Texans fans not afraid to think Super Bowl
HOUSTON — Ever wanted something so badly you were afraid to believe it could happen?
James Ferguson knows the feeling. He's a Houston Texans fan, which is to say he is really a Houston Oilers fan. A lifelong Houstonian, Ferguson has been living and he has been dying, mostly dying, with professional football in his hometown for decades. The Oilers moved to Tennessee in 1996 and ripped out his heart. The Texans came in 2002 and stunk for most of a decade and then, finally, made the playoffs last season.
So right before the Texans were going to play their first home game of this new and hopeful era with this talented and experienced team, Ferguson, a season ticket holder since the beginning, was sitting there in a parking lot outside Reliant Stadium on Saturday night with a thunderstorm gathering on the east Texas horizon. And in this moment he could not let himself say "Super Bowl."
"I'm afraid to go there," he said.
But oh how he wants it.
This city has developed an emotional defense mechanism over the years. It is getting close to 20 years now since a Houston team won a major professional championship, and even those Rockets teams from the mid-90s always have to hear something about how Michael Jordan wasn't playing at the time. The Astros made the World Series in 2005 but got swept. The Rockets are a constant tease. And the Texans, until last year, had never won even a playoff game.
"As a Houstonian, we've gone through a lot of heartbreak with every single franchise," Jason Diaz said. "Baseball, basketball, everything. I'm already used to it. I'm already numb."
This is the way Texans fans feel a half hour before the first game of the most anticipated season in franchise history. Cautious. Nervous. Reflective. But oddly satiated.
Diaz, however, was not afraid of thinking about the Super Bowl. He said he calls the Texans a Super Bowl team. He is letting himself go there and he isn't afraid of how he'll feel if the Texans don't make it, because he's felt it before. He's felt it about the Astros, about the Rockets and now, well, he's putting the screws to the football team.
"All the franchises have their own responsibility to fulfill to the city of Houston," he said, "and the Texans are the ones carrying the ball right now."
The cautious hopes of a city hang on their shoulders.
Nobody, it seems, knows exactly how to react to this. The Texans have become a little trendy this year, which blows against this Houstonian sentiment that this city and its teams never get their due. A 10-year season ticket holder like Ferguson has not been in this position since the Oilers were running the Run-N-Shoot in the Astrodome.
The Texans are supposed to win, and there's something scary about that deep in the recesses of a Houston football fan's mind. It reminds some of them of Jan. 3, 1993 . . . the Buffalo Bills . . . 35-3 . . . you know.
"I was a die-hard Oilers fan until that day," Byron Shepard said.
Yeah, they're still getting over that around here. Still learning to embrace a winning team again. Still learning to let themselves sell out all over again.
The better the Texans get, the harder it gets to protect yourself.
Diaz said he followed the team to Baltimore last season. It was a playoff game on the road with a rookie third-string quarterback under center facing some of the best defensive players of all time. It was going to take a special performance to win that one, but Diaz went anyway.
And he watched Jacoby Jones muff that punt, he watched Ed Reed intercept that pass, he watched another season of pro football in Houston end sadly.
Yet he was back on Saturday night, back at his multiple tailgates, in his jersey, ready to do it all again.
"I was not even that upset when we lost to Baltimore," he said. "I was upset, but I was happy we made it that far."
This new exciting season is off to a perfect start. The Texans improved to 2-0 in the preseason by beating a Super Bowl favorite, the San Francisco 49ers, 20-9.
So far, so good.