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Inside NRG for Deshaun Watson’s return

Battle Red Blog takes you inside NRG to experience Browns-Texans game first-hand.

NFL: Cleveland Browns at Houston Texans Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

As I slipped on my new Battle Red jersey, white streaks of an unfamiliar number imprinted on the front remind me of the butterfly effect of events which have led to this uniform. For several years, the number on the front of my jersey was 4, but after exchanging it at The Texans Store two weeks ago, the number reads 31.

The Deshaun Watson era is a chapter in Houston sports and my own personal history that I frankly can’t open. It’s the Pandora's box of “what ifs” and “what could have-beens” that jars my perpetual optimism into a flood of pouting and consternation.

There’s a lot to say about the man, the accusations, and the Houston Texans organization as a whole that simply can’t be summarized properly. You already know well enough. There are no heroes to be found in the story of Deshaun Watson and his departure from the Houston Texans, there are only villains of varying degrees of terrible.

The best that I can do is illustrate to you the sights, sounds, and emotions emanating from NRG Stadium as Deshaun Watson returned to the field ...

While the spoiled adolescent that I was accustomed to going to weekly Texans games with my family, trips to the stadium are now a welcomed homage to my youth now that I live out of the state (by the way, it’s expensive out there y’all).

Even after all this time, everything is the same, yet everything is different:

  • Killens BBQ now has a cashier-less checkout.
  • My dad doesn’t need to hop off 610 three exits early to avoid traffic.
  • Parking isn’t an obstacle course worthy of an America’s Got Talent audition.
  • They stopped having the fans shout the player’s last name as they ran out of the tunnel.
  • The bathroom was quiet.

Walking to the stadium from the parking lot could only be described as barren. Do you remember in Scooby-Doo when they enter into a room and you know the absence of something means there’s definitely something in the room? It felt like that, but the spooky character was an impending loss.

We were situated on the away side of the stadium directly behind the team. I was curious to make my way over to the opposing entrance to absorb what would be the most fierce harassment; his first entrance onto the field. Instead, I opted watch from our seats as the security around the opening kept any high-quality insults to a low banter.

One thing I wanted to pay particular attention to was the play-by-play atmosphere of the fans. For the first two decades, it was nearly impossible to get a season ticket, which means the fanbase was fairly veteran and savvy. But with the Texans losing what would be assumed as 60,000+ ticket holders over three years, were the new fans as locked in? When I went for one game last year and stood up to bemoan a poor call, I noticed there wasn’t the same sense of an obvious officiating error from the fans as in previous seasons.

I’ve always claimed Houston has an unique fanbase. We don’t support lovable losers. We aren’t a bandwagon city. We don't attend for the frills or entertainment. We don’t get overly rowdy, but I can tell you they aren’t exactly mild mannered. We will boo if you deserve it, but across all teams the best way I can describe Houston fans is practical.

I worried that Texans fans’ fervor would be subdued due to the Texans’ lack of on-field success lately. My curiosity of the Texans fans’ reactions and response to Watson was immediately gratified. As soon as I set foot into the parking lot, I was graced by a fan wearing a jersey mocking Watson’s alleged history of sexual assault.

It was on. In a heartbeat, I understood the environment. It was going to be an expression of disapproval, intermittent booing, and low-brow banter through the entire game. Nothing over-the-top would be expressed, but Houstonians were going to have their say for the first time in two years.

What I wasn’t expecting was the support and enjoyment of the heckling by Cleveland Browns fans. I won’t say I was stunned by the quantity of Watson jerseys, but there were certainly more than I expected. They are, truly, a raucous bunch. They were honestly more rowdy than most of the Texans fans. We made friends with the Dallas-based Cleveland fans next to us, who took it on authority of their 1-31 historic record in 2016-17 to tell us that “it could be worse.” Meanwhile, Kyle Allen is chucking balls either two feet above our 6’4” tight end or into the arms of our opponents.

The jeering peaked early in the game. The first several drives received the majority of the noise. Because the game was close up until the fourth, it was enough to keep the Texans crowd in the game and the fans equally entertained.

On the sideline, Watson appeared unaffected by the taunts and jokes at his expense. He didn’t avoid the sideline. He wasn’t afraid of the crowd or what they might try to throw at him; there was plenty of security between him and the fans.

While he didn’t look too worried off the field, his performance on the field was not one for the ages. That was single-handedly the worst game of football I’ve ever seen him play. He skipped more passes than I’ve ever seen.

The away sideline was pure energy. There were only one or two groups of fans who truly stirred the pot, but overall the heckling was kept to a murmur of boo’s, one-off jokes, and a couple of laughs at the expense of Watson’s performance.

When the gestures died down, the fans were renewed with passion in the third quarter when two high-school aged boys sprung a Watson sign featuring an illustrious comedian famous for pudding pops and sexual assault… and I’ll let you assume the rest. Security gave them less than a Kyle Allen drive before nabbing the sign and taking the boys out of the stadium.

At the same time, fans hung a sign above the end zone, bringing the stadium to a unanimous hum, followed by what can only be described as a back and forth escalation between fans.

If the Texans hadn’t collapsed at the beginning of the fourth quarter, the environment might have ratcheted up a notch. It was like a spring at maximum tension, but where it could still easily be coiled back up.

Personally, I wanted to scream a quote from Star Wars:

“You were the chosen one…You were supposed to bring balance to the Force…not leave it in darkness!”

But alas, I knew the reference would quiver into the air and receive a chuckle only from the attendees around me, but never have an effect on the intended audience. For that, I kept my own pain, quelled for two years to a simple baritone “boo.”

With about five minutes left in the game and the Browns on their third defensive/special teams touchdown of the game, the crowd unanimously had seen enough and grumpily headed out of the stadium.

Fans who came to watch Deshaun Watson struggle got what they wanted. Fans who wanted to hurl crude jokes at a person from a distance were able to do so, but weren’t in unison. This simply isn’t the season for Texans fans to make a scene. If you wanted to secure the first overall pick, possibly at the expense of another top 10 pick, you probably got your reward. The performance on and off the field may not have lived up to the exact hype, but the lasting legacy of this game will be this: Houston can move on. Whether you support the franchise anymore or not, we can all finally move on once and for all from the Deshaun Watson era of the Houston Texans.