Dallas Cowboys fans outside of Dallas who are in the market for a Tony Romo jersey (is anyone still in the market for a Tony Romo jersey?) can hit one of the team’s 41 pro shops, eighteen of which are far beyond the Metroplex. There are three in San Antonio, three in the Rio Grande Valley and even one in Katy, a mere forty miles from Reliant Stadium, where the Houston Texans have been playing in the NFL for ten seasons.
Needless to say, there is not a Texans pro shop anywhere near Cowboys Stadium in Arlington. Texans fans who live outside of Houston struggle to even find gear.
“Every year, I go to Academy or Dick’s or whatever to buy Texans stuff,” said Norm Andrighetti, 40, a Texans fan in Austin. “And nobody ever has anything.”
This is not merely the skewed perception of a sad-sack fan base. Last year Elise Hasbrook, a spokeswoman for Academy Sports + Outdoors, told The Houston Chronicle that the chain’s stores in San Antonio didn’t carry Texans merchandise.
Why would they? San Antonio Spurs fans hate the Dallas Mavericks, but “everyone I know who’s a Spurs fan is also a Cowboys fan,” said John Wessling, a Houston stand-up comic who also co-hosts “Houston Game Day” on ESPN 97.5 FM.
Though the very name “Texans”—which historically belonged to football teams in Dallas—is a blatant bid to capture the entire state, actual Texans still prefer the Cowboys.
This was supposed to be the season that things changed, but then again, so was 2010. The Texans had their first winning campaign in 2009, falling just short of an AFC wild-card berth at 9–7, but regressed to 6–10 last year. Still, wide receiver Andre Johnson made the Pro Bowl for the fifth time, as did second-year running back Arian Foster, who led the NFL in rushing with 1,616 yards.
This made Foster nationally popular, most notably with the fantasy sports crowd. (A outcry erupted on Twitter when it became clear that he would sit out the season opener with a hamstring injury.)
“There’s starting to be Arian Foster jerseys everywhere now,” Andrighetti acknowledged. Indeed, Hasbrook confirmed, you can find Texans merchandise in some San Antonio Academy stores this year.
Andrighetti, who manages the Common Interest Karaoke Sports Bar in North Austin, also found himself an Andre Johnson “shirsey,” which he wore two weeks ago when the Texans played the Oakland Raiders on a bye-week for the Cowboys. “I was very happy they weren’t playing today, so I could put the Texans on the big screen,” he said.
But this was also the day the Texans’ fortunes started to look bad again. Johnson, who was hurt the previous game, was set to be out for several weeks, and the defensive star Mario Williams suffered a season-ending injury in the first quarter. The Texans lost the first of two straight contests; heading into today’s game against Tennessee, they are 3–3. (The AFC South division is still wide open, in large part because Colts quarterback Peyton Manning is out for the season.)
It’s no stretch to say that football (along with, perhaps, J.R. Ewing) is the very reason Dallas still trumps Houston as the state’s symbolic metro area, and that’s because the Cowboys have a winning history.
“The Cowboys had their Super Bowls, and the Oilers had their loss to Buffalo,” said Brandon Boyle, 34, another Texans fan at Common Interest, referring to the 1993 Wild Card playoff game in which the Oilers led the Bills, 35–3, then lost, 41–38.
“One of the most painful emotional moments ever—I still get a lump in my throat just talking to you about it,” said Wessling, who grew up in McAllen and Victoria as one of the few Oilers fans in his extended family. He said that back then, in parts of Texas, most notably along the Gulf Coast, “the Oilers were still pretty 50–50 with the Cowboys.”
Then, of course, the Oilers moved to Tennessee. Wessling said he wished the Texans could be called the Oilers and still have the Oilers record book, the same deal Cleveland got after it lost, then regained, its NFL team. (The Texans do have one Oilers connection: Wade Phillips, the defensive coordinator, is the son of the former head coach Bum Phillips.)
Nevertheless, Wessling said, “the Texans are kind of like the second-wife syndrome. We’re all children, and now there’s the new mom in the house, and we’re either going to get really behind it or really bitter about it.”
Wounded as Houston’s sports psyche is after witnessing the Astros’ worst season ever and Yao Ming’s career-ending injury, according to Wessling, fans have been known to treat the Texans the way small towns treat their high school football teams—back them, win or lose, as long as they tried hard.
But Houston is finally beginning to expect more from the team. The weekly message board discussions of players like quarterback Matt Schaub and wide receiver Jacoby Jones can be as nasty as anything directed at Romo.
“It’s time for Houston sports fans to get serious about this and demand better,” Wessling said. “We should have championships. We should have teams that fit the fourth-largest city in the country.”