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Houston Trip Diary: Part One

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Two games. Two overtimes. One day. I'm almost too spent to write all this up...

6:30 a.m. I'm going to see Vince Young play today. Vincent Paul Young, Jr. The man I haven't seen play football since January's inhuman Rose Bowl romp. How could he possibly top that today? In terms of what's at stake, of course, this is entirely different. There are no national titles on the line for Vince, for Texas, for me.

But only the foolish have tried to downplay the stakes of this game. Vince Young returns to Houston as the quarterback of Bud Adams' Houston Oilers Tennessee Titans. He's playing in his hometown for the first time as a professional, against the franchise that passed him over at the top of the NFL draft.

Sounds like the kind of stage VY lives for...

10:00 a.m. Erin and I arrive at Reliant Stadium nice and early. We want to see Vince play, of course, but we're really interested in getting a feel for the atmosphere for this game. How many Titans fans would there be? How many Vince fans? How many Vince-Texans fans?

A cool drizzle is hampering a lot of the tailgating energy, so we hop inside the stadium and take a look around. Many of the early attendees are clad in Titans #10 jerseyes or, like me, burnt orange. I'm double-decked: burnt orange pullover with my "I Heart VY" t-shirt underneath.

10:45 a.m. Vince takes the field to warm up and is greeted by a wave of cheers and a smattering of boos, including - unbelievably - from the 80 year old man sitting right in front of us. Old timer (decked out in Texans red) turns to me and jeers, "Why don't you just kneel down and bow in front of him?"

I take a knee and bow to Vince.

"You'll get the hang of it," I promise him.

11:35 a.m. Bucking standard Reliant stadium protocol, the Texans public address announcer only announces the arrival of Texans players. I know this because I ask a friendly Texan fan if they're going to announce Vince Young. He tells me that normally the Texans announce the starting offense of the opposing team.

I'm stunned, but only for a while, as this attitude about Young appears to be the prevalent one among the Texans organization: Maybe if we pretend VY's not a big deal, he won't be a big deal.

First Quarter Thoughts With the stadium mostly full, the vast majority of fans are, in fact, there to root for the Houston Texans. Still, there's an undeniable Vince fan presence among the crowd. Erin and I guesstimate that 15% of the fans in attendance are Vince-Titans fans. Another 15% are wearing burnt orange or Texas/Vince gear, though not necessarily Titans fans. All told, it's an impressive number of fans there to support Vince in some capacity - call it 30%.

Vince has a solid, if unspectacular, first quarter, though the obnoxious Texans fans in front of me harass me every time Vince fails to complete a pass or - God forbid - runs the football. "The object of the game is to throw the football, Vince! Throw it, Vince!" (High-fiving each other, all the while.)

I resist the urge to engage the jackals in argument, but I find myself turning to Erin and saying, "These idiots are going to regret this taunting."

Second Quarter More of the same from Vince. He's playing well, though not getting his team in the end zone. A dropped pass, a critical holding penalty, and an Ahmad Hall fumble stall three of his first half drives. At halftime, Erin and I talk about how well Vince and Matt Leinart are starting off as rookie quarterbacks in the league, noting also Reggie Bush's good start in New Orleans. This leads to mandatory Rose Bowl nostalgia.

Third Quarter The Texans take control of the game for a little while, using a solid running game and some decent play from David Carr. When Houston takes a 14-6 lead after their opening drive of the second half, Erin says without much thought, "It's not like Vince is going to let them lose this, though."

Two drives later and Vince shows us one of the many reasons why Merril Hoge is beyond help. On a first down from his own 42, Vince takes the snap from under center, looks right, then turns left and throws a gorgeous deep ball that sails over the cornerback and into the outside shoulder of Drew Bennett. Just as good a throw as you could make. It's good for a 39 yard completion and the Titans are in business. Three plays later, Travis Henry takes it in and the Titans are within one, 14-13.

Fourth Quarter Vince makes his first, and only, mistake of the game. On a third and three from his own 31, Young drops back to pass, slips, falls, and quickly scrambles to his feet. With pressure bearing down on him, he forces a pass to his left which the Texans intercept. It was a rookie mistake - no two ways about it. And Vince knows it.

The Texans can't do anything with the ball, though, picking up only 11 yards before extending their lead to 17-13 on a 49 yard field goal.

Stage officially set for Vince Young's money time: late in the game, down a score. Vince leads Tennessee on a 15 play, 88 yard touchdown drive that takes up 8 minutes of clock. Young completes four of his five pass attempts on the drive for 34 yards and, critically, makes a beautiful, controlled rush to his left to pick up a first down on 3rd and 4 from the Houston 8. Travis Henry scores two plays later and the Titans take the 20-17 lead.

The Texans manage a tying field goal on the ensuing drive, though, setting up...

Vince Young wins football games.
Overtime As the team captains meet at mid-field, there's a tremendous buzz in Reliant Stadium - I know it, Erin knows it, and sh-t talking grandpa in front of me knows it: if the Titans get the ball, this game is over.

Tennessee calls heads, wins the toss, and we're set for the finale.

A Pacman Jones 36 yard kick return gives the Titans excellent field position to start - so good that it seems almost inevitable that Vince will move the Titans into field goal range. After Travis Henry gets the Titans to the Houston 35, the game seems all but over. Texans fans are groaning in dismay, but get a burst of life on the very next play, as the Titans are called for holding. Now facing 1st and 20 from the 45, the Titans hand to Chris Brown for 5 yards. Second and 15? Vince passes it to Ahmad Hall for 1 yard.

Third and fourteen?

Pandemonium.

You've all seen the play by now, but being there was a moment I'll never forget. It was just like Vince's game-winning Rose Bowl run, only more exciting. The stakes weren't nearly the same, which meant my personal emotional investment was dramatically different, but the play itself... well, it was the most exciting thing I've ever seen.

Before the snap, everyone in the stadium was buzzing, "He's gonna run it. He's gonna run it."

Ball is snapped, here comes the blitz, Vince checks down both of his receivers downfield and before you know it, he's dodging the last defender in his path to score the winning touchdown. Reliant erupts in a mixture of groans and wild celebration. Vince tears off his helmet and jumps into an adoring pack of burnt orange and powder blue fans on the rail. He pounds his chest, points at the crowd - just lets everything out right there for the home town.

And in that one moment, the quiet regret that Vince was not a Houston Texan became a palpable wave of bitterness. Through and through Texans fans left in disgust while the 30% of the crowd that had come to see Vince stood and applauded Vince until he finally left the field.

Final Thoughts on Vince vs. the Texans I feel badly for the Houston Texans fans. I was pretty hostile about all this coming into the game (How dare you cheer against Vince!), but after spending the day chatting with some great fans, then two hours listening to the post-game talk radio, and now reading some more fan reaction, I just plain feel bad for them. And here's why.

The fans have good reason to hate Bud Adams. The man screwed with the football fans of Houston, jacked the team, and moved it to Nashville. The Texans suffer through four mediocre years under Dom Capers quarterbacked by David Carr, then get a brief moment of hope. They get a new coach and the #1 pick in the draft. This draft class, by the way, includes Reggie Bush and Vince Young.

With either choice, the fans get a superstar on offense. A new face of the franchise. A bundle of potential that they can hang future hopes on.

And instead they get Mario Williams. Before the draft, I argued endlessly that the Texans were completely insane if they didn't take Vince Young, but at least Reggie Bush would have been exciting. They wound up getting neither player and then, today, they had to watch Vince Young return to Houston quarterbacking the team of the hated Bud Adams.

And Vince does this?

I'm sure Bill Simmons has some sort of level of awfulness for this, and I'd imagine it's something along the lines of "Stomach Punch Self-Loathing Why Does God Hate Me."

You just can't script it any worse for the Texans fans. Worst of all, Vince is just a rookie. David Carr is a dead man walking. Gary Kubiak was beyond uninspiring today. And Bob McNair is losing fan support at an alarming rate. You don't normally see the kind of loathing that I saw today except in Philadelphia. It was - it is - that bad. And, again, Vince is just a rookie. A lot of that hate that's been directed at Bud Adams is starting to get channeled over to the management of the Houston Texans.

The lesson, as always: never, ever, ever doubt Vince Young.

Amazingly, this was only part one of my trip to Houston. Part two includes a trip to the Toyota Center to watch Texas face LSU. Coming soon...

--PB--