When Sunday morning rolled around in Houston and I pulled myself out of bed, I realized I was heading to my third sporting event in the city in just a touch under twenty four hours. My plan was to spend the morning tailgating outside the stadium, but I had to put that idea aside as I was shaking off some sort of bug that I had picked up the previous day. Luckily, I was feeling human enough to make it out to the stadium for a little bit of pregame poking around, if not for hours of beers and barbecue (still a little bit sad about that).
On a quick walk around the stadium, I noticed that people really take their tailgating seriously. Most had a full smoker of some sort set up which made it easily the best smelling parking lot I’d ever been to. There were also a lot of neat games and booths set up by the team – you could measure your wingspan relative to JJ Watt and run an officially timed 40 metre dash.
Houston was in for a very rainy day, and the Texans did a nice thing opening the gates to the stadium about fifteen minutes early just as it really started to pour down. I was near the front of a line and made it inside pretty unscathed and happy the stadium had a retractable roof that would be closed for the game.
NRG Stadium is a beautiful, modern football stadium, and like most things in Texas, it is huge.
I love getting to a game early and exploring a stadium for the first time. I also love seeing what kinds of views of the game I’d get if I didn’t settle for the cheapest tickets available. This here is about a $150 seat. You can see my $60 blue coloured seat (oxygen tank not included) tucked up under the scoreboard at the far end. Maybe I should have sprung for a better seat – that blue seat as I stood here looked very, very far away.
Something I was excited to see was the Texans best player, JJ Watt, warm up. He has a very involved pregame routine that includes working on his ball catching skills, which is a bit unusual for a defensive player. He caught pass after pass one handed from his coaches and honestly looked more like a wide receiver than some of the Texans pass catchers.
He’s pretty clearly the favourite player of the fans in Houston, and repeatedly engaged them during the warmups. He played catch with all kinds of folks lining the field, and even threw the ball repeatedly up into the stands, sometimes 40-50 rows deep. I’m not a Texans fan, but I left here a huge JJ Watt fan.
I grabbed a prime seat to watch both teams warm up while I enjoyed a pretty reasonable (except in price) chopped barbeque sandwich from Bum Phillips’ Smokehouse and a St. Arnold’s Lawnmower beer (very tasty!). It felt a bit off chowing down on a beef sandwich with a beer at about 10:30 in the morning, but when in Texas…
As game time approached, I was curious to see just how far away my seat was from the playing field so I made my way up into the upper level, stopping for a quick picture before hiking even further up to my seat.
Long story short, my seat was really high up, probably the highest seat I’ve had for an NFL game. Even with that said, it was actually a decent seat if you value overall perspective of the field and stadium. Here’s what it looked like as the Texans were introduced before the national anthem.
With the crowd mostly into their seats, it was time for the opening kick with Tampa kicking to Houston to get things underway. So yeah, the far end zone is really far away, but look at the view I had of the (thankfully) giant scoreboard:
This really wasn’t a matchup of stellar teams. It was still only week three, but both teams had already had their problems – Houston had even changed their starting QB after week one, never a good sign. As my wife is fond of saying, sometimes the most entertaining games are ones between two bad teams, and this one lived up to that.
After the teams exchanged early punts, Houston got a nice drive going. They lined up on this play for a nine yard run to give them a first and goal:
A couple of plays later, a short five yard touchdown pass sent the crowd into a frenzy as the Texans took an early 6-0 lead.
While the game lacked in scoring it produced ample big runs and passes, two interceptions, four fumbles and an almost uncanny ability for both field goal kickers to miss kicks – four missed field goals, two missed extra points with three of the missed kicks hitting the uprights. It was so bad for the Tampa Bay kicker that he was cut the next day. All made for some drama and good times for an impartial fan like me.
The score was close right until inside 2:00 of the fourth quarter. Below, the Texans were driving for a game clinching TD, but failed to push the ball over the goal line and had to settle for a 19-9 lead.
That score line would hold up as the final as the Tampa Bay kicker missed a late desperation 57 yard attempt. It was a sloppy, maddening, but completely fun game to watch, especially since I won’t have to suffer through cheering for either of these teams this season (my condolences to their respective fan bases). Maybe next time I’ll spring for a slightly better seat!