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Since I was visiting relatives in the greater Houston area, I decided to plan my trip there in conjunction with a Houston Texans game. The game would satisfy several needs, still enjoying football while taking care of family business, getting an up close view of two of the younger and more intriguing teams in the league and visiting a stadium, Reliant Park, a venue that I had previously not visited.
Being a nostalgic kind of guy, this weekâ€™s game offered some added intrigue given that the hometown Houston Texans were hosting the former team of Houston, the Tennessee Titans.
I arrived several hours before game time and was drawn immediately to the structure next to Reliant Stadium, the Houston Astrodome. This was the home field of the Houston Oilers from 1968 to their last year in Houston, 1996, before leaving for Tennessee. The structure was originally known as Harris County Domed Stadium, but the name was officially changed to match its popular nickname, the Astrodome, shortly after opening in 1965. The Oilers had used a high school field known as Jeppesen Stadium and Rice Universityâ€™s stadium before moving there for the 1968 season.
Then I took a stroll next doorâ€¦.
I have been attending NFL games since 1968 and have been to many stadiums over the years, but Reliant Field was immaculate. I am sure the Raven fans that travel to away games and watched the Ravens play the Texans there in 2002 would agree with me in saying that this is one of if not the most attractive and cleanest NFL stadiums in the league.
I mean no insult to M&T Bank Stadium, but opening just 5 years after M&T made a world of difference, there is no comparison between the two. Having a retractable roof certainly helps, they close the roof if the temperature gets above 80 degrees or if there is rain. I have always been an advocate of home field advantage and still shake my head in disbelief that the Vikings walked away from the best home field advantage in football by moving indoors in 1982, but it was great to escape the Houston humidity and temperature near 90 degrees.
As the introductions began followed by the start of the game, there were 2 major differences to Baltimore, even with the roof closed. M&T is much louder during player introductions. The other is the fans do not get as loud as they need to when the visiting team has the ball.
Then as the game unfolded the similarities to Baltimore began. Even without Vince Young the Titans raced out to a 22-7 halftime lead. The fans around me began booing as the half time neared. They wanted the heads of head coach Gary Kubiak and offensive coordinator Mike Sherman for weak play calling, new free agent quarterback Matt Schaub for not getting rid of the ball on time, and the offensive line for not pass blocking. New running back Ahman Green did not escape the heckling, although there were no holes for him to run through. The lack of any offense and the fans reaction made me feel that I was back in section 540, row 20 at M&T Bank Stadium.
The fact that the home team was playing poorly did not bother me much, in fact one of my fantasy running backs LenDale White scored for the Titans, so for me the day was going well. Then halftime scores from around the league began to come across the scoreboard: the Patriots were crushing the Dolphinsâ€¦things were normal in Miami, as all the scores came across, Detroit â€“ Tampa Bay, Redskins-Cardinals.
Yet there was one that was missing. The Bills and Ravens.
Even though one of my colleagues on 24×7 thought the Ravens would have problems in this game, I thought he would be wrong, they were playing a run defense that allows 133 yards a game, with Willis McGahee heading back to Buffalo and facing a rookie quarterback, this was a recipe for an easy Ravens win.
Then the Baltimore score flashed, Bills 9 Ravens 0. I fit right in with the Texan fans then, even though I was not watching the Ravens, I wanted the head of Brian Billick, I criticized the Ravens offensive line and thought about how much we over paid for our new running back Willis McGahee, and thought about how many turnovers Kyle Boller could have produced. The only problem was my team was not in front of me to vent my spleen over. I just had the Texans.
While the Texans were terrible on offense Sunday, they were playing against the number one ranked defense in football, the Ravens were not.
Things got worse for the Texan fans. It was 32-7 at the start of 4th quarter and their starting quarterback Matt Schaub left with an injury. The game was in the hands of back up Sage Rosenfels, not exactly John Unitas, if you were a Titan fan, and half the stadium seemed as if they were, you had to feel comfortable.
Just as the 4th quarter started, the scoreboard had Buffalo winning 19-7, I knew then my 24×7 radio partner had made the right call, the Ravens were done for the day.
Then I began my Ravens venting to the gentleman sitting to my left, Texan season ticket holder Dave Smothermon. (Dave was there with his wife but normally brings his 11 year old son Carson to the games). We began debating who had the worse offense, the Ravens, or the Texans. He made a good argument â€œthat at least the Ravens had a great defense and a Super Bowl ring.â€
He was right but I said expectations are so high in Baltimore that this loss would be close to devastating. Then Dave said another thing that made me feel better, â€œat least you can have high expectations every year. We just hope we do not have another quarterback (David Carr, Matt Schaub) beaten to deathâ€.
While I was sick to my stomach about the Ravens impending loss to the Bills, I thought things can always be worse. Then we both agreed, it was just good to have a football team back in town to complain about, I lost my Colts, Dave his Oilers.
Things got better for the Texans. Rosenfels threw 4 touchdown passes, the last being a 53 yard scoring pass to Andre Davis with 57 seconds left, giving them a 36-35 lead.
Then things got bad again.
Youngâ€™s back up, the veteran Kerry Collins brought the Titans back with a key 46 yard completion to wide receiver Roydell Williams. This set up Rob Bironasâ€™ 8th field goal of the day, which won the game for Tennessee 38-36 on the last play.
I got to see a great game and an NFL record broken, 8 field goals are the most kicked by one player in any NFL game. The record of 7 was held by 4 other kickers.
By the time Bironasâ€™ made his final kick there were only about 10, 000 of the 70,000 fans left in the stands as most left in 4th quarter. Dave and his wife left and I was almost by myself in section 324 when the record setting kicked sailed through the uprights.
In the end it was day filled with mixed emotions. I got to see the Astrodome, Reliant Stadium, the best stadium I have been in for football, and I witnessed a great comeback not to mention an NFL record breaking kick and a few hours of conversation with another hard core NFL fan who had lost his hometown team.
It was a great time but not enough to erase the feeling of knowing we are just 4-3 going into the bye with perhaps the toughest second half schedule in the NFL.