As the Houston Texans prepare to enter their 14th season in the league, the team is still trying to permanently etch its own identity on the landscape into the minds and hearts of Houston sports fans. Since I attended the recent celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Houston Astrodome, I can’t help but reflect on the tremendous showing of Houston Oilers fans, who may or may not identify with the current Texans organization. Thus, it begs the question – have the Texans emerged from the shadow of the Houston Oilers legacy?
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Obviously, it is very difficult if not impossible to “forget” the legacy of the Oilers. The franchise had some iconic figures, Head Coach Oail “Bum” Phillips (whom I personally think should be enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame as a contributor), the great Earl Campbell, record-shattering quarterback Hall of Famer Warren Moon, and the uptempo “Run & Shoot” offense, and offensive line stalworths Mike Munchak and Bruce Matthews (both of whom are in the Hall of Fame as well).
The Texans are beyond the point where the “expansion franchise” moniker applies anymore. So with that being said, what is the identity of this team? What will be said of the first 15 years of operations of this team? Think about that for a second, and remove the “easy” answers, such as the inaugural victory over the Dallas Cowboys, the emergence of defensive end J.J. Watt as the most dominant defensive player in the league, and the lengthy and productive career of recently departed wide receiver Andre Johnson. What else can this franchise do to establish its own identity both in the city of Houston as well as nationwide?
Well for starters, they have to win. And on a consistent basis. While the Oilers never brought a Lombardi Trophy to the Bayou City, it was well known that they were usually very competitive and a force to be reckoned with on both sides of the ball.
The Texans are close to building something similiar in scope, but several pieces have to fall into place in order for there to be a rebirth of a “Luv Ya Blue” type culture in this city:
a) A Franchise Quarterback: Whether the guy is on the roster already or not, who knows. But the Ryan Mallett/Brian Hoyer experiment cannot take too long. It is critical to identify who the team’s leader is and coronate him as the leader, sooner rather than later. Of course performance should be graded very closely on this position and if a guy isn’t cutting it, then do not be afraid to move on and explore other options (can anyone recall how “Gary Kubiak‘s love for Matt Schaub” worked out?)
b) A “true” rivalry with the division opponents: Let’s be honest for a second here, the Texans really don’t have a rivalry with the other AFC South teams. Unfortunately they have yet to crack the code to win a game at Lucas Oil Stadium, and just can’t seem to get past the Indianapolis Colts. The Texans need to not only get past the Colts, but return the favor of costing them several division titles. Wouldn’t it be cool to see Colts fans in agony when they have to travel to Houston to win a critical game but can’t? The Tennessee Titans and Jacksonville Jaguars are both rebuilding franchises, but neither can be ignored anymore. Expect them to turn their programs around within the next couple of years and create some turbulence in this divisional race.
c) Success in nationally televised games against elite teams: When the bright lights are on, this team just always seems to find a way to disappear in games against high-caliber teams. If you want to make a name for yourself, how about beating some of the biggest bullies on the block while everyone is watching? This year the New England Patriots will visit NRG Stadium. Wouldn’t it really make a statement if the Texans not just beat but dismantle the world champions while the whole nation witnesses?
d) Playoff success: Sure it’s great to have a couple of playoff wins, but lets raise the bar here. Two wins against the playoff-cursed Cincinnati Bengals will not get you much bang for your buck when it comes to brand recognition. The Texans actually have an opportunity to “erase” the still ill effects of the Buffalo Bills vs Oilers wild card game.
How can this franchise accomplish this? That’s on Head Coach Bill O’Brien, General Manger Rick Smith and the players to figure out. The Houston Texans franchise is a teenager now and it’s time to grow up and make their own mark on the city and the league.