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Greetings From NRG Stadium

Notes from the home of the Texans in the last game of 2021.

NFL: JAN 09 Titans at Texans Photo by John Rivera/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

I think the Houston Texans are a real football team.

The things we see on screens are merely a simulation. A representation of reality. They are not direct reality. Every Sunday, I see the bright green turf, the sharp ‘A’ with the middle horizontal pointing out from the edges, the players scattered,running, attempting to punish each other across the field, and the fans, crumpled in dismay, longing for the same thing I long for—the Houston Texans to not only be a good football team, but a good and fun football team once again.

There’s a level of belief attached to it. A thin string attached from me, to the television, to the fiber running into my home attached to a modem-router combination that spews internet—internet, how does it work (?)—into the television that is connected to software installed on the television that brings what the cameras are recording into my home. It’s a sheer impossibility of life. Years stacked on years, where I no longer have to read the newspaper and check the box scores to see what happened, I can watch it happen whenever I want.

I needed to see it for myself again. To confirm that, yes, this is real, the Texans are a football team, and they play football in Houston, Texas. I haven’t been to a game in over a decade. My good friend Taylor’s uncle brought one of his RVs out way back then. We ate hamburgers in the parking lot and drank underage Miller Lites. We sat in the south end zone, nestled among the other crazies. Maurice Jones-Drew scored a walk-in touchdown, and everyone proceeded to rush to the front row to give him their scorn in the form of a middle finger. Obscenities were hollered, blood thirsty, and Jones-Drew languished in them, crying and begging for them to bring even more, even more, even more, I will never die; give me even more.

That previous summer, the Texans had signed Chris Brown to be their red zone back. As the red zone back, Brown fumbled into the end zone, handing over the game-winning touchdown. The Jaguars recovered. The Texans lost, in a stupid way, the form they took so many times from 2008 to 2010 before they finally broke through. That is all I remember from that day.

Going to a football game is an expensive thing. Tickets cost $100 plus for the third deck. Cars have to consume gas. An entire weekend is spent to make it happen. Like most, it took me years out of college to get the first good job that could pay me enough to go to a football game. Once I could afford to go, I was soaked up in the hatred of the Jadeveon Clowney trade, the ridiculous Laremy Tunsil trade, and I didn’t want to transfer my hours of labor to feed the Texans’ stupidity. Then there was COVID-19. Finally, this year, things stitched themselves together. I could go to a NFL football game.

Above the dog bowl is a calendar, and attached to the calendar is a multi-color pen. Flipped to January. Etched in green: TEXANS v. TITANS, 12 p.m. I wanted to see football at its worst. The parking lots at NRG turned into a Hantavirus rat turd infested ghost town, stands spotty with the indifferent, and, most importantly, bad football at its absolute worst.

The truth is the Texans belong in the cellar. The abyss is where they thrive. Like the Browns, Jaguars, Lions, Jets, and the Texans too...we get little glimpses out of sunlight, occasional momentary blights of success before being drowned down below again. We had 2011 and 2012. We had 2019 until 24-0 became 31-51. No, Brian Hoyer, NAME REDACTED, and the Wild Card loss to Indianapolis don’t count. These are the rare moments where things felt good. More often that, dirty and downtrodden is how we live. I needed to see it again how it should be, not how it unusually is.

So we went. My wiiiiife, our four month old, my good friend Taylor, and his uncle, and cousin. The drive there was more of a bank robbery than a commute. 90 miles per hour following a manic uncle, weaving through a city known for its weaving traffic, the only thing I was missing were black fingerless gloves. We were given green lot passes, but the uncle had an extra red lot pass. He told the parking lot attendant the car behind us was with him, and he had a pass. The man at the gate brushed him through, telling him not to worry about the formality.

The entire NRG staff was too friendly. Bizarre. It was more like a show on PBS, filled with puppets teaching you about the value of love and friendship, and the letter of the day. The ushers wore suits and held the door wide open, as well as their arms. They provided company to my wife while she fed our giant son, forced to feed him on the concourse because of a young adult blowing up the family restroom with his waste; the lad was scolded by the staff for using the family restroom to complete the removal of all those refined carbohydrates, red meat, and sugary sweets. A snack bar staff member nearly forgot to ask for my credit card; he too had given up the NFL season. I was asked if I needed a chair so I didn’t have to change my son on a rain jacket. An entire army was dedicated to making the excursion as easy and as accommodating as possible, and they did exactly that.

Watching the Texans through a screen is eerie. It looks too perfect. The grass is too flat and smooth, the lighting too bright, the fans caring too much, more real than real. In your immediate reality, the stadium is perfect. The light fills through the roof at wonderful angles. Birds fly around the rafters glowing in the afternoon light. Scoreboards rectangular and enormous give us a look at the Jaguars beating the Colts, begging for us to be loud and make noise.

It’s the antithesis to the team’s brand itself. The brand is bland and banal. The team name, the logo, the font, the colors, all of it safe without a risk taken. Even the color rush jerseys we see once a year were taken directly from a rack at Old Navy. I’d prefer Jacksonville’s cat piss colors because it’s at least an attempt at something. David Culley’s sopping wet pink Double Bubble chewing mouth. That Football Feeling? Euthanasia, ennui, indifference? It reads more like a chain restaurant tagline than something that makes you long for Sundays.

Football itself is a better thing to watch in person than on the television. The television cuts out a quarter of the game. Routes run off the screen, safeties rotate off our flat Earth, the ball’s flight gets lost outside the camera. A novel thought: When you go to a football game, you can see the entire field. Coverage shells, route combinations, personnel rotating in and out.

The distractions from the game itself is why watching from home is still king. Fantasy football lineups, Redzone, flipping between games, naptime, $1 beers, propane grills...everything aside from the football itself. The most important thing is better from the couch, floor, or barstool.

I just love watching the ball go up really high and falling down really far. The way things look is often overlooked in man’s search to make things more complicated than they need to be. It’s like watching a pop fly at a baseball game. It rises to eye level and looks like something you can reach out and pluck. Cameron Johnston punts, Randy Bullock kickoffs, deep heaves to Julio Jones that don’t connect, a Chris Moore flea flicker...this game provided the fights against gravity that I craved.

Before the end of the first half, the Texans found themselves down 21-0. The 20-something woman in a Steve McNair jersey loved it, along with her mother, who was wearing one of those visors with Wrangler blue zany hair protruding from the dome that she somehow had autographed. There was a man in an A.J. Brown sitting by himself, taking selfies on his iPad. There was the older couple behind us who said we had a beautiful boy and hates the Colts as much as I do. Texans fans left when the team went down three touchdowns. Our entire section was empty. We had two entire rows to ourselves. People left for halftime snacks, only to never return. Like a former HBO Sunday night prestige television show, they dissipated into nothingness.

Even after the exodus, the noise level at NRG Stadium remained the same. No one around us stood up, let alone sat up, to yell and scream on third down. Yet the sound remained tremendous. I wanted it to be like a picnic. The first battle of the Civil War. With red and white checkered blankets, ants taking off with saran wrapped sandwiches, wicker basket, below the battlefield, where the men head into something they assume will be over in the span of a few hours, not four years.

This would be an embarrassment for the Texans. See, football games are supposed to be loud, covered in painted faces, demonic bellowing, ten beer deep sloshing, turning Sunday hymnals into distorted buttrock. Crowd noise pumped in to keep the charade, the people are one, there, and two, scream and really care. A nice and pleasant Sunday became artificial havoc. I dreamed of sneaking into DJ Athena’s booth, tying her up, unplugging the turntables, ensuring she couldn’t guffaw at the camera, and point to the custom name on the back of her jersey so I could enjoy watching the ball go up high in peace.

Things changed in the second half. The Texans stopped trying to run, run, pass to play complimentary football and give Davis Mills easier third down conversions. Houston loves having two touchdown drives a game that take 17 plays, 82 yards, and ten minutes to complete to shorten the game. They abandoned their conservative values, dropped the top, and blasted their nips. Mills operated from more spread and empty sets. Houston limited how often they huddled.

Who knew the key to this team was Danny Amendola? There in the slot, he caught a wheel route touchdown, turned a quick hitch into a pivot upfield, caught a quick post, and sat in the back of the end zone to catch Mills going against the grain.

Unlike last week, where Mills made three good throws, Mills made eight against the Titans. Tim Kelly ran more of the offense he ran with Deshaun Watson last year. As a result, Houston’s offense took off. Mills nearly matched Ryan Tannehill’s performance. The difference was the extra touchdown Tannehill had and the field goal that David Culley cowardly went for.

During this bombardment of points, the brand really gave it all they had. Turning ‘God Bless Texas’ into ‘God Bless Texans’ after touchdowns. A sycophant trouncing through the end zone waving an enormous Texans flag. A cannon blast after touchdowns and field goals, coming from some despicable electronics attached to a platform. If you want to have a cannon blast. just get a cannon. Give it a name. Call it something. Fire it off. Faking a cannon with a fake blast is an atrocity.

In the end, Houston couldn’t spoil their Kuntry Kuzinz future. Tennessee needed a win to clinch a bye and the one seed in the AFC Playoffs, giving Derrick Henry another week to rest in milk. Houston stopped the run well for most of the game, but failed to corral Dontrelle Hillard on the final clock-sucking drive, including a toss play on third and two where Hilliard reached out and crossed the first down marker, something Tennessee failed to do in 2000.

You will see horrors you never could imagine after the conclusion of a NFL game. Drunken zombies, garish and pale, lurching down ramps and standing down moving stairs to get back to their transportation. I saw a man that looks like the roach man villain in Men in Black I. There were a pair of Titans trolls, both figuratively and literally, faces painted, carrying a TITAN UP flag, screaming about the one seed and the Texans being stupid for picking third overall, each remark capped off with a cackle acting as the exclamation point. A man with a big belly, tiny calves, a phenotype, screaming back that Davis Mills dropped 300 yards on their ass. Someone smoking a cigarette and screaming that someone else is the whitest person he’s ever seen, tossing a middle finger once the ghost’s back was turned. A man stumbling in flip-flops, trying to get the last little bit of popcorn from the bottom of his souvenir Texans popcorn caddie, ignoring his wife yelling at him from behind, trying to inch his way across a parking lot. This all took place in the foreground of an Olive Garden billboard. We are truly a disgusting country of pig people.

An entire horde. A collection of ghouls. And I, I was one of them. Ruffled hair from being hungover from the night before since our Sunday pregame plans changed. Luminous skin created from the depths of winter. Brain propped up by Coca-Cola Zero Sugar. Loving the game of football, just like the rest of them, another sheep in the flock, thinking the same things and having the same feelings that they have. Like Bill Simmons used to say, Yes, these are my readers.

We took a picture outside the stadium, something to freeze a beautiful day that was a dozen years in the making, to put on top of a countertop, hang on a wall, or place in a shoebox. To show the baby one day, that yes, look, look at you, you were four months old when you went to your first NFL game. Yes, it was probably a bad idea, but we made it through it anyways. Then it was absurd traffic to get out of Houston, Chipotle blood stains, and pulling over to breastfeed me, not the baby, to get back home, to turn everything that had just happen into a dream, a memory that will fade along with me.

Yes. The Houston Texans are a real football team. You no longer have to be concerned. I saw it. It’s real. I watched them play. Davis Mills, Ryan Tannehill, Ben Jones, Taylor Lewan, Mike Vrabel, David Culley, they all exist. It’s not something that is computer generated or a solipsistic nightmare. The things you hear, the things you see on the screen, all actually happened. The Texans really exist.