while I generally preach not opening the smoker to baste/spritz, it won't hurt to brush some of the marinade on these ribs at around the 2-hour mark.

TXT MSGS Of The Week.

Shake, following Schaub's pick-six:

At least we know that Schaub can still throw a TD, which was not certain after the past few games. So there's that.

bfd, immediately after the game:

Was it as ugly as it appears?

***

[1] I know the Texans were favored in Vegas, but I still think the general consensus was that a win over the Bengals would still be something of a surprise. Even local sports-media types (who, admittedly, can be quite terrible) were writing, "The sad, but simple truth is anyone who believes the Texans can get past this weekend, much less to the Super Bowl, is only dreaming." They were claiming that the Bengals represented Houston's "worst possible playoff draw" and "no less of a nightmare matchup [than the Patriots or Broncos]." Long-time ticket-holders were selling or giving away seats rather than watch the loss they expected. (The national media were, of course, completely bearish on the Texans' chances, but they'd been that way for a month or more.)

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