1997: Bringing football back to Houston
In June 1997, Bob McNair and Chuck Watson were bypassed by the National Hockey League in an attempt to bring a team to Houston, in part because of lack of interest of Houston residents by an NHL survey.
Two weeks later, Houston found itself without professional football for the first time since 1959 as Houston Oilers owner Bud Adams got the final approval to move his team to Tennessee. A lawsuit filed by the city of Houston, Harris County, and other parties was settled with Adams paying millions of dollars for leaving town. In an interview with the Houston Chronicle, local entrepreneur and San Diego Padres owner John J. Moores, whose name was often attached to efforts to return the NFL to Houston, said that the city’s football fans would be in for a long, dry spell without football and that he did not foresee another league expansion in the next 10 years. While efforts to get an NHL team in Houston faltered, McNair made his decision to set his sights higher and founded Houston NFL Holdings. Steve Patterson, who had been working with McNair in an attempt to bring NHL to Houston, was immediately named as head of the new organization.
Now committed to the task at hand, McNair and Houston got an immediate morale boost in October 1997, when the NFL Stadium Committee reported to Commissioner Paul Tagliabue on the current attractiveness of Cleveland, Los Angeles, and Houston. Cleveland had lost the Browns in 1995 and had been promised by Tagliabue that the next expansion team would play there, bringing the league total to 31 teams. A future expansion to 32 teams seemed both logical and destined to happen, and Tagliabue praised McNair’s strong initial efforts. Two days later, Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo (HLS&R) officials announced they would push for a domed stadium as part of the bid to lure the NFL back to Houston.
In March 1998, McNair learned that the NFL officially awarded Cleveland its promised expansion franchise, making it the NFL's 31st team; NFL Commissioner Tagliabue said that the league would likely add a 32nd team in the next two years, with the three top candidates being Toronto (which would have been the NFL's first franchise outside the USA, and the fifth largest market in North America), Los Angeles (North America's second largest media market, and the victim of two relocated franchises in the 1990s), and Houston (which was the fourth largest media market in North America and whose Oilers had been the most recent victim of the relocation).
Houston officials worried that Los Angeles would get the nod because of its media market size; in early May, those fears became reality as entertainment guru Michael Ovitz announced he would lead a largely privately financed $750 million project to build a stadium in Carson, California in hopes of landing the expansion team. However, both McNair and Ovitz stated that they needed to know the NFL's intentions regarding expansion by early 1999, lest they lose public support as a result of long delays while the league developed its plans.
In late October 1998, Tagliabue announced that the NFL owners would indeed expand the league to 32 teams, and would decide by April 1999 which city would be awarded the NFL expansion franchise. Meanwhile, Ovitz now had competition coming from his own market, as real estate developer Ed Roski announced a rival bid for a future Los Angeles team; his proposal centered around putting a 68,000-seat stadium inside the shell of the historic Los Angeles Coliseum.
On March 16, 1999, the NFL owners, by a 29–2 vote, approved a resolution to award Los Angeles the expansion 32nd franchise. However, the award was contingent on the city's putting together an acceptable ownership team and stadium deal by September 15; if the parties could not reach an agreement or be close to doing so, the committee would then turn its recommendation to Houston.
A month later, NFL executives flew to Los Angeles. The executives were shocked at the lack of progress – Los Angeles would not allow tax dollars to be used for a new stadium, the competing groups were locked in a standoff as neither would concede its bid to the other nor would the groups agree to combine their efforts in attempts to put together a deal, and neither group was prepared to build a state-of-the-art facility, which Houston had promised in all its bids since 1997.
A return visit in late May yielded little change – Ovitz and Roski were still locked in a standoff; Roski's bid remained unchanged since the onset, while Ovitz unveiled plans to turn the area around the Coliseum into a 60-acre (240,000 m2) complex of parks, parking garages, shopping areas and a brand-new stadium. Though Tagliabue and the NFL officials were pleased with the concept, they were daunted by the cost which included $225 million for parking garages, especially since neither Los Angeles nor the State of California was willing to commit the necessary funds. At this point, Tagliabue expressed his frustration with Los Angeles’ inability to get a plan together, and the next month he advised McNair to resume his discussions with the expansion committee.
On September 9, 1999, the league’s expansion committee indicated that McNair and other Houston officials should be prepared to attend an October 6 meeting of the NFL owners in Atlanta. The NFL noted that the Los Angeles effort was still making no progress and now featured a three-way battle between Ovitz, Roski, and newcomer Marvin Davis. Although the league would still entertain an offer from any of the competing Los Angeles groups, the league would now consider an offer from McNair and Houston as well.
In the first week of October, Ovitz announced that his group was prepared to offer $540 million for the 32nd NFL franchise to be awarded to Los Angeles. However, later that week, McNair’s Houston NFL Holdings proposed a bid of $700 million to the owners for the NFL to award the 32nd franchise to Houston instead; on the morning of October 6, 1999, McNair's persistence finally paid off as the NFL owners voted 29–0 to accept McNair's higher offer. In addition, Houston would also host the 2004 Super Bowl, the second time Houston would host the event.
After that, things moved fast for the yet-to-be-named football team. Focus groups were formed across the state to determine the image and direction for the franchise. NFL Properties and team officials began working on the identity, name and logo and the front office began to take shape with the hiring of former Washington Redskins General Manager Charley Casserly as Executive Vice President/General Manager in January 2000.
That spring, Houston celebrated the official groundbreaking of Reliant Stadium. The 69,500-seat state-of-the-art facility would become the NFL's first retractable-roof stadium.
After almost a year of speculation, the team was officially christened the Houston Texans during a downtown celebration in September 2000 that included NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue and Bob McNair unveiling the new logo.
On January 21, 2001, the Texans turned to the coaching staff and introduced Dom Capers as the club's first head coach. Capers had served the previous two seasons as the Jacksonville Jaguars' defensive coordinator. From 1995 to 1998, Capers was the head coach of the then-expansion Carolina Panthers. Capers would soon fill out the rest of the staff in the months to follow. After five long seasons, Houston was at last ready to rejoin the league.
Play begins: 2002–2005
The Texans launched their inaugural campaign on August 5, 2002 against the New York Giants at Fawcett Stadium in the Pro Football Hall of Fame Game in Canton, OH, in front of 22,461 fans. The Texans' first season game was on September 8, 2002 against the Dallas Cowboys at Reliant Stadium. The two teams had also previously scrimmaged at the first home of Houston's previous team, the University of Houston's Robertson Stadium the month prior. Rookie David Carr hooked up with tight end Billy Miller on the third play from scrimmage for a touchdown (scoring the first points for the franchise). The Texans shocked their intrastate rivals 19-10, becoming just the second expansion team ever to win their first game (after the Minnesota Vikings in 1961). The Texans lost their next five games before winning for the first time on the road against the Jaguars, a team they would find success against in the seasons to come.
Victories over the New York Giants in Houston and the Steelers in Pittsburgh (despite just 46 total yards of offense – an NFL low for a winning team) and the Texans finished the season 4–12, sending two players (Gary Walker and Aaron Glenn) to the Pro Bowl, the most ever by an expansion team. The season was deemed a success despite David Carr being sacked an NFL record 76 times and the realization that Tony Boselli, the man they had hoped would protect their young quarterback, would never play a down of football for the team.
During the next two seasons, the Texans made steady progress. In 2003, they started out much as they had done in 2002 by shocking the heavily favored Dolphins in Miami to open the season. No other expansion team had ever won the season opener in each of its first two seasons. The Texans would only improve their record by one game in that season, but after a victory over the eventual NFC champion Carolina Panthers and a tough overtime loss to the eventual Super Bowl champion New England Patriots, optimism was high going into 2004 that they could compete with any team in the league. That optimism soured, however, after the Texans started the ’04 season 0–3 and for the first time fans began to question the direction in which head coach Dom Capers and the front office were taking. No other expansion team had taken so long to win back-to-back games and expectations in the third season were growing. Finally, after their first victory of 2004 in Kansas City, the Texans came home and defeated the Oakland Raiders the following week to secure their first win streak in franchise history.
After sweeping division rivals Tennessee and Jacksonville and another impressive pair of back-to-back wins late in the season, the Texans were poised to finish the year 8–8. All they had to do was beat the 3-12 Cleveland Browns at home. The Texans came out flat and unprepared, however, and fell to the Browns 22–14. The game served as an omen of bad times ahead. On the bright side, second year receiver Andre Johnson was selected to his first Pro Bowl and it was the first (and, until 2008, only) season that the Texans did not finish last in the AFC South.
Despite the disappointing end to the 2004 season and a troubling preseason, a playoff push by the Texans in 2005 still seemed likely. They got hammered by the Bills in Buffalo 22–7 to open the season and then humiliated by the Steelers at home 27–7 the following week. As the losses mounted, whatever optimism that was left over from the previous year faded away. Offensive Coordinator Chris Palmer was replaced before the third week and media and fans began to point to questionable personnel decisions and lackluster draft picks by General Manager Charley Casserly and doubt about Dom Capers ability to lead the team in the future began to surface. They started the season 0–6 before beating the Browns in Houston only to follow that up with another six game losing streak. By the end of the season most were calling for Dom Capers and Charley Casserly to be fired. Conspiracy theories that the Texans were tanking games to secure the number one pick after several close losses late in the year culminated with the “Bush Bowl” in San Francisco during the last week of the season. The Texans and 49ers came into the game with the two worst records in the NFL and the loser would “win” the right to choose USC running back Reggie Bush in the 2006 NFL Draft. The Texans lost 20–17 and finished 2–14, the worst in the league. One bright spot was the sensational rookie season by kick returner Jerome Mathis who returned two kicks back for touchdowns, including one for 99-yards against Kansas City. Mathis was Houston's only player in 2005 to be selected to the Pro Bowl.
After finishing 2–14 in 2005 the Texans fired Dom Capers and most of his staff. General Manager Charley Casserly was spared, but would eventually leave after the draft, replaced by Rick Smith. Gary Kubiak, offensive coordinator of the Denver Broncos and a Houston native, was hired to take over and the franchise headed into the most controversial off-season in team history. While most in the national media believed that the Texans drafting Reggie Bush in the 2006 Draft was a no-brainer, many in Houston began to voice their desire for the team to draft hometown hero Vince Young after his performance in leading the University of Texas to victory over Bush's USC team in the Rose Bowl, that year's NCAA National Championship Game.
In February, after a vote of confidence from Gary Kubiak, the Texans exercised an $8 million bonus option for David Carr, guaranteeing he would be a Texan in 2006. Still, the debate between Bush and Young raged on for months over local sports talk radio and internet message boards. While support for Vince Young was mounting, most still thought Reggie Bush would eventually be drafted by the Texans.
In a stunning turn of events, however, the Texans shocked the NFL world on the eve of the NFL Draft by announcing that North Carolina State defensive end Mario Williams - not Reggie Bush or Vince Young - would be the team’s choice for their number one pick. Fans were angered and shocked, many booed the choice during a public draft party at Reliant Stadium and the Texans were ridiculed by the national media for committing what many believed was the worst mistake in NFL Draft history. Comparisons to Michael Jordan and Sam Bowie were immediately being made and the endless second-guessing began. Reggie Bush fell to the New Orleans Saints and Vince Young was taken by the Titans. By drafting Williams, the Texans addressed their greatest need, yet it would turn out to be a public relations nightmare that would haunt them for much of the 2006 season. By the end of the year Bush and the Saints were on their way to the NFC Championship game and Young had won the Offensive Rookie of the Year Award. Mario Williams finished with 4.5 sacks and 47 tackles while suffering from debilitating plantar fasciitis for the entire season.
On September 10, 2006, native Houstonian Gary Kubiak made his head coaching debut as he led the Texans against the Philadelphia Eagles at Reliant Stadium. Despite taking the first drive down the field for a touchdown, the game resulted in a disappointing 24-10 loss. They lost the next two in embarrassing fashion before awarding Kubiak his first career victory with a win over the Miami Dolphins in week four. After a loss to Dallas, two of the next four games would be against division rival Jacksonville – and Houston beat them both times. As unexplainable as the Texans’ continued ability to beat the Jaguars, so too was a game against the Titans where they out-gained Tennessee in total yards 427 to 197 but lost because of five turnovers.
The Texans went on to suffer two heart-breaking losses in their final eight games because of a weak defense, which proved to cost them their first breakeven season. They first allowed the Buffalo Bills to score a go-ahead touchdown with just nine seconds remaining, and then three weeks later Tennessee Titans QB Vince Young ran 39 yards for the winning touchdown in overtime. A week later, the emotionally exhausted Texans showed up in Foxborough to face the New England Patriots and were hammered 40–7.
The Texans made the most of the remainder of the season as Carr led the team to victories in what would prove to be his final two games as a Texan. Snapping a nine game losing streak to the Indianapolis Colts, the Texans stunned the eventual Super Bowl Champions 27–24 as Carr went 16–23 with 1 TD and no interceptions or sacks; and finished the game with a 6-play, 31 yard drive to put Kris Brown in a position to kick the winning field goal. Carr finished the season by beating the Cleveland Browns in Houston; giving the Texans their first back-to-back wins in two years. The Texans finished 6-10 in 2003, four more wins than the previous year. Had it not been for the last minute defensive failures versus the Bills and the Titans, the Texans would have finished with their first breakeven season at 8–8, on the back of their rapidly improving offense.
In terms of individual performances, David Carr finished the season with a career high 68.9% pass completion percentage and tied the NFL record of 22 for consecutive pass completions in the game versus the Buffalo Bills. The Carr-to-Johnson combination again proved to be formidable, as Andre Johnson led the league in receptions with 103 and was selected to his second Pro Bowl. Finally, the Texans got contributions from all seven of their 2006 NFL Draft picks, including DE Mario Williams, TE Owen Daniels and LB DeMeco Ryans - a second round pick who was selected as the NFL’s Defensive Rookie of the Year.
Most of the speculation in Houston following the 2006 season involved David Carr and his future with the Texans. On March 21, reports surfaced that backup Atlanta Falcons QB Matt Schaub would be traded to the Texans. The Texans and Falcons swapped first round picks and the Texans gave Atlanta their second round pick in 2007 and 2008. Upon his introduction in Houston on March 22, Schaub was announced as the starting quarterback in 2007. Despite rumors that the Texans were attempting to trade him, the team granted the popular Carr an unconditional release so that the former #1 pick could shop for his own team. On April 6, 2007 David Carr joined the Carolina Panthers and became the starter after an injury to longtime Panthers Jake Delhomme ended his season. The Texans' first-round pick in 2007, DT Amobi Okoye, is the youngest player ever selected in the history of the NFL Draft. Okoye did not turn 20 until June 10, 2007.
For Matt Schaub and the Texans, the 2007 season started on a high note. They extended their franchise record two-game winning streak from the end of 2006 to four with victories at home against the Chiefs and on the road in Carolina. After the 2–0 start, however, the Texans would be plagued with injuries and turnovers. Matt Schaub missed five full games due to injury and major portions of two others. Former Pro-Bowl receiver Andre Johnson missed 7 games due to a knee injury. Dunta Robinson was lost for the season after a leg injury in a Week 9 game against Oakland, starting Center Steve McKinney suffered a season-ending injury in the third game of the season, and Ahman Green, who was signed in the offseason to a large contract, rushed for only 260 yards, missed several games and finished the season on IR. Despite all of this, the Texans would have one of the best seasons in franchise history, finishing with a .500 record for the first time ever, including going 6-2 at home and setting several team and individual records. The Texans had their best offense, setting team highs in points, average yards per play, total touchdowns, passing touchdowns, total yards and passing yards. Andre Johnson finished with a career and franchise high 8 touchdowns. Mario Williams set a franchise record with 14 sacks, finishing first in the AFC and tied for third in the league and DeMeco Ryans was selected as a starter in his first Pro Bowl. The Texans posted a 1–5 division record, finishing last in the AFC South, and a 7–3 record outside of their division. In 2007, Kris Brown became the first kicker in NFL history to make three field goals of 54 yards or longer in a single game, which included a franchise record 57-yard field goal to beat the Dolphins.
The Texans opened the 2008 season with consecutive losses to the Pittsburgh Steelers 38-17, and the Tennessee Titans 31-12. Their week two home opener against Baltimore was rescheduled due to damage in and around the city of Houston Hurricane Ike forcing the Texans to play three consecutive road games before finally returning home in October. After back-to-back heartbreaking losses against Jacksonville and Indianapolis, the Texans secured their first win of the season against the Dolphins in dramatic come from behind fashion capped with a fourth and goal touchdown run by Matt Schaub with three seconds remaining in the game. The Texans then went on to beat Detroit 28-21. The following week they blew out the Bengals 35-6, the largest point differential in Texans history. They set a franchise record for consecutive wins with 4, after beating the Cleveland Browns, Jacksonville Jaguars, Green Bay Packers, and the Tennessee Titans. After a disappointing loss to the Oakland Raiders in Week 16 the Texans finished the 2008 NFL Season with a 31-24 win against the Chicago Bears, effectively playing spoiler and eliminating the Bears from a playoff spot that they would have secured with a win over the Texans. On December 1, 2008, the Texans defeated the Jacksonville Jaguars 30-17 in their first-ever game on Monday Night Football. Rookie Steve Slaton rushed for 130 yards and 2 touchdowns and caught 2 passes for 52 yards. Mario Williams had 3 sacks and a forced fumble, and Andre Johnson caught 7 passes for 75 yards and a touchdown.
They finished the season with an 8-8 record, tying the franchise record for wins in a season. Little did the Texans realize that their 2nd of two 3rd round picks in the 2008 NFL Draft, acquired via trade, would be one of their two best offensive players in 2008. Steve Slaton was the 10th running back selected in the draft, but wound up being the steal of the draft by leading all rookies with 1,282 yards rushing and 1,659 yards from scrimmage. Other highlights included Andre Johnson leading the NFL in receptions with 115 and receiving yards with 1,575. The Texans also sent three players to the Pro Bowl: Andre Johnson, Mario Williams and Owen Daniels.
The Texans continued to see improvement in 2009. Despite losing their opening game against the New York Jets, the Texans went 5-3 through the first half of the season including a victory over division rival the Tennessee Titans in week 2. However this would prove to be their only division win of the season. The Texans suffered close losses in the next 4 games before closing out with 4 consecutive wins. Their final game, a come from behind victory over the New England Patriots would cap off the Texans' first ever winning season at 9-7, and keep faint hopes alive in Houston for a chance to make the playoffs for the first time in the short history of the franchise. However those hopes were short lived, with the Jets edging them out of the wild card spot with their victory against the Cincinnati Bengals later that night. The Texans 9-7 record tied both AFC wild card winners, the Jets and Baltimore Ravens, but the Jets and Ravens received precedence due to their superior records in conference games (both 7-5 versus Texans 6-6), leaving the Texans out of the postseason.
2009 was a record breaking season for quarterback Matt Schaub, finishing with 4,770 passing yards, the 6th most in a single season in NFL history, and a career high season passer rating of 98.6. On the other side of the ball, wide receiver Andre Johnson had another extraordinary season with 1,569 receiving yards over 101 receptions.
Following the 2009 season, the Texans re-signed head coach Gary Kubiak to a contract extension leading through the 2012 season.
On September 7, 2010, the Texans signed QB Matt Leinart to a one-year deal, two days after he had been cut by the Arizona Cardinals.
(WK:1)The Houston Texans opened their season with a win, beating the Indianapolis Colts 34-24. Arian Foster had 231 rushing yards, the first time this has been achieved by the Texans.(WK:2)The next week, they came back from a 17 point second half deficit to defeat Washington, 30-27 in their first overtime win. Schaub threw for a franchise record 497 passing yards.(WK:3)The very next week, they were defeated 27-13 by the Dallas Cowboys.(WK:4)Arian Foster, having sat out nearly the entire first half of the game, had his third game with over a hundred yards rushing. Andre Johnson did not play, due to an ankle injury. The Houston Texans defeated the Oakland Raiders 31-24. At the time, the Houston Texans were happy; the previous week had done exactly what it needed to do to make them division leaders once again, instead of being tied. The Jacksonville Jaguars, last in the AFC South division at the time, defeated the Indianapolis Colts, to cancel each other out, and be tied for second place in their division. The Tennessee Titans also lost to the Denver Broncos, therefore, also tied for second place in their division.
On January 3, 2011, the Texans announced that Kubiak would be retained as head coach, but fired defensive coordinator Frank Bush and three defensive assistants. On January 5, ex-Cowboys head coach Wade Phillips was hired as defensive coordinator.
The Texans once again hosted Indianapolis to open the season, but the Colts had no Peyton Manning present due to his having undergone neck surgery. Houston quickly overwhelmed their opponent 34-7. After beating Miami, they lost in New Orleans and then knocked out an injury-thinned Steelers team 17-10.
Notes and references
- "Texans Team History". http://www.houstontexans.com/team/history.html. Retrieved 5 January 2011.
- "Falcons agree to deal backup QB Schaub to Houston". ESPN. 2007-03-22. http://sports.espn.go.com/nfl/news/story?id=2807051. Retrieved 2010-12-28.
- "Houston Texans coach Gary Kubiak signs contract extension through 2012". ESPN. 2010-02-10. http://sports.espn.go.com/nfl/news/story?id=4902936. Retrieved 2010-12-28.
- Scurfield, Nick. "Texans retain Kubiak, release Bush and three assistants". http://www.houstontexans.com/news/article-3/Texans-retain-Kubiak-release-Bush-and-three-assistants/716cf7bc-4ba3-497a-b3dd-67fcc4bb8d0f. Retrieved 5 January 2011.
- "Texans hire Wade Phillips as defensive coordinator". 5 January 2011. http://www.houstontexans.com/news/article-3/Texans-hire-Wade-Phillips-as-defensive-coordinator/1eca9d2f-1d85-4aaf-b6d1-84004718eef9. Retrieved 5 January 2011.
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